3 Books I’ve Read

I don’t often read books because they make my brain hurt. Here are 3 books I’ve read recently that didn’t hurt my brain too much.

null The Music of Chance by Paul Auster (8/10) — Another hypnotic and fantastic narrative by Paul Auster. If I told you the story you might ask, “How is that a story?” But it’s the intimacy of the writing that pulls it along, the journey, not the destination. I put this one up there with The Book of Illusions and Moon Palace. (I read The Music of Chance in Volume 2 of Auster’s Collected Novels.)

nullnull Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer (8/10) — Lehrer examines the works of various artists — Walt Whitman, Proust, Cezanne, Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, etc. — to say, “Hey, all these people had insights that were later confirmed through neuroscience! Check it out!” Apparently filled with too many inaccuracies to be taken seriously by true intellectuals, it’s still a pretty damn interesting book to me. I enjoy writers who examine ideas simply for the joy of the exploration. Even if their arguments fall apart under scrutiny, they serve the purpose of inspiring people to begin thinking about the subjects. A well-written, enthusiastic and enlightening little book. It’s fun.

null Musicophilia: Tales of Music and The Brain by Oliver Sacks (6/10) — Although it contains some interesting stories about people whose experience of music is changed by various forms of brain damage or disease (some of it reads like science fiction, it’s so strange), it’s a chore getting through most of the book because it’s just too long. Sacks makes a few points, and illustrates them with case studies, and then repeats himself so many times it becomes tedious. It’s like reading the same short book 5 times over. He really needs an editor who has the courage to edit his writing and help organize into a more cohesive narrative. It would have been a better book at 100 pages instead 450.

Moon Palace – Part 3

I just finished reading Paul Auster’s novel, Moon Palace. It’s the second novel of his I’ve read. The first was The Book of Illusions, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wish I could come up with a better summation than that. “Thoroughly enjoyed” doesn’t really say much, does it? But there you go. I enjoyed every aspect of the novel, every aspect of Auster’s writing style. He doesn’t use overtly dramatic prose. His writing is understated but not reduced to bare bones like Raymond Carver (whose writing I greatly admire for different reasons). Not to say there aren’t any dramatic moments. They do happen, but that’s exactly it: they happen on their own, not through contrived or forced writing. No build up. No sudden change in the speed of the writing. Simply presented, and dramatic.PAUL AUSTER\'s MOON PALACE

Fantastic things happen to the people in Auster’s novels, things you would never believe, things that would never happen in real life. Yet he makes them believable and compelling by drawing his characters with tenderness, not sentimentality, by pulling us into their worlds through details that seem unremarkable until they’re woven into the narrative. He may not say much about the person, their personality, but the world they inhabit tells us enough about them so that we care and relate to them. So when these fantastic events finally come around, we’re already so involved that believability is not an issue. We just want to know what’s going to happen next.

I say this more about The Book of Illusions than Moon Palace. Moon Palace is similar in that the narrator experiences a personal tragedy and finds a measure of peace beyond the grief, and following him along this journey makes for a good story. But Moon Palace doesn’t have the same focus as The Book of Illusions. The narrator goes from one shitty experience to another, then we delve into the equally shitty (though not hopeless) experiences of another character, and then another character, so that near the end we don’t know who we’re supposed to care about more. Auster will introduce a new character, and just like that the novel is now about that character. In the end, it’s revealed how they’re all connected (through a very fantastic series of coincidences that comes a bit too close to being unbelievable), but the thread that ties their stories together is a bit weak. It’s almost as if Auster wrote three self-contained short novels about three different people, and then found a way to string them together into a full-length novel.Paul Auster's the Book of Illusions

Not that it doesn’t make for good reading. Auster is such a skilled writer, even when the story wanders off, it’s a pleasure to read. But by the time I got to the last third of the novel, there were more than a few pages I found myself skimming through. I got impatient with some of the back story, details I knew wouldn’t really make much difference to the story (and didn’t). And the ending, unlike the ending for The Book of Illusions, didn’t do much for me. After all the shit this guy goes through, then survives, and goes through again and survives again, that the novel would come to a close at the end of one of these cycles where, probably through some lucky coincidence, the narrator would pull through yet again, doesn’t seem like much of an ending. The last line could have been: “And so it goes.”

The Book of Illusions dives into the lives of each character in a similar fashion, exploring the chaos they’ve all survived in their own particular way, but its wanderings seem more directed, less strung together by fantastic coincidences. It could be argued that coincidence is the whole theme of Moon Palace, that if it weren’t for chance happenings, we wouldn’t learn half as much about ourselves as we do. That’s not much of a theme if you ask me, but it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter that The Book of Illusions was a better book for me. Moon Palace is a good novel and a good read. Even if it doesn’t come together in the end as well as The Book of Illusions, there is so much in it that is so good, it’d be a shame to pass it by.

P.S., I was just reading the first page of the first book in Auster’s New York Trilogy: “Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance.” Now that could have been the last line of Moon Palace.

Previous posts: Moon Palace – Part 2 and Paul Auster – The Book of Illusions.

Moon Palace – Part 2

From page 170 of Paul Auster’s novel, Moon Palace, which I’ve been reading at a rate of perhaps five pages a day:

    The true purpose of art was not to create beautiful objects, he discovered. It was a method of understanding, a way of penetrating the world and finding one’s place in it, and whatever aesthetic qualities an individual canvas might have were almost an incidental by-product of the effort to engage oneself in this struggle, to enter into the thick of things.

Previous post: Moon Palace – Part 1. Next: Part 3.

Moon Palace – Part 1

I enjoyed every aspect of Paul Auster’s novel, The Book of Illusions. It has tragedy, humour, romance, mystery, and a fantastic ending. It’s about a guy who deals with a personal tragedy by obsessively researching the films of an obscure silent-movie actor, and then writes a book about it. Which may not sound exciting, but it’s great. The day after I finished the novel, I went to a used bookstore and picked up two more books by Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy and Moon Palace. I also bought W.P. Kinsella‘s If Wishes Were Horses with the hope of getting back into his writing. However, I began reading Moon Palace during the walk home, and was immediately drawn into it. Not having much time to read, I’m only now on page 88, but so far so good. Auster begins the story by again creating a believable character who experiences a personal tragedy — and it’s been fun watching this sad, unheroic character crawl out of this hole. I don’t know if Auster intended for us to laugh at this guy’s misfortune, but that’s what I’m doing, and I’m having a good time.

I’ll say more in another 100 pages, or whenever I finish the book.

Continued: Moon Palace – Part 2.

Paul Auster – Part 2

I finished reading Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions last night. I wanted to walk away from it as I approached the last ten pages because the world Auster created was so believable (though quite fantastic), I didn’t want to see it end. But of course I couldn’t stop reading. Which isn’t a bad description of the novel: readable. Not the Stephen King, pulp novel kind of readable, but compelling and intelligent. The story is so fantastic with so many surreal twists and turns, it’s a credit to Paul Auster that he makes it feel so real. The writing is so subtle and understated, you don’t realize the emotional investment you’ve put into the characters until something happens to them.

And the ending does not disappoint. I thought it might be another novel where a bunch of stuff happens and then it just ends — goodbye and good luck to everybody. But the ending here adds an extra dimension to the whole story that makes you feel, “Alright. Good.” (Along with, “Wow. How’d he do that?”) It’s not easy to write a good ending, but Auster does it. I admire how he tells such a compelling story out of something that would ordinarily seem unremarkable, and leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve closed the book.

I read the novel without reading the damn summary on the back of the book that gives away half the story — and I’m glad that’s how it went down. For the same reason, I haven’t mentioned anything about the storyline. Even if I did summarize it a bit, you wouldn’t think, “Wow, that sounds like a great story.” But, if like me, you just picked it up and began reading it, you wouldn’t need or want to read the back of the book because by the time you got past page 1, you’d be completely immersed in the story. Good reading all around.

I’ll be headed to the used bookstore over the weekend to pick up another Paul Auster book. Any recommendations? I’m even interested in his non-fiction.

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