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420 Characters

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  577 ratings  ·  151 reviews
Within this collection of miniature stories, entire worlds take shape—some like our own, some hallucinatory fairylands--populated by heartsick cowboys, random criminals, lovers and drifters. In a dazzling narrative constellation, Beach’s characters contend with the strange and terrible and beautiful in life, and no outcome is certain. Begun as a series of Facebook status u ...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published December 6th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2011)
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AM/PM by Amelia GrayTen Dead Mice by Sharon DelaroseHow the Water Feels to the Fishes by Dave EggersImpromptu Scribe by Alex MorrittThe Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Microstories
8th out of 11 books — 5 voters
NW by Zadie Smith420 Characters by Lou BeachThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey EugenidesWarm Bodies by Isaac MarionThings My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
Chats at Chatswood
2nd out of 14 books — 1 voter


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,279)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4* of five

The Book Description: Within this collection of miniature stories, entire worlds take shape—some like our own, some hallucinatory fairylands--populated by heartsick cowboys, random criminals, lovers and drifters. In a dazzling narrative constellation, Beach’s characters contend with the strange and terrible and beautiful in life, and no outcome is certain. Begun as a series of Facebook status updates,420 Charactersmarks a new turn in an acclaimed artist and illustrator’s career
...more
Kurt
Nov 11, 2011 Kurt rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of poetry or minimalism or Facebook or beauty or life
Recommended to Kurt by: Amazon Vine
This beautiful collection of hyper-minimalist stories is simply stunning. Beach presents himself with a simple challenge - make an impact in a Facebook status update, which means writing 420 characters or fewer - and succeeds in roughly 160 different ways. Each page of this collection is one status update, each standing independently but some tracing faint connections through the volume in a vaguely Spoon River Anthology kind of way. Some are complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end, a ...more
sara frances
this book was a bit too strange for my tastes but there were some stories that i completely adored. here are two that really stick out to me:

"I rise at 3 A.M. to walk my bladder to the bathroom, then return to the bed and wait for my face and pillow to come to an agreement. I lie on my right, my left, my stomach, my back, as if attempting an even tan, until I find the Goldilocks spot. The only sound is the hum of the planet, and the whistling and chirping of the little birds who live in my nostr
...more
Adrianne Mathiowetz
I was critical of this book at first; I had just read a book with a similar concept that I had ABSOLUTELY LOVED, and because this book wasn't a carbon copy of that book, it seemed lacking. I didn't think Beach was using his 420 characters carefully enough. I wanted more of a punch in the last sentence of every story; I wanted to feel pummeled and raw by page 20.

Also, obviously, there's a gimmick at play here, and it was initially easy to dismiss it as just that -- gimmicky.

But by about halfway
...more
Jasmine
Since by the time I've gotten home to write this review it's 2012 clearly this is the last book of 2011 which sadly leaves me 24 pages from 49,000 but I suppose that's life.

why don't I like this book? well I wanted to like this book. it's just there are so many great microstories books and this isn't one of them. This is like someone is writing them without understanding the concept of a story. I mean they don't actually beg to be written. I mean a good microstory either feels like it encompass
...more
Beverly J.
ZERO STARS, that's right Zero. This is the worst piece of shit I've encountered in a Long time. These were his updates to a 'social networking' site. They were bizarre, horrible, random and senseless. Not even remotely interesting, no redeeming value at all. Oh, and his "art"? His illustrations? Not my cup of tea either. pffffffft!!!
Jennifer
I love the concept of this—teeny tiny short stories, originally written as Facebook posts. I'm very jealous that I didn't come up with that idea myself. But I'm glad someone did (& apparently there are others). Some of these were brilliant, some were fun, and some lost me. But all in all a quick laugh & a page turner. With artwork.
Claire
Interesting idea and a good mix. Some of the brief stories broke my heart and others made me smirk.
Pamela Huxtable
420 Characters by Lou Beach started out as an experiment of sorts. Beach originally posted his micro stories as Facebook posts, which were limited to 420 characters per post. Beach then put them together in this book, along with collages he created.

This is the first time I have read this type of "micro fiction," but I have a feeling it won't be my last. With Twitter postings and Facebook statuses standing in for journalism these days, is it any surprise that authors of fiction would give the mic
...more
Jaime Boler
Ah, The Power of Social Media

Writers increasingly turn to Twitter and Facebook to share their stories. And sometimes they strike gold. In 2009, Justin Halpern, semi-employed and living back home, used Twitter to post in 140 character increments the hilarious and potty-mouth things that came out of his father’s mouth. Shit My Dad Says went on to be a bestseller and a TV show starring William Shatner.

Author Matt Stewart also used Twitter. This Yale University graduate had written a book set in San
...more
Ashish
I had mixed feelings about this one. It is obviously gimmicky - and some of the 'stories' are obviously weak with not enough space for exposition of the ideas explored.

On the other hand, some told me more about the characters than some full length novels have done. Here is my favorite one:

'HER FEROCITY left him indisposed to fight back and finally to even listen. She squinted, eyed him like a pot of boiling water watches a raw egg. She filled the salt shaker. "What is the matter, Jerome?"

This o
...more
Jessica
There's a professor of creative writing at the school where I got my master's degree who is kind of obsessed with flash fiction. I wasn't a creative writing student, so I never had any classes with him, but I heard tell. His argument was that this sort of quickie writing help get the juices flowing, helps you get ideas out on paper so they can be developed later. Maybe there's some truth to that, but I always kind of felt the products of these exercises were largely pretty pathetic. I know that ...more
Jackie
This is pretty far out there, but in a very good way. Lou Beach is an artist whose work has been featured in many publications as well as on several album covers. He's a surrealist in art, and now in writing--this is his first book of prose. It started (and continues--I just 'friended' him to get his daily stories) as Facebook status's, which are limited to 420 characters (including punctuation and spaces). He makes that little bit of space seem like a vast canvas, creating sometimes lyric, some ...more
Dan
This is a book of microstories, each 420 characters or less. Many of them are excellent and some quite dark. Here's an example:

The train pulls into Jawbone at 1:07. I'm on the platform waiting for you but the only passengers off the car are three old farmers. I stand there for a while, look around, hoping you'll appear out of the heat. The engine chugs off into the dust and I retreat to the Red Dog, drink until I'm numb, then stumble past the livery barn to lie down on the tracks. I put my ear t
...more
Jeff Scott
420 Characters is kind of a book of short stories, but really more like a book of prose. Lou Beach has been experimenting with short stories via Facebook status update, whereas, you only have 420 characters to write with. The result is a bunch of teaser stories. Many hint at something very ominous or perhaps some past history and it is enough to want more of the story. It reminds me a great deal of On A Winter’s Night a Traveler even though there is more of the story that is fleshed out, each ch ...more
Shannon
I'm very intrigued by micro-short stories and even more so by the affect that social networking has on our storytelling capabilities. What Beach does here, construct stories using the once-limited 420 characters Facebook status, is interesting. There is quite a mix of funny, morbid, grotesque, shocking, sad and weird stories in this collection. But perhaps the abundance of stories was this collection's biggest draw back. instead of being able to focus on a few tiny stories, and imagine what has ...more
Linda Lipko
Some stories are thought provoking, some scary, some lyrical and others mystical, all are highly creative.

If only I had this book years ago when I sat through a creative writing course listening to the prof. tell the class to write a story about the fly, the fly, the fly on the wall.

I could have used Lou Beach as a reference regarding how the heck to compose an elusive thought and make it shine. (
Jason Kirk
420 Characters is a collection of paragraph-length stories that's by turns fantastical, cheeky, and tender. Each story would make a better greeting card than most of what's out there, and Beach -- an illustrator by trade -- includes a handful of illustrations to accompany the stories.

I guess this is what's call micro-fiction these days, but regardless, I like it. Here's a favorite, chosen from many for no better reason than that it features a hometown hero...

"TODAY I'M JIMI HENDRIX, but I don't
...more
Alena
I won a copy of this book through First Reads.
4.5 stars
Despite the fact that this entire book is based on a gimmick (all entries are originally the author's Facebook posts), I just loved it. These very short stories are delightful -- sometimes wickedly funny, other times spot-on sober.
Beach is a little twisted, which appeals to me. My jaw dropped at a few of the stories for sure. I certainly stopped often to reread and dissect. But mostly, I was struck by the entries' poetic natures. They are, a
...more
Greg
Intellectually I think the concept behind this book is great. Fiction posted to a social network regularly and within the boundaries provided by that medium. I get excited for any creative use of such services, especially when it encourages creativity and reading. But trying to take them all in, one after another, in a bound and printed format can be a bit overwhelming.

My complaints are primarily just less intense versions of the ones I had about the book Not Quite What I Was Planning. In that
...more
TC
This is a strange conceit of a book, consisting of random Facebook postings made by the author--thus the arbitrary artificial limit of each "story" being only 420 characters or less. In those characters, he practices melodrama, building a scene with just a sentence or two, that tries to draw us into a larger story that presumably we finish ourselves. Therefor, it's fair to call this a writing exercise. As such, it should be forgettable, but some of the "stories" are evocative enough that they're ...more
Jenni Moody
Feb 10, 2012 Jenni Moody rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Maria Romasco-Moore, Alisa Alering
Written as Facebook posts, these short stories are constrained to 420 characters.

On the front of the book, there's a blurb from Jonathan Lethem: "Holy shi*t! These are great!"

How can you not like a book after that?

These short pieces are amazing. Atmospheric, lovely. Full of details that are ready to bust with plot and consequence. I was drawn to this book by its beautiful red cover, with a gold foil emblem of the number 420 at the top. I checked this book out of my local library, but I'm going
...more
Doug
I expected that limiting the length of a short story to 420 characters -- as counted by FaceBook's software, spaces and punctuation included -- would come off as a gimmick rather than an artistic constraint, but this collection of a hundred and fiftyish micro-stories is pretty amazing, in several dimensions.

The first thing I noticed was the vividness of the prose. In the service of these stories Beach deploys striking metaphors and similes, crisp and believable dialogue, and rich and evocative a
...more
Kwoomac
A collection of 169 short stories, none longer than 420 characters. Some seem shorter but I'm not counting anything. I found some stories took my breath away, others left me wanting more. The book also has surreal collages created by the author. Not my thing at all, I always feel like someone's trying too hard.

A few of my favorites:

Today I'm Jimi Hendrix but I don't own a guitar so I set fire to a kitchen chair instead. The crowd roars. My wife refuses to be the drummer, just clucks and stirs t
...more
Danny
I like to see what people can do within a set of given parameters. Sometimes it's boring or lacking, but sometimes it's amazing and transcendent. This book has a little bit of both. Not everything is a punch to the gut, but enough of them are that it's worth it. Sometimes as you page through it seems like characters and themes return, but very rarely is it explicit and each story is its own.

Sometimes they're images or moments perfectly described, and sometimes there's a whole story in the few se
...more
Alisa
The title of this book comes from the 420 characters allowed in a Facebook post, with the idea being that within such a small amount of space, a gripping tale can yet be told. The stories in herein are quite short (all exactly 420 characters, go figure). Each one reads like opening linings to stories I want to keep reading. They're the kind of tales that after finishing you think: I have Facebook, why can't I do that?
Elizabeth Hein
Lou Beach's collection of micro fiction is filled with wonderfully surreal glimpses into life. His prose is lovely and unexpected. This beautifully bound little book also has 10 bizarre and a little bit unnerving pieces of art. I loved every print.
This is not the type of book you sit down and read all at once. It would be best enjoyed if kept somewhere where you can dip into it a few stories at a time.
Ginger Bollinger
This book is a collection of what were originally Facebook page status updates - all limited to 420 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Some are shorter - none exceed 420 characters. It reads like poetry. Here's one of my favorites which is going straight into my Commonplace book (Thanks, Carri!) Isn't it delicious how he describes being literally absorbed into a book?? :-)

"I lay the book on the floor, open to the middle. It's a lovely volume, green leather covers, engraved endpapers.
...more
Selwa
This is a book of microstories that caught my attention in a write-up in NPR Books. The idea is a clever one: stories of no more than 420 characters (including spaces and punctuation), per facebook's former status limit. And the result is a delightful book. Some stories are better than others (as is always the case, isn't it), but I didn't think that any of the stories were bad, either. It took me longer to read than I expected, but this was probably due to the fact that I read each story twice. ...more
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“Kiss me a question, ask me again with your eyes and I'll answer with my fingers, trailing reasons down your spine. There's a theory behind your knees and a postulate in that sweet spot on your neck, and I'll respond to your query with a smooch and a holler, roll you up against the sink and wash your hair, make love till the plates fall off the shelf” 2 likes
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