Sunday, December 28, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 30.6

Auster, Paul
The Book Of Illusions

Alas, another unread book. I think Jonathan Welch gave me this one, too. Anyhow, lest we end our fruitful time with Mr. A on a dull note, I share an anecdote.

When Auster was in Buffalo in 2005, I spent the better part of three days driving he and his wife, Siri Hustvedt, around from book signing to reading to dinner to film screening to lecture to Niagara Falls and so on. Prior to a book signing at a B & N in the suburbs, the three of us were sitting outside the store until the signing began, chatting, smoking, enjoying the sunlight, etc. 

Somehow, we got to telling ethnic jokes. Auster told me a joke about his own clan (the Jews) and I responded by telling him one about my own (the Irish). It was then that we all had what I can only describe as a Paul Auster moment, only in real life. I started telling the joke, which has to do with an Irishman who always orders three beers at a time. I got about 1/3 of the way through when suddenly Auster's eyes widened and he looked at Siri with what I can only describe as a combination of excitement and dread. The two began nodding at one another, half-smiling, half-terrified. 

Suddenly, Auster turned to me and said, "Does this joke end with the punch line: I quit drinking?" 

"Yes," I said. 

Then, in a curious, yet slightly suspicious tone, he asked, "Where did you hear that joke?" 

I said I didn't know but that I'd been telling it for years. 

Then, with rising dread, "Do many people know this joke? Have people you told it to known the punch line before?" 

"Not usually," I said. "I have always thought of it as my own." 

Looking somewhat relieved, he said, "Siri's father told me that joke, only without the Irish slant. I have never heard anyone else tell that joke before, and I was worried because I put it into my next book!"

The way he lit up at the discovery of a coincidence made it feel for a moment as if we were three characters in one of his novels.

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