The Book of Other People Read online





  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Introduction

  Judith Castle - David Mitchell

  Justin M. Damiano - Daniel Clowes

  Frank - A. L. Kennedy

  Gideon - ZZ Packer

  Gordon - Andrew O’Hagan

  Hanwell Snr - Zadie Smith

  J. Johnson - Nick Hornby, with illustrations by Posy Simmonds

  Lélé - Edwidge Danticat

  The Liar - Aleksandar Hemon

  Jordan Wellington Lint - Chris Ware

  Magda Mandela - Hari Kunzru

  The Monster - Toby Litt

  Nigora - Adam Thirlwell

  Judge Gladys Parks-Schultz - Heidi Julavits

  Puppy - George Saunders

  Rhoda - Jonathan Safran Foer

  Soleil - Vendela Vida

  Roy Spivey - Miranda July

  Cindy Stubenstock - A. M. Homes

  Theo - Dave Eggers

  Perkus Tooth - Jonathan Lethem

  Donal Webster - Colm Tóibín

  Newton Wicks - Andrew Sean Greer

  Contributors

  Acknowledgements

  PENGUIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

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  First published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd. 2007

  First published in the United States of America in Penguin Books 2007

  Introduction and “Hanwell Snr” copyright © Zadie Smith, 2007; Selection copyright © 826NYC, 2007; Copyright © David Mitchell, 2007; Copyright © Daniel Clowes, 2007; Copyright © A. L. Kennedy, 2007; Copyright © ZZ Packer, 2007; Copyright © Andrew O’Hagan, 2007; Copyright © Nick Hornby, 2007; Copyright © Posy Simmonds; Copyright © Edwidge Danticat, 2007; Copyright © Aleksandar Hemon, 2007: Copyright © Chris Ware, 2007; Copyright © Hari Kunzru, 2007; Copyright © Toby Litt, 2007; Copyright © Adam Thirlwell, 2007; Copyright © Heidi Julavits, 2007; Copyright © George Saunders, 2007; Copyright © Jonathan Safran Foer, 2007; Copyright © Vendela Vida, 2007; Copyright © Miranda July, 2007; Copyright © A. M. Homes, 2007; Copyright © Dave Eggers, 2007; Copyright © Jonathan Lethem, 2007; Copyright © Colm Toibin, 2007; Copyright © Andrew Sean Greer, 2007 All rights reserved

  “Gordon” by Andrew O’Hagan, “Hanwell Snr” (as “Hanwell Senior”) by Zadie Smith, “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru, “Puppy” by George Saunders, “Roy Spivey” by Miranda July, and “Donal Webster” by Colm Toibin first appeared in The New Yorker. “Nigora” by Adam Thirlwell and “J. Johnson” by Nick Hornby with illustrations by Posy Simmonds first appeared in The Guardian (London). “Cindy Stubenstock” (as “Fair Art”) by A. M. Homes published in Exhibit-E, New York.

  Publisher’s Note

  These selections are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

  The book of other people / edited by Zadie Smith.

  p. cm.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-20126-8

  1. Short stories, American. 2. Short stories, English.

  3. Characters and characteristics in literature. 4. Fiction—Technique. I. Smith, Zadie.

  PS648.S5B66 2007

  823’.018—dc22 2007038785

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  Introduction

  The Book of Other People is about character. The instruction was simple: make somebody up. Each story was to be named after its character: ‘Donal Webster’ by Colm Tóibín, ‘Cindy Stubenstock’ by A. M. Homes, ‘Frank’ by A. L. Kennedy, and so on. When the commission was sent out, there were no rules about gender, race or species. This freedom resulted in ‘The Monster’ by Toby Litt and ‘Puppy’ by George Saunders. Late in the making of this book I tried to make a case for first and last names, for reasons of uniformity. The idea was not popular. Reproduced here is Edwidge Danticat’s protest, convincing in its simplicity: ‘I think the variety of names is good. It makes it less monotonous-looking. Since people are named different things by different people.’ Surnames have not been forced upon Danticat’s ‘Lélé’ or Adam Thirlwell’s ‘Nigora’ or on any others who did not want them. In one case, the omitted last name is the deliberate secret upon which the story hinges. In another - to use a distinction of Simone Weil’s - the character is a sacred human being and not a ‘person’ or ‘personality’, and his particular name is not important.

  There are twenty-three stories in this volume, too many to mention individually. Each is its own thing entirely. The book has no particular thesis or argument to convey about fictional character. Nor is straight ‘realism’ or ‘naturalism’ - if such things exist - the aim. The hope was that the finished book might be a lively demonstration of the fact that there are as many ways to create ‘character’ (or deny the possibility of ‘character’) as there are writers. It is striking to see how one simple idea plays out in individual minds, the ‘character’ of the prose itself being as differentiated as the ‘other people’ with which these stories are nominally populated. As editor, I have tried to retain the individuality of each piece by leaving them, by and large, little changed.

  There is, however, an element of their character that has been removed: the fonts. Publishers standardize fonts to suit the style of the house, but when writers deliver their stories by e-mail, each font tells its own story. There are quite a few writers in this volume who use variations on the nostalgic American Typewriter font (and they are all American), as if the ink were really wet and the press still hot. We have two users of the elegant, melancholic Didot font (both British), and a writer who centres the text in one long, thin strip down the page, like a newspaper column (and uses Georgia, a font that has an academic flavour). Some writers size their text in a gigantic 18. Others are more at home in a tiny 10. There are many strange, precise and seemingly intimate tics that disappear upon publication: paragraphs separated by pictorial symbols, titles designed just so, outsized speech marks, centred dialogue, un-centred paragraphs, no paragraphs at all. It seems a shame to lose these idiosyncratic layouts and their subtle effects. Anyway: I hope what remains will satisfy.

  Before leaving you to the stories themselves, I’d like to speak briefl