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The Book of Other People

Zadie Smith commissioned twenty-three reputable writers (including herself) to each “make someone up.” Their stories were named after their characters and compiled into this book, published and sold for the benefit of 826NYC, a non-profit that gets kids into writing. It’s a good enough idea, but unfortunately, most of these stories are instantly forgettable.

Some of the authors I’ve found to excel at short-form character studies before (like Dan Clowes and Miranda July) don’t disappoint, and others (like Nick Hornby and Jonathan Safran Foer) take a novel, economical approach to telling a simple and satisfying story. Many of the rest, though, have an oppressive, off-putting weight to them that’s either gratuitously academic or unapologetically maudlin.

It’s like the message to the kids at 826NYC is, “Work hard at your writing, and one day you too can make a successful career out of loss and regret!”