Reading: “The Book of Other People”

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Something different for a change: it was a charity project, in a way (the proceeds were given to a non-profit organization helping young writers); it’s a collection of characters, most of them presented in short stories, some in other forms of narration; it’s edited by Zadie Smith, who – back then – was a rising star and therefore a popular author to choose as an editor (also, I really like Zadie Smith’s work as far as I know it, so this description should in no way seem like a personal of professional attack on Smith as an artist); and it varies heavily in tone and structure (for obvious reasons, being the collection it is), which may be one reason why it received generally positive but also mixed reviews [attentive readers may find most of this trivia on Wikipedia – just like I did, because I cannot remember everything…so thanks aunt Wiki]. Also, as far as I can remember, it was hugely popular back then (nearly 10 years ago?) so I am once again pretty late to the party.

Different stories bring different voices, perspectives, images, languages, and views. Different stories from different authors create even more multifaceted, colorful, vibrant and creative universes (logically). This is the main reason why I usually don’t read a collection like this all at once, because the different voices and styles can at times be irritating; it ‘feels’ different. And this regular change of tones and spirits is exhausting at times, at least in my little corner of the world. Just when you got accustomed to characters and their specific voices and idiosyncrasies, everything changes. All at once. These constant changes of settings and the likes don’t concern that much me when reading a short stories collection by one author; this sort of literary exhaustion only occurs to me when reading collections containing a variety of authors. Because starting a new story by a new author of course brings new experiences. And one can only take so many new experiences on one evening/morning/day/night/train ride/flight/somuchmoreIcan’tthinkofrightnow. Which in itself is a rather trivial – albeit true – observation, but hey, someone has to be a bit trivial around here, so let’s go for it! 

We meet 23 people in 23 settings, lives, worlds. The authors contributing to this collection were asked to introduce a character, tell the story of one person, no matter how. And like in real life, this can be colorful, complex, vibrant, mundane, flat, interesting and shitty. I had some favorites and some I didn’t like. Some were foreseeable but still good, some graced my quiet evenings with a fine sarcastic tone I loved, some were plain and boring. Of course you meet characters that seem familiar; reading one story I realized that I actually had the phone number of the person I was reading about; even more so, I also encountered characters I simply did not understand. As I’m an introvert mess, I always assume this is my fault, since I obviously know too little about (for example) male adolescence to decipher some codes that may otherwise bring me closer to the story; or don’t know enough about the joy of parenting to understand the even greater joy of taking a weekend off from parenting thanks to a shady houseguest taking the kid on a roadtrip. And don’t get me wrong, I really think this is ‘my fault’ since one cannot always work with every voice and every style; some things I simply don’t get because I don’t see it in there (the story, of course). So apart from my intellectual slips and personal tastes, me being the fairness fanatic that I am, I read every story to give it the fair chance to become my favorite. As stated I will not name any favs or not-so-favs, because if someone reading this little piece is even later to the party than I am, s/he should have a fair chance to form their own opinion; besides, as I always like to emphasize: everyone has a different taste, so go find your own favorite story (/stories).

Reading this book was a sort of personal triumph; I bought it eight years ago, I moved it three times without ever so much as reading a single story and I every time I looked at it I thought: “Hey, this sounds soooo interesting, I have to read it on a day off!”
It actually took me three days, because … life. Nevertheless, finally, I met the Other People.