Friday, June 20, 2008

The Book of Other People

I’d considered reading The Book of Other People, a collection of short stories by “the best writers of their generation,” several months ago. However, I didn’t get the impetus to actually read it until I discovered Aleksandar Hemon a few weeks ago. He, along with other favorites like Jonathan Safran Foer and Nick Hornby, contributed to the collection.

Ironically, Hemon’s short story, “The Liar,” is the most disappointing in the collection, reminding me of something a novice writer would create in an attempt to be clever and edgy.

The stories range in length, tone, and even medium (the collection includes two graphic short stories). In Miranda July’s “Roy Spivy,” a woman has a romantic encounter with a famous actor on an airplane. Heidi Julavits's “Judge Gladys Parks-Schultz” experiences “a reminiscence inside a reminiscence inside a reminiscence.”

My favorite story, though, is the first in the collection (yes, I did actually read the entire book): “Judith Castle” by David Mitchell. The story is told in first-person from Judith’s perspective. Yet, despite Judith’s filter, it becomes clear quite quickly that no one actually likes her. In fact, she is downright irritating. I couldn’t help but appreciate this twist on the first-person narrative.

Not all stories are as enjoyable. The beauty of a collection, though, is that it can cater to all tastes. And it is a good introduction to authors you (or I) may never have read before.

On a side note, I was surprised to see that male writers outnumbered female 2:1 in the collection. And of the female writers, several use their initials. What does this say about the public’s or industry’s perception of females as serious writers? Clearly, we aren’t nearly as advanced as I’d thought.

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