Posted by: chartroose | February 1, 2008

In Praise of Paul Auster


Paul Auster is one of the greatest writers of the 20th/21st century.  I don’t apologize for this bold statement, nor do I think it presumptious of me to make it.  In fact, let me reiterate: Paul Auster is one of the greatest writers of the 20th/21st century.  I just heard him read from Travels in the Scriptorium on KQED, and was amazed at how quickly I was drawn into the story.  Now I must read Travels very soon because I absolutely have to see what happens next.  Who other than Mr. Auster can make everyday inanities like urinating and defecating seem beautiful and pleasurable while imbuing them with an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss at the same time?  Who other than Mr. Auster can immediately suck you into the mind of a single character in such a way that you actually feel that you are becoming that person?  Who other than Mr. Auster can write a story within a story within a story with such majesty that you feel like you are part of an otherworldly dream while you are engrossed in his novel(s)?  Reading Auster is an all-encompassing experience; you feel it from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

I have read The Brooklyn Follies and Oracle Night.  I’m not sure which I prefer–probably Follies because it was more dystopic and I groove on dystopic novels.  I think I’ll characterize both books as existential noir, even though putting tags on his novels seems to be too limiting.  Follies also had tons of symbolism and humor, but I wasn’t laughing.  I was too enthralled to laugh.  Damn, now I’m going to have to read those novels again as well!

I don’t know how to classify Mr. Auster’s philosophies, and this bothers me because I dearly love to put things in boxes.  There are existential elements in his novels, but they contain so much more than just angsty existential hoohaw.  I hate to label anything postmodern because it’s such a trashcan term.  I think Mr. Auster defies labeling, so from now on I’m going to call his novels (and similar works by other authors) Austerian ™ literature.

Who knows, it might even catch on someday!



  1. For me his best is The Book of Illusions, though it comes in at the ‘straighter’ end of his range. For the more self-reflexive stuff, yes, it’s hard to beat Oracle Night.

  2. Oh great, now I’m going to have to read “The Book of Illusions” too. Thanks, John. Love your blog!

  3. Hi,
    I just finished The New York trilogy.
    Oh my .. I felt like i needed to cry. Its rarely that I get these emotions when finishing a book. But this one is so strong.

    Im going to write a large paper about it, in school.

    Can’t say that I’m happy about it. Afraid that Im going to ruin it , you know?

  4. Maria–Thanks for your comment. “New York Trilogy” was really something, wasn’t it? I felt like crying too.
    I’m sure your paper will be just fine. I think Auster defies ruining.

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