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The Book of Other People

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,340 Ratings  ·  338 Reviews
A stellar host of writers explore the cornerstone of fiction writing: character

The Book of Other People is about character. Twenty-five or so outstanding writers have been asked by Zadie Smith to make up a fictional character. By any measure, creating character is at the heart of the fictional enterprise, and this book concentrates on writers who share a talent for making
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 2nd 2008 by Penguin Books (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 13, 2016 Maxwell rated it it was ok
From a simply statistical perspective, this one gets 2 stars from me. It's 23 stories, and after finishing them all, I can say there were only 7 that I really loved and would read again/recommend. They were:

1. "Judith Castle" by David Mitchell
2. "Frank" by A.L. Kennedy
3. "Lélé" by Edwidge Danticat
4. "Puppy" by George Saunders (which I think was a re-read for me)
5. "Rhoda" by Jonathan Safran Foer
6. "Soleil" by Vendela Vida
7. "Donal Webster" by Colm Tóibín

The rest weren't necessarily bad, but they
Jun 05, 2008 Katherine rated it it was ok
I so wanted to like this book. The concept is great - it's a collection of character sketches written by a host of terrific contemporary writers, brought together and sold to raise money for a children's arts charity in NYC. It's edited by Zadie Smith, who I love, and has stories by lots of writers for whom I eagerly await any new book they put out. BUT. This is just not a very good collection. Don't get me wrong, some of the character sketches were great and some were fun and some were thought ...more
MJ Nicholls
As other esteemed Goodreaders have opined, this anthology fails to deliver consistent excellence, despite the all-star cast.

The best contributions are from Hari Kunzru, Daniel Clowes, ZZ Packer, Chris Ware, Nick Hornby, Miranda July & Jonathan Lethem. These stories kept my arse welded to the chair, with zero distracted fidgety impatience.

The others are merely average: fragments, unfinished doodles or tossed-off oddities. Jonathan Safran Foer, hardly a prolific short story writer, seems to ha
Dec 01, 2009 Jennifer rated it did not like it
Shelves: short-stories
This is a collection of short stories to benefit some young writers' program in NYC. I was drawn to it because of the Charles Burns cover-art and because one of my favorite comic book artists, Daniel Clowes, did a short piece for this book (disappointing) as did C. Ware (writer/artist of Jimmy Corrigan.) Three of the stories are written comic/graphic style and the others are just regular non-illustrated short stories. The title of each story is the name of a person (or animal/creature) as each i ...more
Raluca Popescu
Nov 19, 2014 Raluca Popescu rated it it was ok
Anthologies are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. Some pieces will be your favourite combination of ingredients, others will start off promising but leave a bitter aftertaste, while yet others might even trigger your allergies.
And now that I've milked this second-hand metaphor for all it's got, I'll mention the pieces I did like. A.M. Homes's "Cindy Stubenstock" is charming in its description of high snobiety. Miranda July's "Roy Spivey" is a cute little "what could
Zadie Smith propuso una idea a varios escritores: invéntate un personaje. El resultado, la presente antología, ’El libro de los otros’. También hay que reseñar que los fondos obtenidos con la publicación de este libro están destinados a 826 NYC, una ONG dedicada a perfeccionar las habilidades lectoras y escritoras de niños y jóvenes entre seis y dieciocho años. Pero dejando este punto aclarado, los relatos incluidos me han parecido bastante decepcionantes. Nombres de relumbrón, la mayoría, que n ...more
Oct 23, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
I borrowed (read: temporarily stole) this book from my best friend's bookshelf, because I've been eager to read it since it came out. Finally I get around to it and it's pretty much just as I was expecting - great, obviously, but not perfect. It is a short story book, edited by Zadie Smith, on the behalf of Dave Eggers' non-profit organisation that helps children with their reading and writing. The premise was that each writer would pen a short story piece on a character, whose name would become ...more
Jan 06, 2008 Adele rated it liked it
From the literati club that is the Dave Eggers 826 empire comes this collection of short stories, written by authors for free to benefit 826 New York. The stories were written from the prompt that editor Zadie Smith basically describes as "create a character"-- and mixed results ensue. Smith's story, for example, is a mediocre effort about a father-son relationship that leaves much to be desired. Eggers goes mythical and writes about giants, while Vendela Vida, his wife, delivers straight up rea ...more
Mar 03, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
There are a lot of stories in this book, I liked some more than others. My favourites were:

Judith Castle by David Mitchell
Justin M. Damiamo by Daniel Clowes
Gideon by Z.Z. Packer
Jordan Wellington Lint by Chris Ware
Roy Spivey by Miranda July
Cindy Stubenstock by A.M. Homes
Theo by Dave Eggers
Jun 07, 2008 Eugenie rated it liked it
Recommended to Eugenie by: Jarrett
I most liked the pieces in this collection that were real stories rather than fragments. Despite the impressive cast of writers, too many of the pieces felt like obligatory, though inventive, answers to a character sketch assignment for a writing class. And I think it was just a coincidence, but most of them are pretty bleak. If you read just one, let it be Dave Eggers' achingly beautiful "Theo," about a lovelorn giant. Miranda July, Vendela Vida, and George Saunders also contribute sharp, poign ...more
Tattered Cover Book Store
This is an anthology that collects the works of some of today's coolest authors. Jonathan Lethem, Chris Ware, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, A.M. Homes, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nick Hornby, and Z.Z. Packer all made contributions. I especially liked Mitchell's and Saunder's contributions. I must say, the fact that this is a collection of character sketches rather than short stories is
incredibly intriguing to me. Oh. The proceeds from the sales will be donated to that literacy center that
James Anderson
Feb 04, 2016 James Anderson rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable and filled with authors that I enjoy reading. There were a couple of stories I'd read in The New Yorker previously, but, instead of feeling like I was wasting my time reading them again, it felt like visiting old acquaintances.

This book is lovely and certainly worth reading even if you haven't heard of any of the contributors (but I bet you have.)
May 12, 2014 Karan rated it liked it
With a brief of "Make someone up", Zadie Smith, the editor of this compendium requested a bunch of contemporary novelists to create characters, and they each obliged with a short story designed around their titular subjects in their own way. Though rather rhetorical an exercise (can you write a short story without having a character?), if weaving a character-sketch into a narrative could be the closest to interpretation of her brief, more than half of the authors complied and delivered a few gem ...more
There’s a reason why we don’t get to know other people, those faces that populate our daily lives. They’re just simply boring.

This anthology simply failed to capture my attention. Maybe it’s just my state of mind right now, or it’s my taste in books (I tend not to lean towards straight up realistic-fiction, which is what mostly populates this anthology), or the book itself. I don’t know.

Some of the stories were interesting, creative, striking. David Mitchell’s story was heart-wrenching and dec
Aug 19, 2008 Kara rated it really liked it
I loved reading this book. There were many times through out this book where I stopped to re-read a sentence and soak it in because of it’s poetic nature. I loved the gathering of authors that contributed to this book, this book that focuses on character alone. Also another plus of this book is that some of the proceeds of the sale go to a children’s literacy fund in NY.
Jun 19, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
A good collection of short stories from an odd array of writers - picked it up and set it back down whenever I was done with a few each time. Nothing world shaking, but worth the time if you enjoy the people that were tapped to write for it (Zadie Smith being the draw for me, though most of the stories were fine enough.)
Feb 22, 2014 Leseparatist rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, 2014
I enjoyed it quite a lot, more than I'd expected. Zadie Smith and Colm Toibin were particularly good, but I also enjoyed Adam Thirlwell, Miranda July, A. M. Homes and Jonathan Lethem.
I did not like the stories by Hari Kunzru and David Mitchell - they felt gimmicky and cruel.
David Bril
Oct 10, 2014 David Bril rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nick-hornby
This is a collection of short stories written by various novelists including Dave Eggers, Miranda July and Colm Toibin. It is edited by Zadie Smith and its basic concept is that each other write about a new character they have created, thus each chapter title is the name of the character that will be in the short story. I have not read the entire book yet.

However my rating is for the Nick Hornby short that is included in this set. It is called J. Johnson and it is written by Hornby and includes
Mar 27, 2016 Vaidya rated it it was ok
2.5/5, but am not going to round it up, will round it down.

The first thought on getting to the last page: "OMG! I finished this".
Some of the stories are really good. Except that they are randomly interspersed. Some might have been good, but they probably got set up by a not-so-good one before.

The concept is good, lots of writers coming together to write stories about some character they create. It should've worked. But what does this in, is the very different voices, and that there is no cohere
Mar 19, 2011 Lindsay rated it it was ok
Talk about an anthology of stories by snobby hipsters. The only thing truly wonderful in this book is the story by Chris Ware, but mostly they are stuffy overwrought pieces that fail to deliver.
Jan 21, 2008 Rob rated it really liked it
gets four stars because there are some 2 and some 5 star stories in the collection. but it's more than worth a read, if only to give a clue to some authors that you haven't read yet...
Rebecca Rosenblum
Jun 11, 2012 Rebecca Rosenblum rated it really liked it
I wrote a review of this one on my blog--
May 27, 2008 Anina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
best story in this book...magda mandela by zz packer...i read it about 9 times this weekend and i never do that
Oct 19, 2015 Marly rated it liked it
I enjoyed but didn't love most of these. But, the ones I loved made reading the whole book worthwhile.
Feb 04, 2016 Udit rated it really liked it
The story "Judge Gladys Parks-Schultz" by Heidi Julavits was assigned as a reading for a course I had taken. I'm not sure how exactly, but the course instructor had been able to guess that Julavits was mocking Julio Cortazar's "The Continuity of Parks" - I haven't been able to find any reference connecting the two; but she's right: if you look at it, the similarities and references cannot possibly be a mere coincidence.

Anyway, I liked that story a lot and decided to check this collection out. (T
Jake Hainey
(originally published at

Gargh….I really wanted to love this book. I really did. From the beautiful jacket design by Charles Burns to the list of great authors (Daniel Clowes, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers) who contribute work to the book…on paper, this should work. It’s such a cool idea.
A bunch of authors were contacted by Zadie Smith and given the brief to “create a character”. The resulting stories were to be collected in a book to raise money for 826NYC, a c
Jul 29, 2011 Sheila rated it it was ok
Let's get this out of the way right now: I heart Zadie Smith. So when I got this book home and saw the tiny "edited by" on the cover, I was disappointed, but only for a second. Yes, I do love Zadie, but I love short stories even more.

In the introduction, Ms. Smith says: "*The Book of Other People* is about character. The instruction was simple: make someone up." The resulting collection is a true grab-bag of...stuff about people. Some are stories, some are vignettes, some are sketches, one is a
Mar 16, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
So far, it's amazing! I love the characters, especially Judith Castle, the uppity, overly-dramatic, manipulative Judith.

Every day I go to read one of the short stories and end up reading 3 or 4. It's addicting. I haven't come across any I hated and only a few that left me indifferent.

I enjoy the varieties of characters from the eccentric to ordinary. I identified with Miranda July's what-ifs, Judge Gladys Parks-Schultz's blame game, and Gabrielle's ingenuity in saving her father from a temptre
Dec 27, 2015 Chriso rated it really liked it
This turned out to be a largely fantastic collection of stories. It's always going to be difficult to please one reader from start to finish in a book like this with so many authors and different styles and voices. But I was loving it more than I wasn't throughout. The concept, put forth by editor Zadie Smith, was "make somebody up". So the book is a study in characters and all of the different ways they can be introduced and presented to readers. I found myself drawn into so many different worl ...more
Dec 21, 2008 Brittany rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People looking to discover new authors, Fans of short stories, Fans of these authors
Recommended to Brittany by: Glamour magazine
How I Came To Read This Book: Thanks to some skilled books publicity mongrels, this book showed up in a few magazines I read, and I spotted it at Chapters, and just generally wanted to read it. I bought it about a year ago maybe?

The Plot: Erm, well, the 'idea' behind the book is Zadie Smith is the editor of this collection of short stories - all profits go towards a writing program for underprivileged youth. The caveat of the stories is they are all supposed to revolve around the creation of a
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This book is not by Zadie Smith. 2 40 Aug 24, 2012 03:48PM  
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Zadie Smith (born Sadie Smith October 27, 1975) is an English novelist. To date she has written four novels, and is widely regarded as one of England's most talented young authors; in 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors.

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