Friday, April 05, 2013

"Who is Paul Auster?" I asked myself when I saw his memoir Winter Journal on so many of the 2012 best book lists. Perhaps I would know if I were a devoted fiction reader, as he has written over a dozen novels. The book jacket indicates that he is a bestselling author and has won lots of important awards for his books and screenplays. He has also written essays, poetry, and other memoirs. No bells, however, rang in my librarian's head. There is a reason I need library catalogs and reference books. There is far too much to remember.

One of the trends that I both celebrate and fear is the publishing of more memoirs by people that our readers and we do not recognize. Some of my best reading experiences have been with autobiographical books by unfamiliar authors. There is so much for a reader to discover in such books - if written well. But there are so many of these books now, and our book budgets are inadequate. How do we pick memoirs that our readers will want? I read the reviews and still miss picking some of the books that readers later request.

So, who is Paul Auster, besides being an author? Turns out he is an aging guy just a little older than me, with a family he loves, with the clock ticking away. Many of his concerns are also mine, but, unlike me, he lives the literary life - books, travel, interviews with editors and publishers, making ends meet, overcoming writer's block, etc. In Winter Journal, it is not a glamorous life. I am happy not to be Auster.

Looking at the cover, I notice how the author's name is much bigger than the book title. It is as if the author is the title, which would be appropriate as he is the subject. The book is described as a memoir of his body, but I am not so sure that I would agree. There are so many tangents and so much detail. Much of the narrative did not seem to be about his body.

Auster sometimes overwhelms the reader with lists within paragraphs. Several times I just skipped to the next page to find where the narrative continued. I debated whether to drop the book, but I did finish. I enjoyed most of his stories and can imagine that he is a talented novelist. I suspect this memoir appeals mostly to his fiction readers and people who give prizes. I am glad to have discovered him and am enjoying thinking about all the places I have lived. (Auster tells readers about every place he has lived.)

Auster, Paul. Winter Journal. Henry Holt, 2012. 230p. ISBN 9780805095531.

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