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Building Stories [Hardcover]

Chris Ware
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012 Building Stories

Amazon.ca Editors' Pick: Best Books of 2012

Everything you need to read the new graphic novel Building Stories: 14 distinctively discrete Books, Booklets, Magazines, Newspapers, and Pamphlets.
With the increasing electronic incorporeality of existence, sometimes it’s reassuring—perhaps even necessary—to have something to hold on to. Thus within this colorful keepsake box the purchaser will find a fully-apportioned variety of reading material ready to address virtually any imaginable artistic or poetic taste, from the corrosive sarcasm of youth to the sickening earnestness of maturity—while discovering a protagonist wondering if she’ll ever move from the rented close quarters of lonely young adulthood to the mortgaged expanse of love and marriage. Whether you’re feeling alone by yourself or alone with someone else, this book is sure to sympathize with the crushing sense of life wasted, opportunities missed and creative dreams dashed which afflict the middle- and upper-class literary public (and which can return to them in somewhat damaged form during REM sleep).
A pictographic listing of all 14 items (260 pages total) appears on the back, with suggestions made as to appropriate places to set down, forget or completely lose any number of its contents within the walls of an average well-appointed home. As seen in the pages of The New Yorker, The New York Times and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Building Stories collects a decade’s worth of work, with dozens of “never-before published” pages (i.e., those deemed too obtuse, filthy or just plain incoherent to offer to a respectable periodical).

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“I have now spent a week in sloppy communion with Building Stories and am ready to declare it one of the most important pieces of art I have ever experienced. I also sort of want to kill myself...What makes Building Stories monumental isn’t its unorthodox format. It’s Ware’s ruthless and tender pursuit of undisguised emotion. His work is brutal in the way all great art is. I can’t wait to experience it again.” –Steve Almond, The New Republic

“Stunning…As usual, Mr. Ware’s style is a model of compression in both word and picture. Less usual, for the genre as a whole, is the vividness with which he limns his heroine’s intense, if fairly ordinary, inner life…The lack of clear structure, much less traditional linearity, turns reading into an unusually active process. This is a great, easily ownable work of art.” –The New York Times 

“In the end, the process Ware recreates here is universal, which is what gives Building Stories its resonance. The woman's dream, after all, is everyone's: the dream of making sense of ourselves, of having things add up. That they don't, that they can never, is the paradox, and yet what else can we do but try? Here we have the essential question Ware wants us to consider, and his answer—brave, beautiful and brilliant—is the story we build out of this box.” –David Ulin, The Los Angeles Times
“This book is a masterpiece….Building Stories is a masterpiece, above all, because it cares about human beings, many of them women. It cares enough to observe human beings closely, both when they are behaving themselves, and when they are engaging in their manifold selfishnesses. It cares enough about them to depict them when they are attractive and when they are singularly unattractive. The contemporary novel, it bears mentioning, does not care this much, because the contemporary novel is so preoccupied with affirmation that it will not risk what Ware is willing to risk. Perhaps Ware risks in this way because, as a person who began by illustrating, he is willing to see exactly what’s taking place around him, all of it. But by building up his stories from the fragments, from the discontinuous moments, episodes of glancing contact, and the disconnections as well as the connections, he has made something that, if possible, is more literary than most contemporary literature. The American novel, that is, has a lot to learn from this very convincing and masterful work.” –Rick Moody, Los Angeles Review of Books
“There’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware. The only problem is it takes him ten years to draw these things and then I read them in a day and have to wait another ten years for the next one.”—Zadie Smith    

“Ware provides one of the year’s best arguments for the survival of print…the spectacular, breathtaking visual splendor make this one of the year’s standout graphic novels.” –Publisher Weekly, starred review

"Chris Ware's Building Stories is the rarest kind of brilliance; it is simultaneously heartbreaking, hilarious, shockingly intimate and deeply insightful. There isn't a graphic artist alive or dead who has used the form this wonderfully to convey the passage of time, loneliness, longing, frustration or bliss.  It is the reader's choice where and how to begin this monumental work—the only regret you will have in starting it is knowing that it will end." –J. J. Abrams

“You could call Stories a game-changer, except so few besides Ware could ever construct such a retro-aesthetic feat.” –Washington Post, “Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2012”  

“A treasure trove of graphic artworks—they’re too complex to be called comics—from Ware, master of angst, alienation, sci-fi and the crowded street . . . A dazzling document.” —Kirkus, starred review  

“Ware has been consistently pushing the boundaries for what the comics format can look like and accomplish as a storytelling medium…More than anything, though, this graphic novel mimics the kaleidoscopic nature of memory itself—fleeting, contradictory, anchored to a few significant moments, and a heavier burden by the day. In terms of pure artistic innovation, Ware is in a stratosphere all his own.”
Booklist, starred review

“So far ahead of the game that it tempts you to find fault just to prove that a human made it…Ware is remarkably deft at balancing the demands of fine art, where sentimentality is an error, and those of storytelling, where emotion is everything.” –New York Times Book Review

“Ware’s innovative graphic novel deepens and enriches the form by breaking it apart…tackles universal themes including art, sex, family and existential loneliness in a way that’s simultaneously playful and profound.” –The New York Times Book Review, “The 10 Best Books of 2012” 
Building Stories is the graphic novel of the season or perhaps the year, a story that must be experienced rather than read . . . Ware takes visual storytelling to a new level of both beauty and despair in a work people will be talking about for a long time.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review 

"This is more than a book; it's a profusion of printed paper....told in Ware's instantly recognizable style, with panels so silent and perfectly composed, they're reminiscent of stained-glass windows."—TIME

“The standout work of the year is Chris Ware’s breathtaking treasure chest.” –Boston Globe gift guide 
Building Stories is a momentous event in the world of comics—the unusual format of Ware’s book is bound to help redefine yet again what a “graphic novel” can be.” –New Yorker blog   

Surely, no comic book artist has ever created anything quite like this: a glorious treasure box of sorts containing books, pamphlets, leaflets and old-timey newspapers - all of which tell of the daily struggles of the residents of a Chicago building. Heartbreak and flashes of hope illuminate even the tiniest of panels.” –San Francisco Chronicle Gift Guide 
“Pages of extraordinary inventiveness…Throughout Building Stories, Ware’s attention to the awkward physicality, the constant humiliations and cruelties of human existence is as precise and as brutally funny as it is in his previous work.”New York Review of Books 
“Ware’s Building Stories is a stunning reminder of the capabilities of print, telling a tender and crushing tale of missed opportunities.” –The Huffington Post

”Its brilliance is not debatable…The components of Building Stories can be read and combined and recombined in any order, producing chance connections and beautiful resonances—very much the way life itself does.” –TIME Top Ten in Fiction

“Chris Ware is one of the true modern masters of the sequential art medium and an absolute artisan when it comes to showing the beauty of an ugly truth…It’s truly masterful storytelling that will be a unique experience for each reader and something that would be impossible in any other medium than print…Each of us in our own way is desperately searching for our own sense of meaning, accomplishment, and self-worth, but anyone who has ever felt their creativity suppressed—or really anyone who has ever clung onto the good in their bad relationship (or the bad in their good relationship)—will see a lot of truth nestled in these almost magical pages. “ –New York Journal of Books   

“Stunningly innovative… Basically a book-in-a-box, Building Stories is spread among 14 different pieces — 15 if you count the illustrated box itself — ranging in size and shape from small and booklet-size to a Little Golden Book-style hardback to a game-board-size fold-out board. All of which might just add up to a clever and daring experiment if Ware’s characters weren’t so alive, his art so precise and pleasing and his story so vital and heart-wrenching.” –Vancouver Sun 

“Apparently, no one ever told Chris Ware that print is dead. Or maybe they did and this is his fantastic rebuttal. Ware, the master behind "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth," has created a batch of sad, highly detailed comics with "Building Stories." The catch is the presentation. Inside this oversized box are 14 different stories -- some are traditional books of various sizes, others are magazines, newspapers and small pamphlets. This isn't a graphic novel. It's a library ready to be explored.” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune 

“Ware masterfully tells the stories in ways that are clear and concise, but also astonishingly creative, bending the progression of images around pages large and small…The actual writing is wonderful, both in the measured, sharply observed lives of the different characters, but also in the use of language. Ware knows when thick overstatement in the narration will add a comic edge and also how to shape meandering inner thought processes to get at the contradictory cores of the people on the page. He stuffs his pages with images, and they all have rich ideas behind them.. Building Stories is daunting, exhausting and grand. L...

About the Author

CHRIS WARE is widely acknowledged as the most gifted and beloved cartoonist of his generation by both his mother and seven-year-old daughter. His Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth won the Guardian First Book Award and was listed as one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" by The Times (London) in 2009. An irregular contributor to This American Life and The New Yorker (where some of the pages of this book first appeared) his original drawings have been exhibited in the Whitney Biennial, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and in piles behind his work table in Oak Park, Illinois.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully produced on the outside, but... May 20 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Initially, I was quite taken this series of fragmented life stories and the unique way they are presented. The art work is engrossing, the production is amazing and the story lines start off in an intriguing manner. I read this entire project in one sitting which may temper this next comment, after a while, the once endearing characters become frustratingly neurotic and self-centered to the point it is hard to care for any them. Every character (except the cat) winds up crippled with indecision and over-analysis of decisions made. Even the florist has anxiety that the flowers feel pain when their stems are trimmed, as an example. By the end, the inspection of every thought, action and word is just plain tiresome.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Ware Dec 9 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jimmy Corrigan was quite something already and this book (if it can be called a book) stretches the boundaries of the graphic novel genre. Beautiful, poignant, maybe confusing at times but definitely worth the price.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  130 reviews
96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning--print is not dead Oct. 2 2012
By sevenonseven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been looking forward to Chris Ware's newest installation for a while--ever since I picked up Jimmy Corrigan years ago. I've followed his Acme Novelty Library series, as well as newspaper/magazine publications when I could catch them. All these bits and pieces of Ware's work only increased my anticipation of his next long book. Building Stories is what I had wanted, and so, so much more. I will attempt to refrain from hyperbole in this review, but if you've seen or read Building Stories, you already know that it's not quite possible.

What originally captivated me about Ware's work were his almost obsessive attention to detail, beautiful and precise artwork that didn't look too 'cartoonish' (whatever that means), and the digressions from the main storyline (frequently in the form of cut-outs and paper dolls, which from what I understand are actually accurate and do function as described--such as the stereoscope and 'library' bookshelf; though, I could never, ever bring myself to cut up a book, let alone one of Ware's). I can't say that I have a great grasp of Ware's work in the context of other graphic novels, as I have never been a particularly avid reader of the genre; however, this attests to the ability of Ware's work to cross these well-established (and often dismissed) boundaries. To simply call Building Stories a graphic novel, a book, a novel, a comic, or really any one genre would be a great injustice that ignores what I believe a currently unparalleled form. A reader does not have to consider him or herself a fan of any of a particular genre to enjoy Building Stories; it is the story of memory, loss, trauma, and how these manifest themselves in everyday life that should draw readers into its pages. I would even say that this stands up to any work of literature, regardless of form or genre.

It's first striking how large the box is. Immediately, it gave me an impression of its heft (both in weight and in accomplishment). Opening it is truly like being granted a secret passage into the minds and memories of the characters, and the non-linear format of the various 'pieces' mimics how both we and the characters access those memories. The first piece I read was a hardcover book that instantly took me back to my childhood, as it's reminiscent of the pressed-cardboard children's books that had a gold spine, and an inside cover with ornate illustrations of the publisher's popular characters with a space to write your name. I can't remember the publisher, but I know I had many books like this. This is exactly what makes Ware and Building Stories so outstanding: their ability to skillfully draw out an emotion from the reader that parallels the storyline. It does not feel like a cheap ploy of meta-fiction, which can be a danger of 'postmodern' fiction, but that the details are all so understated and do not scream, 'hey, look at me! Aren't I so clever?' helps bring a level of sincerity and genuine connection to the whole experience. With something that could easily wander into pretension, it never seems to cross that line (however, I now must admit it seems near impossible to write a review on it without taking on this air of pretension that Ware successfully avoids, haha).

I spent several years living in Chicago, so the building and landscapes are excitingly familiar--I have a special, personal attachment to the building of Building Stories that I relish while reading. But really, it doesn't matter where I've lived; as long as I (or any reader) have lived a life with love, loss, regret, loneliness and varying degrees of human interaction, Building Stories will be a work that resonates in and even echoes the hopes, dreams, fears, and banality of a life at once both extraordinary and mundane.
70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reader's Guide to "Building Stories" & A Critique Oct. 29 2012
By David R. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Reader, this "book" comes in a box 16" long x 11 1/2" wide x 1 5/8th" deep. For best results, approach it as follows:

Step One. Before unwrapping, turn the box over and read the text carefully. Think about it.

Step Two. Open the box, remove the fourteen items that make up its contents, place each one on the floor -- most tables are not big enough -- as shown in pictograph.Then...

Step 3. Read below.

Chris Ware's new graphic novel "Building Stories" is made to order for game players with a literary bent. Call the game "Follow the Story Line - If you Can!" The author provides a pictograph on the bottom of this box full of treasureWare with, he says "suggestions as to [where] appropriately [to] set down, forget, or completely lose" its contents. Accepting the challenge, I cleared a space in my study and set about putting the pieces down as shown in the pictograph. In the process I discovered that Mr. Ware had pulled a couple of fast ones. It requires duplicates of four of the pieces to match all the images in the pictograph. Moreover, in my set, one of the pieces has no exact mate.

The story follows the protagonist from "wondering if she will ever move from the rented close quarters of lonely young adulthood to the mortgaged expanse of love and marriage". I'll call her "Chris" -- after the author because he gives her no name. So the trick is to match the pieces of Chris' life to its trajectory from young Chicago art student to Oak Park soccer Mom. It took a bit of doing to come up with the right order for placing the fourteen pieces in the trajectory. If you try it, leave a comment. It will be fun to see if we agree. As Ware suggests, the place to start is the book shown top left in the pictograph and the place to end is the piece titled "Disconnect" at the lower right. Among the rewards for your effort, a nice surprise as you come to the end.

What about the novel as story? Is it as good as the graphic art that has gone into it? It starts with a nice touch. The initial point of view is that of the one hundred-year-old three-story Chicago apartment building where Chris lives on the top floor. The building ticks off one interesting fact after another from its 100 year history: "301 tenants, 178 trysts, 469 feelings of being watched, 29 broken hearts" (including, one assumes, Chris's.), 104 writers, 4 criminals" and the list goes on.

Then each of the building's occupants has a say starting with the land lady (first floor), the unhappily married couple on the second floor and then Chris. Ware does this neatly, going from one floor's occupants to the next as the day, September 23, 2000, goes by, clock hour by clock hour. Then, he returns to the building as narrator: "Better to take each day as it comes," I tell myself, "and revel in the remaining time of my old woman, my married couple and my girl." The last page fast forwards to 3.p.m. April 20th, 2006, to reveal Chris driving by with her baby daughter in the car. She notices a for sale sign in the building's window and thinks back to her days there: "God I was so wretched and miserable when I lived there." There are five vignettes on the back cover, the central one showing a wrecking ball taking the first bite out of the old building.

This is the way Ware tells his story. You have to stay alert, no fast flipping through the pages or you'll miss a key fact. The novel hides its secrets in this way. Part of the reader's pleasure comes in discovering them, in keeping track of the convoluted story line. So there's a start. I'll let you take it from there.

In his introductory note on the back of the box Ware writes, "the book is sure to sympathize with the crushing sense of life wasted, opportunities missed and creative dreams dashed which afflict the middle-and upper-class literary public." So, to answer my question, judged by the goal Ware set for himself, the novel as story is as good as the art.

End note. Book arts, the graphic design elements that add texture and delight to the printed page, are in vogue. Chris Ware is in good part responsible for this development. His 2002 break-out book, "Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth" (Pantheon), embellished by one of the decade's most wondrous book jackets, helped bring about the new regard for the arts of the book. The jacket unfolds to reveal, on the inside, a short graphic history of Chicago. The endpapers are equally ingenious. Another of my favorites is "Diary of an Amateur Photographer A Mystery" by Graham Rawle (1998, Penguin). Both books are still available on the Internet.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Affordable Piece of Art Oct. 2 2012
By Kevin Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're looking for something gorgeous and enigmatic to decorate your home with, look no further than Chris Ware's Building Stories. This beautiful boxed set of items from Ware contains 14 different books, booklets, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets, all in Ware's signature, hyper-detailed style. It's in a fairly large, yet attractive box that resembles a board game from the 1960s, and contains a treasure trove of items within. Ware is one of my favorite artists working today, and this boxed set of wonder continues his streak of putting out fantastic and unpredictable artwork. Definitely a must-have for Ware fans, or lovers of cartoons and graphic design.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not my favorite ware book but not bad Feb. 8 2013
By Michael Cohen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not as impressed by this book as the other reviewers.

Pro's: The packaging and multiple-y sized and formatted books contained within are one of the more interesting expansions of the graphic novel form that I've seen in quite a while. Several of the stories, particularly the land-lady are quite brilliant. The over-size full-page illustrations of trees and suburban chicago streets are sublime (a format that might make a nice future book) and the recurring lllustrations of flowers and fruit are quite beautiful and cosmic as well. The one pagers of the girls life in the flower shop are depressingly good and really get to the tragedy and beauty in the ordinary I think Ware wants to express in this book.

Con's: The story-line in Ware's last few books have been a bit unfocused and droogy and this one is too, though its more of a return to form. The main problem is two-fold. The lead character isn't very interesting and her life-development and revelations aren't either.

Also Ware's main strength is as a graphic artist. One of the reasons the Jimmy Corrigan book was so brilliant is that Ware let the pictures say emotional volumes that couldn't be put it into words. But in this woman's story there are words ... lots and lots of words. Much more words about her story and feelings than you need or want to know. After reading this I'm not sure expository writing is really this artist's strength. I understand that Chris Ware is trying to make real life the subject of the graphic novel instead of heroes and villains -- but this territory has been covered by a number of underground artists particularly harvey pekar with a humor, brevity that this book could use some more of.

It seemed like Ware got carried away trying to elaborate and imagine every part of this woman's story - Is the greatest tragedy really that her cat never had kittens? I'm not sure about the suburban thing Chris. What was great about Jimmy Corrigan was not knowing the whole story and having parts of it tragically filled in.

Another confusion is the implication that all these stories might be the notebook or writing of the main charachter. Since the narrative is broken up but never given any implication of being ficticious that really doesn't work. however I'd like to see this artist keep exploring that idea and this complex new graphic format.

If you are addicted to this artists work I'd reccomend Building Stories. If a newcomer you might consider purchasing a copy of Ware's brilliant Jimmy Corrigan or Rusty Brown books.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "BRILLIANT, STUNNING, ENJOYABLE!" Oct. 2 2012
By Geraldine Ahearn - Published on Amazon.com
Chris Ware always comes through and aims to please as a talented writer, and an amazing artist. This treasure chest of graphic artwork is delivered in a beautiful boxed set of items, including 14 unique books. One can become mesmerized by his gorgeous art, and display his works in different places of your choice. This wonderful treasure is a great gift for yourself, a friend, or a family member. I immediately thought of a birthday gift, or Christmas gift for someone special. They will enjoy every moment, and appreciate the fine art that it represents. For the icing on the cake, it should cost much more than it does. It certainly is worth much more than it sells for, and many would agree. Chris Ware's work is Outstanding, and I always crave for more. Highly Recommended to anyone who enjoys the works of a Great artist and writer!
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