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The Country Tells Its Stories

Paul Auster and National Public Radio's I Thought My Father Was God

When the host of National Public Radio's "Weekend All Things Considered" asked Paul Auster to contribute to the program regularly by reading stories on air, Auster hesitated. Not sure whether he had the time or resources to commit to writing original material every month, he brought the idea home to his wife, Siri Hustvedt. When she proposed having listeners send in their own true stories, which Auster would then read on air, the National Story Project was born. Four thousand faxes, letters and emails later, the project is a success.

Edited and introduced by Paul Auster, author of (among other books) Timbuktu and The New York Trilogy, I Thought My Father Was God consists of 179 of the best and brightest stories received by the project. Categorized into ten sections -- Animals, Objects, Families, Slapstick, Strangers, War, Love, Death, Dreams and Meditations -- the stories run the gamut from poignant to eerie to hilarious. From stories that remind you of grandma's favorite childhood tale which she shared at every Christmas, year after year, to moments of incredibly touching twists of fate, reminiscent of star-crossed lovers finding their way, this is a coffee-table book for the literate, or as Auster says, "an archive of facts, a museum of American reality."

While reading this book, what continues to amaze is that the person who wrote each story could be sitting next to you in a restaurante ating dinner, or standing in front of you on the train. From the story by a doctor who saved the life of a heart-attack victim, to a man who woke up from surgery thinking he was twenty years younger, changing from an abusive alcoholic into a loving husband, to a short paragraph by a woman who watched a chicken walk down the street in front of her, knock on a door with its beak and be let inside, each tale is symbol of something. It's up to us to figure out what. If nothing else, this book reveals the important truth that we all have the ability to find that one amazing or not so amazing experience in our lives that affected us, and we have the power to share it with others. Without delving too deeply into cliché, we really are our own best teachers.

As Auster says in the introduction, "Even after you have read through all fifteen dozen of (the stories), they continue to stay with you, and you find yourself remembering them in the same way that you remember a trenchant parable or a good joke ... and each one is small enough to fit inside your pocket. Like the snapshots we carry around of our own families." In a time when we are all focusing so closely on how recent events will go down in history, this book is a tapestry of tales that documents the life we share right now, relaying human experience through the essential details.

I Thought My Father Was God:
And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project

Edited and Introduced by Paul Auster, in association with NPR's Weekend All Things Considered
Henry Holt & Company, Inc.; ISBN: 0805067140
Hardcover, 383 pages (September 2001)
>> Buy It Now: I Thought My Father Was God

A regular contributor to SF Station's Literary Arts pages, Rosie Levy is a literary publicist who lives in Bernal Heights.

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