Thursday, December 25, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30

Auster, Paul
The Invention of Solitude

One of my all-time favorite books, The Invention of Solitude is Paul Auster's memoir/meditation on fatherhood and death. It also marks the end of his career as a poet and the beginning of his career as a novelist. I first heard of Paul Auster on a visit to Paris in May 1993. I had befriended a painter there who was also an avid reader and who recommended this book to me. When I returned, I thought I was carrying back news to NYC news of some undiscovered American writer only appreciated by the French. Turns out I was about the only person in the city who had not read Auster.

This is definitely not the first copy of the book I purchased, despite its somewhat worn condition. Several times when recommending this book to others I have given them my only copy. This is at least my third.

Even though the book is less than 200 pages long, I have always read it slowly, pausing after nearly every paragraph to think about what I had just read, to savor the language and the richness of his thought. My own father died prematurely 3 years after I first read this book, and having read it, I somehow felt like I had been to a rehearsal of that event.

I took my love of this book to true extremes when, in 2004, I chose it for Just Buffalo's "If All Of Buffalo Read The Same Book" program, and tried to get everyone in the Buffalo to read it. I think I got a couple of thousand people to read it, anyhow. More importantly, I got to hang out with Paul Auster and his wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, for the better part of three days. To say it was the thrill of a lifetime is an understatement.

Here's the opening paragraph which, IMHP, is one of the great opening paragraphs in literature:

One day there is life. A man, for example, in the best of health, not even old, with no history of illness. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. He goes from one day to the next, minding his own business, dreaming only of the life that lies before him. And then, suddenly, it happens there is death. A man lets out a little sigh, he slumps down in his chair, and it is death. The suddenness of it leaves no room for thought, gives the mind no chance to seek out a word that might comfort it. We are left with nothing but death, the irreducible fact of our own mortality. Death after a long illness we can accept with resignation. Even accidental death we can ascribe to fate. But for a man to die of no apparent cause, for a man to die simply because he is a man, brings us so close to the invisible boundary between life and death that we no longer know which side we are on. Life becomes death, and it as if this death has owned this life all along. Death without warning. Which is to say: life stops. And it can stop at any moment.

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