I Thought My Father Was God
And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project
By Paul Auster (Editor)
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805067149, 416pp.)
Publication Date: October 2001
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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One of America's foremost writers collects the best stories submitted to NPR's popular monthly show--and illuminates the powerful role storytelling plays in all our lives
When Paul Auster and NPR's Weekend All Things Considered introduced The National Story Project, the response was overwhelming. Not only was the monthly show a critical success, but the volume of submissions was astounding. Letters, emails, faxes poured in on a daily basis- more than 4,000 of them by the time the project celebrated its first birthday. Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell.
I Thought Mmy Father Wwas God gathers 180 of these personal, true-life accounts in a single, powerful volume. They come from people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. Half of the contributors are men; half are women. They live in cities, suburbs, and rural areas, and they come from 42 different states. Most of the stories are short, vivid bits of narrative, combining the ordinary and the extraordinary, and most describe a single incident in the writer's life. Some are funny, like the story of how a Ku Klux Klan member's beloved dog rushed out into the street during the annual KKK parade and unmasked his owner as the whole town looked on. Some are mysterious, like the story of a woman who watched a white chicken walk purposefully down a street in Portland, Oregon, hop up some porch steps, knock on the door-and calmly enter the house. Many involve the closing of a loop, like the one about the woman who lost her mother's ashes in a burglary and recovered them five years later from the mortuary of a local church.
Hilarious blunders, wrenching coincidences, brushes with death, miraculous encounters, improbable ironies, premonitions, sorrows, pains, dreams-this singular collection encompasses an extraordinary range of settings, time periods, and subjects. A testament to the important role storytelling plays in all our lives, I Thought My Father Was God offers a rare glimpse into the American soul.
Paul Auster's most recent novel, Timbuktu, was a national bestseller. He began the National Story Project in 1999. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"These stories have their own sly power. They remind us of what real life is . . . They are raw stories, and that's their strength as truth."—San Francisco Chronicle
"Human foibles and frailties, laughter and tears . . . We are all hearing—and telling—stories all the time, especially now, in these days when life itself seems so fragile and precious. But Paul Auster's wonderful efforts, choosing these fine stories, have given us a timely and invaluable reminder of what it means to listen —to really listen—to America talking."—New Orleans Times-Picayune
"Wherever you go on this handsome anthology, the tale is taut, quick and has a payoff, a punch line. I Thought My Father Was God is a huge national family history."—Neil Schmitz, Buffalo News
"Encompasses the comic and the tragic, the absurd and the surreal, the mundane and the ethereal."—Kirkus Reviews
"This is the stuff of life. You can take this message from I Thought My Father Was God . . . Everyone has a story. Also: The art of storytelling is alive and well . . . Of course, there's the obvious question: These stories may work on the radio, but do they translate to print? Yes indeed, and one could argue that they're even more potent read than heard. Reading these essays in private creates a sense of intimacy with 180 people, one at a time. This is a powerful book, one in which strangers share with you their darkest secrets, their happiest memories, their fears, their regrets. To read these essays is to look into hearts, to see life from other viewpoints, to live vicariously."—Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe
"When novelist Auster was invited to become a regular contributor to National Public Radio, he hesitated because he didn't want to write 'stories on command.' 'Why not solicit stories from listeners?' his wife, Siri Hustvedt, suggested. And so Auster asked for succinctly written true stories, and within a year, he received more than 4,000 submissions. He's read them all, some on the air, and selected 180 of the best and most representative to create a unique and unexpectedly affecting book. Here are clearly written and simply told stories 'by people of all ages and from all walks of life' that Auster, his wonder and respect palpable, organized into 10 intriguing categories: animals, objects, families, slapstick, strangers, war, love, death, dreams, and meditations. These are stop-you-in-your-tracks stories about hair-raising coincidences, miracles, tragedies, redemption, and moments of pure hilarity. These impossible and indelible tales encompass reincarnated pets, lost and found items and loved ones, prophecies, and saved lives. There's something magical and electrifying about the realities these modest tales reveal, the hidden dimensions of human life, an amazing mosaic of mysterious occurrences and connections that are, apparently, as common as dust, as precious as love."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"In 2001, when NPR asked Auster to become a regular storyteller on Weekend All Things Considered, he wasn't interested. Then his wife suggested that he ask people to send him their stories to read on the air, and a few months later the National Story Project with was born. From some 4000 stories, Auster has selected 180, grouping them in loose categories: animals, objects, families, slapstick, strangers, war, love, death, dreams, and meditations. All are short, all are true, and they can be sad, hilarious, or both at the same time. In the title piece, Robert Winnie's father tells someone to drop dead and he does! In another, a grandson who has made his grandmother furious hears his grandfather tell him, 'You are my revenge.' Others tell of impossible coincidences, difficult lives, and wonderful comebacks. As this collection ably proves, we all shape experience into stories, and Auster has done a storyteller's job himself of grouping the pieces effectively."—Library Journal
"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."—Publisher's Weekly
"Unforgettable testimonials of human resilience. Moving and amusing dispatches from across America."—US Weekly (starred)