Thursday, January 06, 2005

Hand to Crotch: Dear Mr. Auster

In 1997 I finished my education and moved to Dublin, Ireland to live and write and work. One dreary afternoon—hungover, lonely—I wandered to Eason’s bookstore on O’Connell Street and stumbled across your memoir Hand to Mouth. Reading the jacket blurb, I was hooked:
Hand To Mouth tells the story of a young writer’s struggle to stay afloat. By turns poignant and comic, Paul Auster’s memoir is essentially a book about money - and what it means not to have it. From one odd job to the next, from one failed scheme to another, Auster investigates his own stubborn compulsion to make art and, in the process, treats us to a series of remarkable adventures and unforgettable encounters. The book ends with three of the longest footnotes in literary history.
Fortuna had surely led me to your book. I dipped into my dwindling drinking funds and bought the book, hurrying off to a pub to begin reading it.

Seven years later, the searing disappointment I felt reading Hand to Mouth is still with me. It was beyond mere post purchase dissonance; it was existential anger and sorrow at reading such hamhanded, inspired tripe. My beef with your book? It’s shameful superficiality, it’s abject laziness—my God man, you actually cut off interesting digressions by writing “Not to go into detail here.” Well, if not in a memoir where the fuck does one go into such detail? Christ, the pose behind that book, the bullshit pretension; a rube’s inarticulate oration of experience he doesn’t comprehend, but hopes makes him seem worldly.

And then there was that bizarrely boring, arcane “playing card baseball game” you devised. It hurt my head looking at it.

In the space of hours, I went from believing I had come across a kindred soul, a new writer (to me) into whose canon I could launch myself, to feeling the stinging outrage and flushed cheeks of one heartily offended. That book held such promise, and at a time when I sorely needed to hear the story of a successful writer’s “lean years.” Little did I know the book itself was so lean. Frankly, it’s an abortion.

Ultimately, Hand to Mouth was one of the few books I actually tossed into a garbage bin. Threw it out with banana peels, empty soup cans, and crumpled pages of the novel I struggled over at the time. Normally, I would take such a book to a used bookshop, but Hand to Mouth did not deserve to be shared. It needed to be buried. I couldn’t inflict the same soul crushing disappointment on another aspiring writer.

I have never read a single published word of yours since and never will. I wish you a long and happy life, and continued success with your endeavors. Please remember how much is hinging on the written word. It’s not a hobby. It may be someone’s lifeline. Make sure it’s anchored to something secure, something real, something honest.


Anonymous said...

Damn! You can be so harsh, Matt! But I agree the book was a disappointmen and that baseball card game was just bizarre.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

My appraisal of Hand to Mouth is indeed harsh because it's one of the worst books anyone would stumble across in a given bookstore. My only regret is that I have been unable to find an e-mail address for Paul Auster in order to direct it to him personally.