By September 21, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

Austerland

Man in the Dark Cover
For certain authors, I feel as though I have not read and never seem to get around to reading what their fans call their best books. This can happen when you come to a writer late, especially one that is alive and still writing.  I find myself reading their newest work, catching up with what is being reviewed and talked about now.

So it is for me and Paul Auster. Years back, I did read a couple of his earlier works (City of Glass; In the Country of Lost Things), but because they left me cold, I didn’t pick another Auster up for ten years.

Then I read Brooklyn Follies and fell in love with Auster’s characters and storytelling. I even reviewed it on my little old, personal (now defunct, because I am so busy writing here!) book blog.  The friend who introduced me to Auster in the first place, Joshua Harmon, (who, if you will allow me, I will plug, because he is the best writer I know personally), commented on my post about which Auster I should have read in the first place. I have yet to do it, mainly because Auster just keeps writing (not that I am blaming him, by any means) and other books just keep coming my way (imagine that).

So this week, Paul Auster came to Seattle to read from his new book, Man in the Dark. I volunteered to work the event, so I wanted to make a point of reading it. In Auster’s new novel, 72-year-old August Brill spends sleepless nights in his daughter’s house in Vermont, recovering from a car accident and telling stories to himself so as not to obsess about the recent death of his wife and the grisly death of his granddaughter’s boyfriend. Brill, a retired literary critic, tells many stories, but the main one features Owen Brick, a man who wakes in a hole to find himself in another version of America.  In Brick’s alternate universe, 9/11 never happened and the States are at war with themselves.

Auster is quoted as saying, “I get the best reviews and the worst reviews of any writer I know.” In a recent New York Times review, the critic says that if the manuscript had been submitted anonymously, would have been called a “third-rate imitation of Paul Auster.”I enjoyed Man in the Dark, but I also wasn’t holding it to any standards based on a vast and intimate experience with his earlier work. Sure, a novel that plays stories within stories is nothing new for Auster, the master of metafiction. The ending was a little disappointing, as I felt the story he saves for the end was, while timely, the least compelling of the stories Brill shares.

Auster was also a wonderful reader. While there was no Q & A, he read, in his smoky voice with its gravely undertone, for 45 minutes. He enlivened the passages he read, and made me want to reread his book. That is the magic that a good author reading can bring–hearing an author read their own work can enhance your experience, make you reconsider, make you feel you missed something the first time.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Austerland"

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  1. acmail1981@gmail.com' Abby C says:

    I was looking for a great book list myself for the longest time. There’s tons of great books out there and I wanted to choose the right one. Like you, I also don’t jump on the bandwagon and read whatever the current reading fad is. The great thing is there is a reading journal that addresses the need for great book lists all in one place, and it helps you organize your reading for you.

    I found this really great book lovers journal at http://www.bibliopages.com — it’s called Read, Remember and Recommend, a reading journal for book lovers. It’s a spiral bound reading journal with Awards Book Lists including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Los Angeles Times Award for Fiction and National Book Award for Fiction), Notable lists (BBC’S Top 100 is included) and Author Pages.

    There’s also a space for you to write down your personal favorites, list down the books you loaned, and write down insights you may have about books you’ve read. The best thing about is the book suggestions — the book selections are awesome and will help any book lover read the right books.

    It really helped organize my book reading because of the tons of lists that it has. You won’t have to worry about the next book to read. 🙂

    Find it at http://www.bibliopages.com. Happy reading!

  2. arbass@u.washington.edu' Abby says:

    Hmm, I am kind of sad now that I missed hearing Auster read from Man in the Dark, because it did leave me cold. It was my first Auster novel, and I wish I had read The New York Trilogy or something else first, because the metafiction aspect of this novel just felt tired and thoroughly uninteresting to me. But the way you talk about his reading makes me think I might have appreciated the novel more if I’d heard him read from it.

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