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Hand to Mouth


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About the Author

Paul Auster's previous novel, Timbuktu, was a national bestseller, as was I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Illusions is his tenth novel.


Coming upon this "chronicle of early failure," readers of translator, poet, screenwriter, and novelist Auster (Mr. Vertigo, LJ 6/15/94) may be charmed by his new publisher's presentation though left puzzled by the derivative offerings. The work consists of one original, down-beat essay, "Hand to Mouth," a flat record of Auster's inauspicious early years struggling to make money while writing (the essay was recently excerpted in Granta), and three appendixes: a medley of Beckett-inspired plays, an "action baseball" card game that Auster was convinced would make his fortune, and a Chandleresque detective novel, "Squeeze Play"‘all of which failed in one way or another when first created. Auster's collection of essays and reviews, The Art of Hunger (Sun & Moon, 1991), develop more fully and satisfactorily the author's literary development, while the appendixes here will interest few but devoted literary archivists. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/97.]‘Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"

"Delightful...A gracious and humane tale...One can only marvel at Auster's artistry" --The Boston Sunday Globe, The Boston Sunday Globe"Auster writes in a voice so clear, so mesmerizing, and so profound...[he] is unafraid of his own power, precisely because he has acknowledged humiliation's alchemy, its way of letting words vibrate at whatever weird, golden velocity they wish, Hand to Mouth vibrates...beautiful." --Wayne Koestenbaum, Bookforum"Required, inspiring reading for Auster-holics and aspiring writers." --Kirkus Reviews"An engaging account of his early attempts to stay afloat as a writer...with a colorful cast of sharply etched characters who he meets along the way." --Chicago Tribune"As a cautionary tale for writers, this is a superb book." --Publishers Weekly

Auster, the highly talented novelist (New York Trilogy), poet and filmmaker (Smoke) was not always as successful as he is now, and the title section of this oddly conceived book (most of which is comprised of Auster's unpublished work) is a penetrating memoir of a young writer desperately trying to make his way. Seldom has the helpless obsession, utter marginality and crushing poverty of the unsuccessful author been better conveyed than here; even the work Auster did purely for the money, forsaking his literary ambitions, didn't come off, and the memoir ends with recognition nowhere in sight. The rest of the volume, made up of what the publisher coyly calls "three of the longest footnotes in literary history," shows us some of the material that failed. There are three short plays (the kind that get staged at off-off-Broadway theaters); an ingenious card game that simulates baseball (an Auster passion), which, surprisingly, has never been marketed; and a brief but absorbing private-eye novel, Squeeze Play. As Auster justly remarks, "As an example of the genre, it seemed no worse than many others I had read, much better than some." It is a noirish tale of the death of a baseball idol with a strange obsession, and apart from some heavy-handed flip dialogue and rote violence, it broods along stylishly enough. (The novel was ultimately published by Avon, netting Auster a sum in the high three figures.) As a cautionary tale for writers, this is a superb book; as an addition to an oeuvre, it's on the slight side. Author tour. (Sept.)

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