'Winter Journal' By Paul Auster: The Book We're Talking About This Week

08/20/2012 03:07 pm ET

Winter Journal
by Paul Auster
Henry Holt, $26

What is it about?
An unconventional look at the author's own life, presented in fragments, lists and scattered memories. The book is written in the second person, as if spoken out loud by an aging man contemplating himself in the bathroom mirror.

Why are we talking about it?
Any new book from Auster is an event, though recent titles have met with very mixed critical receptions. This one, however, is seen by many as a return to form, without being as obtuse as some of his other work.

Who wrote it?
Paul Auster has won almost every international literary prize going. His New York Trilogy remains a cult favorite, and he is consistently included in lists of the greatest living writers in America.

Who will read it?
Auster fans; people of his generation dealing with their own mortality and aging; people who have always wanted to read Auster but have found his work somewhat inaccessible.

What do the reviewers say?
Sydney Morning Herald: "It's his hard honesty and refusal to look away from the ugly and frightening that makes 'Winter Journal' such a powerful, and sometimes quite beautiful, book."

Boston Globe: "'Winter Journal' is a mesmerizing meditation."

Washington Post: "Auster is best when he steps outside himself and observes the world around him. He has a good eye, a long memory and an elegant way with words, and these skills, without all the gimmicks, often combine to produce memorable results."

The Guardian: "'Winter Journal' is a terrible book – the kind of self-indulgent, ill-conceived, and poorly-edited disaster that makes you doubt whether or not you could truly have liked the works that preceded it."

Impress your friends:
Auster handwrites all his stories, then types them out on his Olympia typewriter, a machine to which he is so devoted he once wrote a book about it.

Opening line:
You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen everyone else.

Notable passage:
You mustn't neglect to mention that you nearly choked to death on a fish bone in 1971 or that you narrowly escaped killing yourself in a dark hallway one night in 2006 when you smashed your forehead into a low door frame, stumbled backward, and then, trying to regain your balance, pitched forward, snagged your foot on the sill, and went flying face-first onto the floor of the apartment you had entered, the top of your head landing within inches of a thick table leg. Every day, in every country around the world, people die from falls like that one.

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