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The Red Notebook by Paul Auster.


I picked up The Red Notebook by Paul Auster in a charity shop because the Literary Review said that it ‘bears testimony to Auster’s sense of the metaphysical elegance of life and art.’ This was enough for me. I bought the book and completed it within a few hours. I found myself wanting to go back to re-read passages; a sign that this was going to be a favourite. My version includes short essays and an interview with Paul Auster which I would wholeheartedly recommend reading.

Here are a few short extracts from the book:

“What is so startling to me, is that you don’t begin to understand your connection to others until you are alone. And the more intensely you are alone, the more deeply you plunge into a state of solitude, the more deeply you feel that connection. It isn’t possible for a person to isolate himself from other people. No matter how apart you might find yourself in a physical sense – whether you’ve been marooned on a desert island or locked up in solitary confinement – you discover that you are inhabited by others. Your language, your memories, even your sense of isolation – every thought in your head has been born from your connection with others.”

“For here we find a language of immediate contact, a syntax of abrupt, lighting shifts that still manages to maintain a sense, and in their brevity, the sparse presence of their words, we are given a rare and early example of isolated words able to span the enormous mental spaces that lie between them – as if intelligible links could be created by the brute force of each word or phrase, so densely changed that these tiny particles of language could somehow leap out of themselves and catch hold of the succeeding cliff-edge of thought.”

“Becoming a parent connects you to a world beyond yourself, to the continuum of generations, to the inevitability of your own death. You understand that you exist in time, and after that you can no longer look at yourself in the same way.”

“The greatest influence on my work has been fairy tales, the oral tradition of storytelling. The Brothers Grimm, the Thousand and One Nights – the kinds of stories you read out loud to children. These are bare-bones narratives, narratives largely devoid of details, yet enormous amounts of information are communicated in a very short space, with very few words. What fairy tales prove, I think, is that it’s the reader – or the listener – who actually tells the story to himself. The text is no more than a springboard for the imagination. ‘Once upon a time there was a girl who lived with her mother in a house at the edge of a large wood.’ You don’t know what the girl looks like; you don’t know what colour the house is, you know next to nothing. But the mind won’t allow these things to remain blank; it fills in the details itself, it creates images based on its own memories and experiences – which is why these stories resonate so deeply inside us. The listener becomes an active participant in the story.”

“There’s a way in which a writer can do too much, over-whelming the reader with so many details that he no longer has any air to breathe. Think of a typical passage in a novel. A character walks into a room. As a writer, how much of that room do you want to talk about? The possibilities are infinite. You can give the colour of the curtains, the wallpaper pattern, the objects on the coffee table, the reflection of the light in the mirror. But how much of this is really necessary? Is the novelist’s job simply to reproduce physical sensations for their own sake? When I write, the story must be sacrificed to it. All the elegant passages, all the curious details, all the so-called beautiful writing – if they are not truly relevant to what I am trying to say, then they have to go. It’s all in the voice. You’re telling a story after all, and your job is to make people want to go on listening to your tale. The slightest distraction or wandering leads to boredom, and if there’s one thing we all hate in books, it’s losing interest, feeling bored, not caring about the next sentence. In the end, you don’t only write the book you need to write, but you write the books you would like to read yourself.”
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