Finally, a bathroom book worthy of Pulitzer consideration: the one- to three-page stories gathered in this astonishing, addictive collection are absolute gems. In 1999, novelist Paul Auster (Timbuktu) and the hosts of National Public Radio's All Things Considered
asked listeners to send in true stories to be read on-air as part of the National Story Project. Auster received more than 4,000 submissions; the 180 best are published here. The result is "an archive of facts, a museum of American reality." Auster is particularly interested in stories that "def[y] our expectations about the world, anecdotes that [reveal] the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives." Accordingly, a vast number of the stories involve incredible, stranger-than-fiction coincidences: a pendant lost in the ocean off Atlantic City that's discovered 10 years later in a Lake Placid antique shop; the missing pieces of a china set handpainted by the author's grandmother that mysteriously surface at a flea market; a man who turns purple and dies just after being told to "drop dead." Others, while not as improbable, are no less powerful: an anecdote about a ruined birthday cake, for instance, leads one contributor to muse that fighting is "an intimate gesture reserved for the people close to you."; a small boy's realization that his mother has pawned her wedding ring so that she can buy him a school uniform serves as the knockout last line of one of the collection's quieter stories. (Sept.)
Forecast:The renaissance in autobiographical writing, the accessibility of these captivating stories, and this title's appeal to all sorts of readers make this an ideal gift book. The push it will get from NPR should ensure robust sales.