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Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failures Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company; 1st edition (September 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805054065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805054064
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,571,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's no wonder that Paul Auster (The Music of Chance, Leviathan, Mr. Vertigo) creates such singular characters. While his youth comprised a series of failures too unbelievable for fiction, it also equipped him with a range of experiences to draw from that most fiction writers only dream of. He worked with Bowery bums at a summer camp, had a childhood friend join the Weather Underground, and was a student at Columbia in 1968 at the height of the student uprisings there (and at which point, he boasts, he knew seven of the FBI's ten most wanted men). He worked on an oil tanker, for a French Mafia-style film producer in Paris, and for a rare-book organization in New York. He translated the North Vietnamese constitution from French into English (don't ask). His work brought him in contact to varying extents with Jean Genet, Mary McCarthy, Jerzy Kosinski, Sartre, Foucault, and John Lennon. The encounters and experiences must have been fascinating, failure aside, but Auster's prose here, sadly, lacks the tightness and luster of his fiction. The remainder--and major portion--of the volume consists of three plays, a baseball card game, and a detective novel, all written during this time.

From Library Journal

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.
-?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Wouldn't that be ironic/funny?
michaeth@earthlink.net
I'll give Moon Palace or Leviathan 5 stars any day, but this book just should not have been published.
S. Maruta
I felt swindled.... 120 pages of bare-bones "chronicle" and at least twice that of filler.
Damien (dawF94@hamp.hampshire.edu)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Renee Thorpe on August 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Hand to Mouth, by itself, is a somewhat raw but not at all insensitive memoir of life before publishing. I found it engrossing at times.
Auster recounts his youthful rejection of middle class consumerism, his odd and fascinating encounters with all kinds of characters and life situations, his stay in Paris, his first marriage, his ...well... failures to make it big as a writer. His admirable sense of integrity (no jobs except ones literary) unfortunately kept the author wallowing in translation work to put food on the table, and the sense of pain, desperation and even a sort of starvation are palpable. Agonizingly, but rather fittingly, he tells only of his years BEFORE success. This is no rags to fame & riches story.
Hand to Mouth is basically a reality check. Of some value to anyone who wants to get published, but the only thing that keeps this from being totally depressing is our knowledge of Auster's eventual literary success.
Lovely sections about the wacky people he met on ships and on streets reveal inspiration for characters he brings alive in his humanistic fiction.
If you do buy an edition (check out the number of pages before you order) which contains "Action Baseball" and "Squeeze Play", you are in for a treat. The former is a complete card game and the latter is a detective novel. Squeeze Play was written under a pseudonym and features a Jewish private eye with a law degree from Columbia who has a taste for fine wine and music. Mickey Spillane gets urban Semitic spit & polish in this totally enjoyable bonus read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brent Woods on March 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Like some obscure import record of your favourite band or musician, Hand To Mouth is really only going to appeal to the most die-hard fan. Auster's honest though somewhat uninteresting chronicle of his early failures may appeal to struggling 20-something wannabe writers, but generally the appeal is limited. One can't help but feel Auster should of held onto this material until later in his life - a complete autobiography in his later years would be more valuable.
The early previously unpublished works included in the book are a must for fans and Auster must be commended for being so brave as to include them here. Perhaps most entertaining is the publication of his 'action baseball' game.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alan DeNiro on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a book for hardcore Auster fans only, I think. It has interesting tidbits that illuminate his prose and the 'chronicle of early failure' is indeed harrowing and interesting. yet, unlike most of Auster's prose, this account never trandescends itself; that is, it doesn't achieve the luminescence of the prose that Auster is capable of. There was a LOT of filler near the end of the book too (did we really need to see the Action Baseball game?) A far better account of the starving artist routine is Samuel Delany's _The Motion of Light in Water_
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on April 21, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Auster's autobiographical account spanning about 12 years or so after he finished college, is an excellent exposition of a young writer's search for meaning, and then the translation of that meaning into money, to provide for further existence, to allow the writer to keep producing work, representative of his desires, but also able to be sold for money to continue the quest.
The appeal to almost all people is hidden in the fact, that at anytime, any person, can be living a "hand to mouth" existence. This feeling of abject poverty and financial ruin is not uncommon today, in an economy that has lost over 2 million jobs, and forced hundreds of thousands to start their own businesses because work was not available. Those in America who have had to do this, can relate directly to Auster's feelings, especially the salient concept of when will I ever get to the point when I am making a living again, even a somewhat less luxurious one than before, just any living.
As usual, Auster uses his incredible incisiveness and truly exceptional clarity in his construction of this book. It is of special interest to Auster readers, as it gives the reader some very interesting information about the author's early days when he was still struggling to become known. But Auster's story is one that every actor, every writer, every lawyer, every doctor, or most of them anyway, have to go through at the beginning, including every new entrepreneur. Becoming established is very hard work. And more people fail, than succeed. This high failure rate is generated by the need to be able to sustain high levels of suffering in bad times, to get to the good times. Most of us are just not up to the task.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By birdndiz@ix.netcom.com on July 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
The early, unending attempts of Paul Auster to become a writer, in both the wordly and literary sense. The monumental quantity of his failures is an example to all would-be artists, of any genre, of the need to persevere in one's creative efforts. He includes three samples of his early and unsuccessful attempts, and through these examples the reader sees Auster's beginning efforts at expressing themes which he later developed fully. Not too many people are willing to expose their awkward early attempts, but by including these early examples, it gives us the extraordinary chance to compare them to their later, final form in his published works. An unusually honest and intimate look at the struggle to create, and the mindboggling tenacity it requires.
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