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420 Characters Hardcover – December 6, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; none edition (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547617933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547617930
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2011: Lou Beach takes the prize for best Facebook status update on nearly every page of 420 Characters. Most of us find it difficult to reduce the day’s events or our current emotional state to just 420 characters with spaces and punctuation, yet Beach manages to tell entire stories within these strict confines without losing anything you’d expect from a story with no character limit. These micro-stories range from funny to tragic to absurd, illustrated by Beach’s original artwork and collages. Taken separately, they’re the stories of dreams, both broken and realized; of relationships healthy and strange; of disillusionment and contentment. Taken together, they’re the story of life--or lives. Though there aren’t any overtly recurring characters, the stories still combine into a powerful cohesive whole that’s just as fun to read straight through as it is to read in chunks of 420 characters or less. --Malissa Kent

From Booklist

No, there aren’t 420 characters, as in men, women, and children, in artist Beach’s first book of fiction. That is the number of letters, spaces, and punctuation marks allowed in Facebook status updates, a form he uses to striking effect in 160-plus short-short stories. Renowned for his intricate collages, a suite of which are reproduced here in full color, Beach brings his great gift for unexpected juxtapositions to his brief yet richly evocative and crisply visualized tales. Linked by reappearing characters, these microdramas of malaise and desire have an outlaw element, wry humor, frissons of creepiness, and bursts of beauty. Drifting in time, Beach’s potent little stories tell of love and family gone horribly wrong, drunkenness and desperation, dreams and wonder. A man is trapped between a swarm of bees and a bear. A gal rides a horse in a hiked-up wedding gown. A boy fantasizes about heroism and love as he leaps from a high trestle into a river. “Thousands of starlings pulled the locomotive through the sky.” Beach’s concentrated improvisations are emotive, disarming, and resplendent. --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

LOU BEACH is an award-winning illustrator and gallery artist, well known for his record covers and magazine work. A book of his artwork, "CUT IT OUT" was published in 2006. A book of his short fiction, "420 CHARACTERS" will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2011. A collaboration with author J.Robert Lennon, "THE GREAT ZOMBINI" is available on Kindle. To read excerpts from "420 CHARACTERS" and to hear them being read by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane and Dave Alvin, visit www.420characters.net.

Customer Reviews

Not all of them are quite this dull, but not all of them arethat much better.
J from NY
After I finished each story, I found myself savoring what I had just read and eager to find out what awaited me in the next story.
Amazon Customer
Within "420 CHARACTERS" are over 140 very short (100 words or less) affecting stories.
J. A. Bell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Conner VINE VOICE on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This beautiful collection of hyper-minimalist stories is simply stunning. Beach presents himself with a simple challenge - make an impact in a Facebook status update, which means writing 420 characters or fewer - and succeeds in roughly 160 different ways. Each page of this collection is one status update, each standing independently but some tracing faint connections through the volume in a vaguely Spoon River Anthology (Signet Classics) kind of way. Some are complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and some are completely surreal images that don't have an obvious surface-level connection, but most are single rich images that suggest much larger stories. I have been madly in love with minimalism since reading a Chuck Palahniuk essay about Amy Hempel (and then devouring The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel), and most of Beach's work compares well with the best of Hempel's creations. Beach clearly understands exactly how to cultivate just the most evocative details of a scene, like a cowboy realizing that all of his lover's letters have taken on the aroma of campfires, a child absorbing the warmth of a small wooden bridge while dropping pebbles into the stream below, or three lines of dialogue that suggest the overall shape of a passionate argument.

There is a dreamy poetry to these pieces, and even the less successful experiments are gems for thoughtful readers to treasure. If Facebook can inspire gifted artists to create beauty like this, I'm willing to forgive it for every hour it has ever drained from people wasting their time on Farmville. This is one of my new favorite books.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Kilgore Gagarin TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE BOOK REVIEWER tapped at his keyboard beginning with, "You know, I got this for free." This had never previously engendered pangs of guilt. But this time his funk increased because he'd received something exceptional for nada. All he had to do was write his thoughts about it. The book wasn't transcendental. Better. It was cool. He wondered if he could emulate the author and write his review in less than 420 charac
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Pippa Lee VINE VOICE on November 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rating: 3.5 stars

Pure curiosity drew me to this book. I wanted to know what kind of stories could be written with 420 characters. After reading Lou Beach's book, I can attest that a lot can be said in six or seven typewritten lines.

When I first started reading the book, I tried to find a common thread or a pattern that would bring the stories together. Pretty soon, it became evident that it was better to give up the search for a unifying theme. Instead, each story is best read as a stand-alone even though there might be a recurrent name or event. Some of the stories just play with the incongruous. Others are meant for imagery. But most of them are what I called moments of realization caught in a paragraph. These stories have characters. Some are named. Many remain nameless and speak in the first or third person. These nameless voices belong to individuals that seemed to come from all walks of life. These men and women may be single or married, old or young, law abiding citizens or criminals, victims or predators, rich or destitute. They live in the present or in some undetermined time in the past where wars were fought with sables and on horses. They allude of places like the suburbs, a campfire, mines, farms, a studio, prison and even outer space.

"420 Characters" was hard to rate for me. On one hand, I could marvel at the observational and writing skills needed to distill and convey into a few precise words the character's whole experience. On the other hand, I could see why the book may not be for everybody. It is hard to get an emotional reaction from characters we hardly have any time to know. Most of them are faceless and nameless and as such will fade from the readers' minds once they close the book. What happened after to these characters will never be known, anyway. This is a book that appeals to the intellect because liking "420 Characters" hinges more on "Oh, I got it!" than on "Oh, I feel for you."
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By bert1761 VINE VOICE on November 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"420 Characters" is a series of stories originally written as Facebook page updates; hence each is limited to 420 Characters." Most of these stories are brilliant. Some pack the emotional wallop of a 420 PAGE novel, others make the reader really stop and think because the author effectively evoked a full world in just 420 characters, and some are outright hilarious -- almost like little "Far Side" cartoons without pictures.

I would, however, highly recommend reading only a handful of stories at a time. Too many more and the reader is overwhelmed by the writer's talent and audacity. Ironically, though, reading too many at a time also gives the stories something of a feeling of a gimmick, and they deserve so much more respect that to be viewed in that manner.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The reader will either like this book quite a bit or not like it at all. There's no inbetween in it. This is the first book of prose for Beach, who is best known for his illustrations: he has designed album covers for the Neville Brothers, Weather Report, etc., and his illustrations have appeared in Wired, The New Yorker Harper's, The New York Review of Books, and Time. (All this you can discover by reading the book jacket.) These surreal semi-stories first appeared as status updates on a large social network, I assume Facebook, where an entry is limited to 420 characters, including spaces and punctuation. The individual stories -they are stories, however disjointed in logic they appear-- seem nonsensical or vapid depending on how you judge them. In tone and approach, they remind one of John Lennon's 1965 collection of writings and drawings, A Spaniard in the Works.

There is an entry near the end of the book that captures the mood of these entries at their best. Like all the rest, it has no title. It just starts.

HE SITS IN THE SUN rearranging the past, and tries to keep warm. He knows words, says them, but has forgotten their meaning. They hang all about, sparkling, just out of reach, the crystals on a chandelier he can't light. His memory rings like a wind chime, sounding clear and bright, then dwindles to random jingles and clinks.

Neither prose nor poem, this and other entries attempt to exploit the new resource made available to us by vehicles like Facebook and Twitter. I think Beach succeeds, but this book is not everybody's cup of tea.

Oh! There are several black and white illustrations in this book which are killers. They're really good, like Max Ernst updated to today.
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