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True Tales of American Life

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This is one of those books with which the BGO forum organization struggles a bit. Although it reads like fiction, all these stories purport to be true, so here in Biography & Autobiography is, I suppose, the best place.


In the late 1990s, Paul Auster, in conjunction with US National Public Radio programme All Things Considered (the closest equivalent they have to Radio 4's "Today"), initiated the National Story Project, an appeal for listeners to send in short pieces to be read out on the show, the only condition being that they must be true.


Auster received more than 4,000 submissions, of which 180 are collected here; the shortest being six sentences, the longest perhaps 4 pages. They're organised under general headings - Strangers, Slapstick, Meditations, Dreams, War and such like.


With 180 different authors, inevitably quality is variable, but the standard generally high. The age profile of All Things Considered listeners means many of the stories are reminiscences of post-war childhood. Inevitably, some have the twee sentimentality of which Americans are unafraid - one expects "True Tales of European Life" would be a considerably more cynical and world weary tome.


Also, given the identity of the editor, many of the stories selected bear somewhat Austerian traits. The coincidences and repetition that are often the hallmark of his fiction are echoed in many of the stories here.


On the whole, though, this is a fascinating read, and reminds one that even the ordinary can be extraordinary.

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