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Winter Journal Hardcover – August 21, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2012: At nearly 64, one of our greatest modern writers is feeling his age. In his quietly transfixing new memoir, Winter Journal, Paul Auster meditates on what it means for his mind, body, and creativity to experience the unforgiving passage of time. This should be--and is--an intensely personal chronicle, but Auster makes the journey equally ours by inviting us into its unfolding. "No doubt you are a flawed and wounded person," he cautions, and suddenly you are. You are the player in this story: running away from your pregnant mother in a department store; learning to wrangle your adolescent hormones; taking an "inventory of your scars, in particular the ones on your face"; marveling at the beauty of your wife as she sleeps; moving in and out of 21 homes, recalling their addresses and aesthetics in astonishing detail. "Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body," Auster notes. With Winter Journal, he reminds us that it is also the joyful, then melancholy, then reluctantly accepting soundtrack of our full and finite lives. --Mia Lipman


“Celebrated author Auster (Sunset Park) observes his own life in this engaging memoir… Auster presents a fascinating take on the memoir. Students and fans will appreciate his original examination of his interior self.” ―Library Journal (Starred)

“An incandescent memoir. . . . Contemplative, pugnacious and achingly tender. . . . A profoundly beautiful book. . .” ―Washington Post

“This august author's meandering meditation on time, aging, and the eventual death of his mother beguiled many readers with its mix of pungent poetics and humble reminiscence.” ―Elle Magazine, Readers' Prize Winner

“His concerns will be familiar to many readers, but because he is Paul Auster, he is uniquely able to reflect on them for the rest of us…. Riveting… Writing in the second-person, almost as if talking about someone else or as if speaking with a stranger, Auster, oddly enough, establishes a powerful intimacy with the reader.” ―Haaretz

“[A] graceful, moving new memoir... a kaleidoscopic reflection from one of our most important writers as he enters life's winter.... Auster's brilliance is in how he makes his deep love for his subjects palpable.... With Winter Journal, Auster has given us a remarkable mosaic of his mother and his second wife, the most vital women in his life, while, at the same time, allowing readers to catch glimpses of themselves in the expansive life that's woven together in this stirring memoir.” ―Alex Lemon, Dallas Morning News

“Each year, when the inevitable hand-wringing begins over the American drought in winning the Nobel Prize for literature, I'm always surprised that more critics don't push Paul Auster.... The recent knock against American literature is that it's ‘insular' and ‘isolated,' at least according to one grumpy Nobel Prize judge. As an antidote to those gripes, I'd like to press a few of Mr. Auster's books into more Swedish hands…. Mr. Auster's prose is sharp and the plots are coiled. And best of all, his stories are addictively entertaining…. Mr. Auster has written a spare meditation that's thoroughly entertaining. In short, Winter Journal might contemplate the past, but it reinforces Paul Auster's status as a writer at the peak of his talents.” ―Cody Corliss, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Fascinating… Strikingly bold and original... Think of it as a literary cousin of Federico Fellini's semi-autobiographical film, ‘Amarcord' (‘I remember') -- only this time, we watch the protagonist grow up and become pensively aware of his mortality.” ―Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Paul Auster's novels are mesmerizing reverie, often chilly to the touch yet exploding with exponential warmth on deeper consideration. The same can be said for Winter Journal, a new memoir that comes three decades after his first, The Invention of Solitude. Here, Auster surveys the physical, emotional and spiritual landscapes of his life, then deconstructs these touchstones one unreliable memory at a time. Deeply musical, often darkly funny ruminations on baseball, becoming a middle-aged orphan after his mother's passing, the enduring power of love, and an intimate history of his own body's pains and pleasures weave together to confirm that while no one gets out of this world alive, each moment can be transcendent.” ―J. Rentilly, American Way

“[A] powerful new memoir…. Periodically, Auster writes these long sentences, gently pulling them like threads from the fabric of his imagination. Perhaps you learned them as run-ons, but Auster's are wonders of clarity and cumulative clout. As Auster escorts you through his life, you realize Winter Journal works like your own mind. It tells stories; it remembers, moves on, revisits; it sorts and classifies; it judges. Feels.” ―Daniel Dyer, The Plain Dealer

“Readers of [Paul Auster's] string of beguiling novels, which include The New York Trilogy, The Brooklyn Follies and Sunset Park, will enjoy picking out the autobiographical roots of some of his fiction…. Thoughtful ruminations on the nexus between the mundane and the meaningful, the physical and the emotional.” ―Heller McAlpin, NPR.Org

“Unusual, affecting…. To experience Auster's fixation on the body-- and his way of staging that fixation as something you're complicit in--is to realize that most memoirs don't work this way. Not even the ones that focus on illness and death. Memoirs tend to be psychological studies of how one person's mind worked through something. Winter Journal instead foregrounds the physical; on the first page Auster states his intention to catalog ‘what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one.' With psychological interpretations stripped off, what's left is a more visceral accounting…. What becomes clearer, and in its closing pages more potent, is the way this physical self-scrutiny amplifies his emotional responses.” ―Mark Athitakis, Barnes & Noble Review

“[A] remarkable meditation on 'what it has felt like to live inside this body from the first day you can remember being alive until this one.' Notice his use of the second person? One of the first pleasures of Winter Journal is its feeling of immediacy, as if we are inside Auster's head staring with him into memory's mirror, listening to him talk to himself.... Auster catalogs his memories with all the entertaining artistry of the best medieval poets.” ―Alden Mudge, Bookpage (Top Nonfiction Pick for September)

“[In Winter Journal] one of the nation's most revered fiction writers looks back at his life -- and contemplates age and mortality -- in a gripping memoir that hopscotches across the decades.” ―Chris Waddington, New Orleans Times-Picayune

Winter Journal takes up the conceit of a detachable self and develops it... An engaging book.” ―James Campbell, The Wall Street Journal

“For a reader of a certain age, perhaps a male reader of a certain age, there's a sharp shudder of recognition at the admission of minor vices, of neglect and breakdown, of the slow ravages of the body over time. As someone who shares many of these predilections, I find myself rendered nearly breathless by Auster's willingness to tell.” ―David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

Winter Journal is far more elegiac than angry, more wistful than soaked in regret.... When you read Auster's final page, you will feel you have been in the company of a man whose life has had more ups than downs, more times to celebrate than memories to drown. Added pleasure will come from the clear, inventive prose that has marked Auster's equally inventive novels through the years, from his New York trilogy to more recent books like Invisible and Sunset Park.... When you reach the end of the book, you will have appreciated the journey as much as he clearly has.” ―Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“An idiosyncratic memoir that is at times cerebral, at times bawdy, and in every sense consistently rewarding... Whether you experience what Auster calls the ‘journey through winter' literally or figuratively, this book will serve as a worthy companion when you embark on it.” ―Harvey Freedenberg, Bookreporter.com

“A highly personal memoir and extended essay, shaped oddly and intimately by an all-embracing second-person voice.” ―Steve Paul, Kansas City Star

“Auster's memoir recalls his free-spirited mother and the history of his own body. We experience Auster's appetite for food and drink and literature but foremost for sex, as well as the crippling panic attacks that plagued him after his mother's death, the epiphany he experienced watching a dance performance that cured his writer's block, and the intense shame of nearly killing his family in a car accident. Over time, as Auster's body alternately ages and is revitalized, the composition of these elements creates an intimate symphony of selves, a song of the body for all seasons.” ―Vanity Fair

“The acclaimed novelist, now 65, writes affectingly about his body, family, lovers, travels and residences as he enters what he calls the winter of his life…. Auster's memoir courses gracefully over ground that is frequently rough, jarring and painful… A consummate professional explores the attic of his life, converting rumination to art.” ―Kirkus, Starred Review

“[A] quietly moving meditation on death and life… This is the exquisitely wrought catalogue of a man's history through his body.” ―Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“An intensely sensuous account of strange and dramatic events punctuated by jazzy lists of everything from the places he's called home to his favorite foods. Auster's most piercing recollections are anchored to injury and illness, close calls and bad habits, age and ‘the ghoulish trigonometry of fate.'… Auster is startlingly forthright, mischievously funny, and unfailingly enrapturing as he transforms intimate memories into a zestful inquiry into the mind-body connection and the haphazard forging of a self.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist, Starred Review

“This book is called a memoir, but as might be expected of the brilliantly offbeat award-winning author of The New York Trilogy, it's not a standard retelling of life events. Instead, as he approaches his mid-Sixties, Auster considers bodily pain and pleasure, the passage of time, and the weight of memory, stirring in reflections on his mother's life and death. High-minded readers will anticipate.” ―Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780805095531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805095531
  • ASIN: 0805095535
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Avid Reader VINE VOICE on July 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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