Hand to Mouth ~ Paul Auster

► door: A.IJ. van den Berg

The autobiographical story told in this book has overlaps with the second part of Auster’s The Invention of Solitude, which I read last week. Nevertheless, it is a different tale.

hand to mouth cover

Hand to Mouth is told in almost chronological order, from the moment Auster knows he want to be nothing but a writer, until a year or so before his breakthrough; when money still is a problem, and various schemes to earn something have failed.

To illustrate this, the book has more appendixes than real text. Auster uses them to give us a play he wrote then, and a detective story that was published under a pseudonym. In addition, in full colour a baseball game he invented to play with a deck of cards.

The big question posed in this book is: why, if it brought so little reward, did Auster continue to write? Flipping burgers would have made him more money. But, it is the wrong question to ask, because he did succeed in the end, and became a bestseller-writing author.

A problem with a book like this, as with more memoirs, is that the writer reflects on panicky days gone by, but does so from the comfort of a successful career. From rags to riches makes a good story, and I won’t deny this is a very readable book. But, it did remind me a bit of that joke of those millionaires bragging to each other how poor they had been in their youth.

Paul Auster, Hand to Mouth
A Chronicle of Early Failure

436 pages
Faber and Faber 1998, first printed 1997