52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Winter Journal is indeed a journal - a somewhat limited scope style of memoir, however its appeal is anything but limited in scope. It is a not a full-blown memoir, because it is a somewhat generalized stock-taking from the point of view of a mid-sixties-ish Jewish man living in Brooklyn (Mr. Auster): a review of salient themes from the past, undertaken with a view to the future - and weighs in at a relatively slim 230 pages. The scope is Mr. Auster's entire life: from his earliest memories to the moment he removes the nib of his fountain pen from the paper he writes on, with a sometimes staccato and unpredictable selection of moments in between.
There are three sections which serve as themes that I discern, roughly: the body; places; relationships. Each one, while providing part of a united whole, stands somewhat independently, taking the reader on a ride that can be on the surface (I dare not say 'superficial' which none of them are) perhaps consisting lists of favorite childhood candies, uses for one's hands, which on their face might be superficial, but are extremely evocative; or deep, very deep, to the essence of that most basic of questions: who am I; what made me; how do I measure up, whether as a driver, a man, a human being. The detail with which the reader is drawn along is incredible, and is assembled like a Swiss watch: note, for example, that there is virtually no description of a woman who figures in the chronology over a long period, whether of physical attributes or personality (wife #1), but we are given a strong sense of wife #2 who endures.
The story that is told is so true, so real, that any reader who has reached middle age cannot fail to be moved by it. And it is absolutely provocative, in the sense that it provides a framework of sorts, for the kinds of thoughts and reminiscences that middle-aged people have. It can take your breath away. Really.
Winter Journal is one of those rare books that you really look forward to sitting down and reading; I finished it in a few days, during my rare free time. But in between, I thought about it, which reinforced my desire to get back to reading it. If I had the time, I could have read it through in one sitting.
I really give the book four and three-quarter stars, would have given it five, but my reading reverie was diluted in two places, most especially in the nearly ten page recounting of the plot of the 1950 film D.O.A., with which I confess I became slightly bored, and towards the end with the lengthy discussion of the Minnesota branch of his family (in-laws), both of which do inspire the reader and the second of which helps wind down the book, but which have more significance and import to Mr. Auster and his family.
Thank you, Mr. Auster.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
This extremely readable memoir artfully blends the mundane, such as lists where the author lived, with the revelatory, an epiphany while watching a troupe of dancers. There are brief moments where the curmudgeon intrudes, the type who believes the world would be a utopia if everyone conformed to certain ideals. In such moments we glimpse the person Auster would have become had he not met and fell in love with his wife. But Auster himself seems relieved he never succumbed to such a transformation. I admire the author's willingness to record the weaker side of himself (which he does without becoming confessional or trite). Had he not been so honest his story would have been less compelling.
At the heart of the book is an implied yet profound paean for his intelligent and erudite wife who in some ways is the invisible force breathing life into the narrative. Finding such satisfaction becomes a metaphor for Auster's artistic life and his affection lightens writing that otherwise might have been ponderous.
If you have difficulty getting through the occasional lists (I found them interesting but I'm sure some won't) do yourself a favor and press on until the Minnesota visits. They are well told vignettes and an excellent complement to the New York episodes. The powerful zenith of the narrative, the event with the dancers and a trip to Germany, is just around the corner.
I highly recommend this readable and thought provoking memoir.
39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
The cover copy describes this as an "unconventional memoir in which [Auster] writes about his mother's life and death." Which is true, but only up to a point. There is one section that deals particularly with the life and death of Auster's mother, but it takes up only about 35 of 230 pages. That material, which also appeared in Granta 117, is easily the strongest in WINTER JOURNAL. Poignant, vivid, imbued simultaneously with his sense of his mother's individual tragedy and his awareness that on another level she must always remain a mystery to him, it's a model of the personal essay. Unfortunately, what surrounds it is (barring a charmingly sentimental description of his second marriage) formless, frequently dull recollections that neither capture Auster's visceral experience nor reveal anything about the human condition. It's all well-written on a basic level, full of long sentences that flow naturally and are never difficult to parse, but beyond that ease of reading there are few rewards.
In Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS, a character critiques the protagonist's still-incomplete gargantuan novel by suggesting that the inclusion of such details as "the genealogies of the horses" represents an inability to focus. WINTER JOURNAL is very short, but betrays a similar failure of focus. Nearly 60 pages are given over to a descriptive list of Auster's 21 permanent addresses over the years. There's also a catalog of scars and the stories behind them. Of course one appreciates the intimations of mortality and resulting reflections on the past that drove Auster to make these lists, but for readers lacking their own intimations and reflections, the resonance of this journal may be minimal. None of the homes and scars and snacks are described intensely enough for them to live on in the reader's mind as they do on Auster's, and so they are easily forgotten when another topic juts into frame. There is something to be said for an unconventional, unstructured approach to memoir, but there's also something to be said for a center of gravity, without which such a book becomes a weightless series of reminiscences. For admirers of Auster, especially those interested in his life, and for those who like him are inspired by middle age to consider the sheer vastness of a single life, WINTER JOURNAL may be worth an afternoon's perusal; for others, there is no particular reason to read it at all.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The beginning of Auster's Journal is a beautiful elegy on aging, memory and the relationship of body and spirit. Auster recounts an intensely personal journey with painfully acquired wisdom and intimations of mortality. He distills in words his "catalog of sensory data" as the book becomes a gift by a beloved author to readers who may be entering a similar stage of life.
In the early pages of Winter Journal, Auster tells of childhood injuries; the scars of which he still carries. What is striking is how well Auster renders the impersonal concreteness of events and suggests that the injuries that we unknowingly escaped may have been far more formidable than those endured. Also recounted are brief moments of remembered weather, illnesses huge and physical indignities small and the joy of playing baseball ("Never a dull moment, in spite of what critics of the game might think.") The car accident that represented his family's instantaneous transition from the quotidian to the cataclysmic is described as well ("as if Zeus had hurled a lightning bolt at you and your family.")
As he moves deeper into the book, the author loses focus a bit from his intended "phenomenology of breathing." But whether listing memories from each of his personal residences, remembering the death of his mother or describing why the film noir movie DOA represents a touchstone for an event in his life, Auster remains interesting, engaging and personal.
A journal can be forgiven for being a bit uneven and episodic. But even with these shortcomings, this small book left me wiser and more a part of my own life than I was when I opened it to begin reading. Its impact may have been heightened for me because of my age and a brush with mortality of my own just this year. But for those readers who have difficulty identifying with Auster's Journal, I recommend carefully considering the deep truths implicit in the book's opening sentence: "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 to everyone else."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2013
This was my first read of Paul Auster, so I had no idea what to expect.
I was quickly drawn to his writing style : completely open and
self-revealing, poetic, and highly intelligent.
This autobiography of his is written in the second person, which sounds
strange but works really well. Combined with the fact that he discusses
very fundamental and generic aspects of life, it serves to make you feel
like you are reading about yourself instead of him. And so it never
gets boring, the great risk of any autobiography when the details
of people, places and events pile up.
The greatest gift to the reader is his unconditional frankness about
everything, which for many subjects gives you the feeling of
"oh, its relieveing to hear that also OTHER people do that, think that,
or suffer from that." After finishing reading, you will view your own
past private life (a rather chaotic mess for most of us) in a slightly more
accepting and brighter light.
I dont have much in the way of negatives to say...Auster is a bit
obsessed about his jewishness, in dozens of places describing events
related to nazism, which gets a bit tiresome. I think some readers
will also be a bit bored by the details of various houses and apartments that he
lived in. But all such minor issues don't matter compared to
the overall greatness of the writing.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Paul Auster's Winter Journal is a compelling review of his life up to age 64. Very well written, though rather oddly done in the 2nd person (perhaps because he sees his body as outside of himself?). I read it in two sittings on a single day, unwilling to stop even though little in the book is really compelling. It should perhaps be titled "Autumn Journal" as it ends "You have entered the winter of your life.", which seems an accurate description of what life is like at age 64.
There's a fascinating rhythm to the language in the book, like a fast walk through the streets of Manhattan. This is quite deliberate as the author discusses writing as a lesser form of dance, based on the rhythms of walking. Such writing is a pleasure and there are a number of these pleasures throughout the book.
I found two sections of the memoir to be especially good. His description of his mother's death is quite moving. And oddly enough, his summary of the plot to the 1950 movie "D.O.A." somehow becomes both personal and powerful.
I suspect that this memoir would be of less interest to younger readers, but for this late middle-aged reader it was completely absorbing and provided some (cold) comfort in knowing that we all face similar problems of body, memory, and meaning as we approach the winter of our lives.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
not since the works of thomas wolfe, the north carolina writer, have lists of this magnitude been accumulated by a novelist. like wolfe, paul auster is obsessed with the individual being situated in time passing within the singular body. auster tallies his pains experienced through out the sixty-four years of his existence, sexual trysts with prostitutes, one who recites baudelaire, entries of the twenty-one addresses where he's resided since birth, a repertoire of acts that can be done by the human hand, and everything else that he can recall. in an entry about a locale in france, of which he wrote a book, he informs us, much of what he experienced was omitted, so he rhapsodizes in a three page long sentence, all that he can recall from that time. if you're thinking of marcel proust, then you're in the right territory, auster is a francophile, having lived several years in france, written a biography on the irishman who wrote in french, samuel beckett, edited an anthology of french poetry, translated joubert and mallarmé and writes in a style which reminds me of english translations of several of sartre's works, including the philosopher's memoir Words.
a journal, written on the east coast, in the borough of brooklyn, ny, in the winter of 2010-2011, the season those of us living on the east coast then, wondered if the snow would ever end, as we woke, expecting almost daily, a new snowfall--as good as any time to write a journal, snowbound, urban cabin fever, approaching sixty-four.
writers tend to be squirrelly with their journals, preferring to let the novels, the essays, the memoirs, speak for them, unless journal writing is the preferred literary form. even then it's a risky undertaking; among the published, few journals attract interest--Speak Memory by nabokov of course, though too stylized to be called a journal, the journals of andre gide are more respected than read, and i know of no one, other than renata adler, who has read any of samuel pepys' diary.
paul auster is a living author with a collection of likable books in most of the usual forms, the novel, the essay, the poem, and the biography. but i don't believe the scholars are yet after his marginalia and ephemera, as with hemingway or henry james. maybe his fans have been waiting to read what he's been jotting down about his accidents and incidentals in raw form.
well here it is. at some point this book was intended and submitted for publication, subjected to the care of writer and editorial staffs, so it's not too raw. actually, it's very finished. his voice is second person, he addresses himself, instead of as the grammatically expected `I', as `You' a pronoun that does not manage to avoid his post-modern musing--satisfying our inner teacher plea for credibility, he shares a fragment of poetry by keats in which the poet refers to himself in the second person, and he recalls those narrators of tough guy hardboiled novels who followed leads and solved cases in the second person.
half way through his journal he writes of the death of his mother and reconstructs what he can of her life, including his panic attacks for which he finds an analogy in a ten page synopsis of the 1950 film, D.O.A. (a remake of the film starring dennis quaid and meg ryan appeared in 1988).
at sixty-three and sixty-four, mortality is much on his mind, the kinds of death, death by lightning, death by murder, death by accidents in the home, death by war, `absurd and nonsensical' deaths--the french writer, camus, another journal writer, wrote of absurdity and death.
at sixty-three and sixty-four, the question is not what can one hold on to faced with the knowledge of the coming of death, but what has one held on to, and on goes auster's `catalogue of sensory data', of his impressions and the connections to events, activities, objects, and persons, a coda of anecdotes, each one inspired by the previous piece, a veritable scheme of variations on a theme: memory.
how he met his wife, siri hustvedt, intellectual and author, her books are more at home among the academies of france and germany, than here in the usa, his remarks about her read like information for a curriculum vitae. writing of her family and their roots and life style and their traditional christmas dinner reminds him of the food he's consumed during a lifetime, which he approaches with the exuberance of the hungry henry miller in paris.
journals are a personal undertaking. paul auster has allowed us to read his. you might say, he insists. what more is expected of us, what more can we do, but to read it and thank him.
a rating between 4 and 5 stars.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2012
This is a memoir presented in the way we often remember things - fragments out of sequence, some specific and very detailed events that we regard as significant, lists of things, memories of people and ghosts of others. He is writing in a cold harsh winter in New York, and as he says at 64, in the winter of his life. The recollections are written in the second person, an unusual style in literature, but I'm surprised that more memoirs are not written this way, for in the storytelling in our heads we often talk to ourselves that way: `now where on earth did you put that?'; `you should go over and say hello'; or my regular, `you idiot'.
If there is a theme in this book, it is the way we experience the world through our bodies, though ironically through bodies that we can never fully see in the way that other people can. We feel like an integrated physical being, but we can only ever look at bits of ourselves, even in the mirror or a photograph. Three dimensional holograms will be extraordinary for more than just the technology.
Auster recalls the physicality of childhood, the hugs and body contact, the bumps and bruises, scars whose causes are both vividly remembered and long forgotten. There are the teenage years of raging hormones and sexual discovery, and early manhood where trying to make sense of relationships often ends in failure and the occasional unwanted infection. There is a confident middle age, but now he feels he is getting old and his body is no longer capable of doing everything it once could, and it is showing signs of wear and tear. He has acquired habits that are not good for his health but he is now too old to change his ways - the vice is just too nice.
Food is one of the corporal pleasures and he remembers childhood meals and treats, listing all his favourite things, many now abandoned unless tempted in the boredom of an airport lounge. If you want to know why Americans are the unhealthiest people in the rich world, there are plenty of clues here. In contrast, Christmas dinners with his wife's family are a simple affair and the menu has never varied over the years. The meals tie the family closer even as the years change the characters and separate them geographically.
He is a lover, not a fighter. He has been fascinated by girls from boyhood and is lonely and adrift without women in his life. Sleeping alone he feels bereft and one of the great pleasures of his life, both emotional and physical, has been the constant companionship of his current wife, to whom he has been married for over thirty years. It was love at first meeting and they share much in common. He muses that she is a better version of himself. Throughout his life it has never been the physical attraction of women that arouses him, though he says his wife is beautiful (always wise to insure yourself in print). Rather, it is the `inner spark' of a woman that beguiles him, something about her character and intellect, the very thing that he sensed when he and his future wife met after a literary seminar, or that surprised him when Sandra, a Parisian prostitute, recited long passages of Baudelaire.
One of his favourite ways to engage his body with the world is walking. He walks regularly in his native New York and in cities around the world as he travels. He is out in all sorts of weather, his body exposed to extremes of temperature, to the wind and sun, icy air and brewing storms. He says that walking is integral to his ability to write, an observation that many writers have made, but in the end he has very little to say about this linkage.
At a few points in the book he pauses to tell us that he is writing, as winter howls or closes in silently outside. Going over the events of his life he is always scribbling in the background, increasingly making it a daily routine, and after marriage it is in parallel to his wife's literary work. But how do the often mundane events of his life lead to this feverish obsession with getting words down on paper? There is no clue whatsoever. We get the dull and diurnal, but no idea how they transubstantiate into the occasionally sublime.
At one period in his life he is feeling very low and his ability to write seems to have deserted him. He goes to watch a rehearsal by a group of eight dancers. They rehearse without music and each of their pieces is interspersed with the choreographer explaining what she is trying to do. The explanations confuse and bore him, but each time the dancers move he is spellbound. There is something about their movements that inspires him, gives him a sense of freedom and possibility. It is a turning point in his life, after which he is able to return to productive writing. But what was it about those dancers and their movements that lit the spark? As happens too often in this memoir, words fail him. He describes the incident in a matter-of-fact way, says it changed his life, then slips into the next memory. The reader is left bewildered in the wings.
There are deaths, of family and friends, increasing in number as he gets older. He confesses that he cries more often at films and novels than he does at the deaths of other people. Age makes him more conscious of his own mortality, but he senses that it also makes him more accepting. For many years he suffered panic attacks, fearsome and terrifying, so unlike the calm he sees in those sliding into death. Perhaps death is most feared when we realise that we have not really lived.
Paul Auster writes well, but for me too much of this latest memoir reads like short entries in a diary, dot points for some future exposition. His life is often dreary - that is true for all of us - but he very rarely explores why some memories remain important to him. It's an odd shortcoming in a writer. When he attempts an explanation, his interpretive skills are insufficient and we can only wonder what he was trying to convey. His account of why he gave up driving is the only point in the book where I felt he was revealing a truth about his character, but otherwise self-reflection is in short supply. Perhaps a future biographer will turn this material into something far more telling.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2012
You are swept along by Auster's candid and well-written memoir. Winter Journal begins with events that sere your memory: the wounds that scar your body--each has its story. You are six years old...ten...twelve and even in your sixties you recall with stark clarity each bloody incident. Auster points out memory is a curious thing; certain childhood events it imprints indelibly.
The author elects to write his memoir in the second person--and to great effect. Whereas the introspective, egocentric first person focuses the reader's attention on the narrator, Auster's more familiar "you" invites his audience to reflect on their own experiences, whether they are similar to the author's or not. And in this way the memoirist opens his life to you.
Auster moves next from the flashbacks of youth to lodging, the many places he resided during his restless years (New Jersey, Carmen Hall, Columbia U., Manhattan, Paris...) and uses their addresses as points of reference to chronicle the events and experiences that occur during his stay at each.
Because we are biological creatures, coming of age and sex are significant milestones in our lives. Auster shares his experiences and intimate relationships in this rite of passage openly, yet tactfully. The death of a parent is a biological passage, too, and it is here the thread of mortality enters the memoir. The author's account of the sudden, untimely death of his mother from a heart attack (Auster had had a phone conversation with her just three days prior) is tender, touching,--and horrifying. Auster receives a phone call from his mother's cleaning woman who had let herself into the apartment and discovered his mother dead. An hour and half later Auster is at her bedside. As he looks upon his mother in death, Auster shares this heartrending observation: "You have seen several corpses in the past and you are familiar with the inertness of the dead, the inhuman stillness that envelops the bodies of the no longer living, but none of these corpses belonged to your mother, no other dead body was the body in which your life began...."
Auster grieves her death by trying to reconstruct the person he believed his mother to be and realizes, as most of us will, that though our parents are pivotal in our lives, perhaps we don't know them as well as we think. Some parts of their lives, their thoughts, remain mysteries; they withhold certain secrets and these they take to their graves.
The author concludes his memoir with allusions to the Twin Towers and the death camp Bergen-Belsen, both of which remind us of the capriciousness of life, its randomness, its fragility--its finality. Auster poses the personal but universal question more commonly pondered by those of us of his generation: "How many mornings do I have left?" Winter Journal is a wonderfully written memoir, honest in its telling, thought-provoking in its content.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2013
Count me in as a longtime follower of Paul Auster's work, hoping that his latest book at 64 years old, a memoir "Winter Journal", would signal a return to form for Auster following the post-modern jiggery-pokery of Travels in the Scriptorium and Man in the Dark and the mediocre Sunset Park. Sorry to report, it was not to be. Winter Journal, though smoothly written, is not one of Auster's best books (IMO). In Winter Journal, Auster observes his own life. What follows is a rambling account of Auster's impressions about any number of things that have touched his life at various stages. The reader does gain some insight into Auster the man - a man not afraid to publicly voice his opposition to America's continuing overseas misadventures, a man who speaks out his "manifold grievances against the evils of contemporary American life ... the senseless wars, the barbarism of illegal torture" and the CIA's 'torture-taxi' extraordinary rendition flights.
In Winter Journal, Auster breaks down his life into chronological stages and from each stage - from childhood, onwards into young adulthood, then mature adulthood, and on again into late middle-age - presents the reader with Auster memories, Auster musings about all sorts of things and masses of Auster minutiae arranged into lists.
Auster memories: some extremely emotional as in Auster's recollection of the death of his mother.
Auster musings: a ramble of musings about any number of things (eg, ten pointless pages rambling on about an obscure 1950's movie).
Auster minutiae: an overload of minutiae dredged up from different stages of his life eg, the swallowing of a fish bone that stuck in his throat/ details of cuts, scrapes, injuries sustained in the rough and tumble of boyhood/ three pages of the minutes taken from the board meetings of his co-op apartment in Brooklyn.
Be prepared to work through a mass of minutiae detailing very ordinary/ mundane Auster experiences many of which are arranged into long (and short) lists eg, a list of examples of food Auster ate as a young boy. Lists, and then more lists - a stylistic touch that was an annoyance (for this reader). Top of my hit list among Auster's overuse of lists must surely go the list of 'the houses I have lived in', comprising Auster's chronological description over some fifty pages of all twenty-three residences, houses or apartments, where he has ever at one time lived.
No, Winter Journal is in many ways a big disappointment, containing lots of padded out material and including all sorts of mundane stuff and masses of minutiae (everything, it seems, apart from Auster's kitchen sink is thrown into the mix). Winter Journal is a lightweight effort from Auster that fails (IMO) to captivate the reader like the old Auster magic of his younger days displayed in such novels as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, The Book of Illusions, Mr. Vertigo and The New York Trilogy. Moreover, when measured against other Auster books in which Auster recollects his relationship with his father and recounts grim revelations about his family's past (The Invention of Solitude) and his early struggles with poverty (Hand to Mouth), Winter Journal falls far short. A final word on lists. For all its lists... and more lists, Winter Journal fails to make my list of favourite Auster books. Hopefully, his next book will! Count me out on this one.