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Collected Prose: Autobiographical Writings, True Stories, Critical Essays, Prefaces, and Collaborations with Artists Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 10, 2005
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Auster's mind-bending fiction is shaped by his fascination with coincidence and chance, and with how the most banal appearances conceal untold bizarreness. Any reader curious about how such a sensibility coalesces will find Auster's nonfiction full of clues. Following his Collected Poems [BKL F 1 04], this gathering of autobiographical writings, essays, and critical works illuminates key moments in Auster's life and traces the evolution of his imagination. The volume begins with "The Invention of Solitude," a staggering portrait of his father; next up is "Hand to Mouth," an arresting account of his wildly improvised efforts at survival while attempting to make it as a writer; followed by the resounding "Why Write?" and the surprising "True Stories." As a critic, Auster fully enters the works of the writers he discusses, including Kafka, Knut Hamsun, Laura Riding, Samuel Beckett, and Paul Celan, and pulls off feats of masterful concision in his prefaces and op-ed pieces. All told, this is a delectable and invaluable addition to the Auster collection, a unique facet of American letters. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"He is a remarkable writer whose work needs to be read in totality."--The Sunday Herald (Scotland)
"One of America's leading novelists...The literary essays and prefaces in this collection are elegant and accessible.... Much of what is offered here displays his warmth, democratic instincts, and human concerns."--The Daily Telegraph (London)
"Auster's informed enthusiasms, especially for European modernism and aspects of the avant-garde, make him a passionate, intelligent, and stimulating commentator. He writes acutely about the dilemmas which inform serious artistic decisions. The hospitable, generous pieces make one want to go immediately to the writers he discusses."--The Observer (London)
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Top Customer Reviews
What do I like about him? The sense of context and history that he places around the personal moment is one big thing that I admire. He's better at that than nearly anyone. Whether that's the moment of joy with looming 9/11 as a backdrop, or whether its his characters' continual urge/effort (ultimately doomed) to separate and isolate themselves-- whatever the situation, he's somehow the writer who insists on the whole page. (Please note that this is different than using history as backdrop, something that I tend to dislike very much.) Other things that I like about him include his interest in coincidence and his love of mundane details, used appropriately.
Reading a selected prose collection of any author has its challenges-- depending on the author then what they decide to collect can range from the wonderful to the nearly unreadable. When I bought this volume, I was very curious exactly what would be included. Auster has done so much in his writing life-- criticism, translation, memoirs. They had, it seemed to me, a lot of material from which to choose.
And it is an interesting selection. The first part of the book was, for me, truly wonderful to read. The first 240 pages are taken up by the two memoir pieces, "The Invention of Solitude" and "Hand to Mouth". It is worth the money to buy this book simply to have both of these collected in one place.
It follows on with a series of True Stories, collaboration and essays of which my favorites were probably "The Death of Sir Walter Raleigh" and "Northern Lights". The True Stories are interesting as his interest in coincidence is put front and center.
The rest of the book is Critical Essays, Prefaces and Occasions. I enjoyed the critical essays, but found that I was really only able to get something out of the ones where I knew the writer or work in question. From the rest, I got good suggestions for further reading, which is a pretty good thing to get as well. I personally found the prefaces difficult to read, and I probably would not have chosen to collect them. It's too bad, because it meant that I was impatient and tired by the time that we got around to the Occasions, and many of them are really lovely-- full of sharp observations, well worth making. If I had to read it again, I would probably have skipped the Prefaces and gone straight to the Occasions. (Obviously, much depends on why you are reading the book.)
In short, I would think that any reader would get a lot from this collection. I suppose that it would add more depth if you were already familiar with Auster as a writer, but I think that a piece like "The Invention of Solitude" can easily stand on its own as a first reading experience.
Well bought and well read.