I’m not an avid science fiction reader, but I’m trying to change that. Great novels are very entertaining and enriching that after reading a few ones I realized I’m missing out big time. This novel was recommended by my friend Karl Krispin who considers Paul Auster one of the great American novelists. He’s totally right.
I found it intriguing that the book is about a writer who struggles to get his creative juices flowing again after an accident. It seems to be a metaphor for Paul Auster himself.
But the most surprising and interesting thing about the plot is that there is a plot within a plot within a plot. Auster writes about a writer who is also writing about a novel. The story plays out in 3 layers, and the way it told and written is quite simply mind-blowing.
Once I picked up the book I couldn’t stop reading it until the end.
Notes & Highlights#
- Grace had a regular nine-to-five job, and the weekends were her only chance to sleep in, to indulge in the luxury of waking up without an alarm clock. 1
…Put a fresh ink cartridge in my fountain pen, opened the notebook to the first page, and looked at the top line. I had no idea how to begin. The purpose of the exercise was not to write anything specific so much as to prove to myself that I still had it in me to write—which meant that it didn’t matter what I wrote, just so long as I wrote something.
the close call rattles him, and he can’t push the incident from his mind. As Hammett puts it: “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.”
He will fight fire with fire, as it were, and without bothering to return home or say goodbye to his family, without even bothering to withdraw any money from the bank, he stands up from the table, goes to another city, and starts his life all over again. 2
- He is a top young editor at a prestigious New York company, but the truth is that he prefers working with his hands. 3
- [I] wasn’t sure how long I’d been at it, but I could feel myself beginning to run out of gas, so I put down my pen and stood up from the chair. 4
- He had fought in the Pacific as an eighteen-year-old private at the end of World War II, and he belonged to that generation of men who considered it a point of honor never to feel sorry for themselves, who recoiled in disdain whenever anyone tried to fuss over them. 5
It always stimulates me to discover new examples of my own prejudice and stupidity, to realize that I don’t know half as much as I think I do.
“It doesn’t mean anything, Sid. Except that you’re a little off in the head. And I’m just as off as you are. We write books, don’t we? What else can you expect from people like us?” 6
He has to train himself not to think about the past.
then he must act as if he has just been born, pretend that he is no more burdened by the past than an infant is. He has memories, of course, but those memories are no longer relevant, no longer a part of the life that has begun for him 7
I’m sure you’ve read the stories about how some of them couldn’t stop eating. The starved ones. They’d thought about food for so long, they couldn’t help it. They ate until their stomachs burst, and they died.
I’m a fat man, he tells Nick, and fat men never die. It’s a law of nature. The world can punch us, but we don’t feel a thing. That’s why we have all this padding—to protect us from moments like this.
Nothing is certain in the realm of medical practice, least of all when it’s a question of knives cutting through the flesh of diseased bodies 8
I would much rather have found myself among the no-longer-living than the unborn. With so many historical enigmas to be solved, how not to feel curious about what the world had looked like in, say, the Athens of Socrates or the Virginia of Thomas Jefferson?
A celebration is held in your honor, and that same night you’re sent into the past to travel around the world for one year and observe your ancestors. You begin two hundred years before your birth, roughly seven generations back, and then gradually work your way home to the present. The purpose of the trip is to teach you humility and compassion, tolerance for your fellow men.
we’ll figure out something. That’s what everyone else does. We’re not stupid, Grace. We’ll find a way."
You’re lucky you don’t have any children, Sid. They’re nice when they’re small, but after that they break your heart and make you miserable. Five feet, that’s the maximum. They shouldn’t be allowed to grow any taller than that
Governments always need enemies, even when they’re not at war.
“Thoughts are real,” he said. “Words are real. Everything human is real, and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren’t aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment.
It saddens me that this is what a lot of people think of as a great and fulfilling life. Thankfully technology is helping us change this paradigm and allowing people to spend their time more wisely optimizing for the lifestyle they dream of. See here and here. ↩︎
Reminded me of “Il Fu Mattia Pascal” by Luigi Pirandello ↩︎
There is something uniquely human in working with one’s owns hands. ↩︎
Always stop before you are out of ideas so you can pick the work at a precise point the next day instead of struggling to get started again. ↩︎
Can’t Hurt Me ↩︎
See On Writing ↩︎
Good strategy for life in general. One must learn to let go and live in the present. How good things would be if one could just start afresh each day. ↩︎