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Winter Journal [Hardcover]

Paul Auster
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 7 2012

Amazon.ca Editors' Pick: Best Books of 2012

Facing his sixty-forth winter, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster decides to write a journal as he sees himself aging in ways he never imagined. Compellingly written, and with dreamlike logic and urgency, the autobiographical fragments and meditations produce an extraordinary mosaic of a life. Weaving together vividly detailed stories, Auster illuminates how each small incident comes to signify a whole. Also, there are two recurring moments: one of bodily terror -- his panic attack following his mother's death in 2002; the other of joy -- his experience watching a dance piece in 1978 which releases him from writer's block just prior to his father's death. It was his father's death that began his first equally unconvential and internationally celebrated memoir, The Invention of Solitude, published thirty years ago. Now, Auster has included an unforgettable portrait of his mother. Winter Journal is a surprising and moving meditation on time, the body, the weight of memory, a long and fulfilling marriage (with author Siri Hustvedt), and language itself by one of the most interesting and elegant writers writing today, and one with a devoted following.


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Review

"Surely one of the most interesting writers of our time." -- Montreal Gazette 

"A literary genius, capable of writing the most complex book possible, yet never losing the reader's intense interest..." --Deseret Morning News

About the Author

PAUL AUSTER is the bestselling author of Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Triology, among many other works. His books have been translated into forty-three languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paul Auster at his best! Aug. 30 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have all of Auster's novels on my shelf and have enjoyed them all greatly, but I believe this one 'Winter Journal' is his masterpiece. I know i will read it again and again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Alas This Isn't "Angela's Ashes" Oct. 24 2012
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Winter Journal" is replete with Paul Auster's exceptional prose; a memoir that will remind his most devoted fans of his fiction. However, for those seeking to understand his literary craft, they won't find it in this mercifully terse memoir. In a year that has seen the publication of very good to great autobiographical essay collections from the likes of Rick Moody ("On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening") and William Gibson ("Distrust That Particular Flavor"), "Winter's Journal" reads as a work of nonfiction in which the author seems more intent in displaying his literary craft, not in offering readers something fascinating and profound of note with regards to understanding that author's entire body of work. Both Moody and Gibson's recently published books give readers ample opportunities to understand them both as people and as writers; instead, I think some will be as bewildered as I was upon finishing "Winter Journal", which I must regard as an enigmatic work of nonfiction written by someone often hailed as among our finest contemporary American writers of fiction. In stark contrast with Auster, I have derived better understanding of the personal motivation behind the literary craft of writers as diverse as Michael Chabon ("Maps and Legends"), Jonathan Franzen ("The Discomfort Zone"), and Pete Hamill ("A Drinking Life"), as well as Rick Moody and William Gibson, from reading their memoirs and nonfiction. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Air Sept. 8 2012
By Potato
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very free prose, somewhat different from his fictional work, but at the same time one could see how he drew his experiences from his life into his mainstream work, how his real life is as exciting as the lives of the protagonists in his novels.
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4.0 out of 5 stars loved it! April 19 2014
By willow
Format:Kindle Edition
I have never read Paul Auster before so have nothing in his writings to compare it to. I thoroughly enjoyed it. His sparse prose has no wasted words yet to me was filled with emotion. Using his residences over the years as an entrance into different periods of his life was a very successful device.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  94 reviews
50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Left Me Breathless-A Middle-Age Must-Read July 10 2012
By Avid Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Winter Journal is indeed a journal - a somewhat limited scope style of memoir, however its appeal is anything but limited in scope. It is a not a full-blown memoir, because it is a somewhat generalized stock-taking from the point of view of a mid-sixties-ish Jewish man living in Brooklyn (Mr. Auster): a review of salient themes from the past, undertaken with a view to the future - and weighs in at a relatively slim 230 pages. The scope is Mr. Auster's entire life: from his earliest memories to the moment he removes the nib of his fountain pen from the paper he writes on, with a sometimes staccato and unpredictable selection of moments in between.

There are three sections which serve as themes that I discern, roughly: the body; places; relationships. Each one, while providing part of a united whole, stands somewhat independently, taking the reader on a ride that can be on the surface (I dare not say 'superficial' which none of them are) perhaps consisting lists of favorite childhood candies, uses for one's hands, which on their face might be superficial, but are extremely evocative; or deep, very deep, to the essence of that most basic of questions: who am I; what made me; how do I measure up, whether as a driver, a man, a human being. The detail with which the reader is drawn along is incredible, and is assembled like a Swiss watch: note, for example, that there is virtually no description of a woman who figures in the chronology over a long period, whether of physical attributes or personality (wife #1), but we are given a strong sense of wife #2 who endures.

The story that is told is so true, so real, that any reader who has reached middle age cannot fail to be moved by it. And it is absolutely provocative, in the sense that it provides a framework of sorts, for the kinds of thoughts and reminiscences that middle-aged people have. It can take your breath away. Really.

Winter Journal is one of those rare books that you really look forward to sitting down and reading; I finished it in a few days, during my rare free time. But in between, I thought about it, which reinforced my desire to get back to reading it. If I had the time, I could have read it through in one sitting.

I really give the book four and three-quarter stars, would have given it five, but my reading reverie was diluted in two places, most especially in the nearly ten page recounting of the plot of the 1950 film D.O.A., with which I confess I became slightly bored, and towards the end with the lengthy discussion of the Minnesota branch of his family (in-laws), both of which do inspire the reader and the second of which helps wind down the book, but which have more significance and import to Mr. Auster and his family.

Thank you, Mr. Auster.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, powerful July 19 2012
By Brad Teare - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This extremely readable memoir artfully blends the mundane, such as lists where the author lived, with the revelatory, an epiphany while watching a troupe of dancers. There are brief moments where the curmudgeon intrudes, the type who believes the world would be a utopia if everyone conformed to certain ideals. In such moments we glimpse the person Auster would have become had he not met and fell in love with his wife. But Auster himself seems relieved he never succumbed to such a transformation. I admire the author's willingness to record the weaker side of himself (which he does without becoming confessional or trite). Had he not been so honest his story would have been less compelling.

At the heart of the book is an implied yet profound paean for his intelligent and erudite wife who in some ways is the invisible force breathing life into the narrative. Finding such satisfaction becomes a metaphor for Auster's artistic life and his affection lightens writing that otherwise might have been ponderous.

If you have difficulty getting through the occasional lists (I found them interesting but I'm sure some won't) do yourself a favor and press on until the Minnesota visits. They are well told vignettes and an excellent complement to the New York episodes. The powerful zenith of the narrative, the event with the dancers and a trip to Germany, is just around the corner.

I highly recommend this readable and thought provoking memoir.
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Notes Toward a Memoir: Paul Auster's Winter Journal July 25 2012
By Brendan Moody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The cover copy describes this as an "unconventional memoir in which [Auster] writes about his mother's life and death." Which is true, but only up to a point. There is one section that deals particularly with the life and death of Auster's mother, but it takes up only about 35 of 230 pages. That material, which also appeared in Granta 117, is easily the strongest in WINTER JOURNAL. Poignant, vivid, imbued simultaneously with his sense of his mother's individual tragedy and his awareness that on another level she must always remain a mystery to him, it's a model of the personal essay. Unfortunately, what surrounds it is (barring a charmingly sentimental description of his second marriage) formless, frequently dull recollections that neither capture Auster's visceral experience nor reveal anything about the human condition. It's all well-written on a basic level, full of long sentences that flow naturally and are never difficult to parse, but beyond that ease of reading there are few rewards.

In Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS, a character critiques the protagonist's still-incomplete gargantuan novel by suggesting that the inclusion of such details as "the genealogies of the horses" represents an inability to focus. WINTER JOURNAL is very short, but betrays a similar failure of focus. Nearly 60 pages are given over to a descriptive list of Auster's 21 permanent addresses over the years. There's also a catalog of scars and the stories behind them. Of course one appreciates the intimations of mortality and resulting reflections on the past that drove Auster to make these lists, but for readers lacking their own intimations and reflections, the resonance of this journal may be minimal. None of the homes and scars and snacks are described intensely enough for them to live on in the reader's mind as they do on Auster's, and so they are easily forgotten when another topic juts into frame. There is something to be said for an unconventional, unstructured approach to memoir, but there's also something to be said for a center of gravity, without which such a book becomes a weightless series of reminiscences. For admirers of Auster, especially those interested in his life, and for those who like him are inspired by middle age to consider the sheer vastness of a single life, WINTER JOURNAL may be worth an afternoon's perusal; for others, there is no particular reason to read it at all.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entering the winter of your life July 12 2012
By The Ginger Man - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The beginning of Auster's Journal is a beautiful elegy on aging, memory and the relationship of body and spirit. Auster recounts an intensely personal journey with painfully acquired wisdom and intimations of mortality. He distills in words his "catalog of sensory data" as the book becomes a gift by a beloved author to readers who may be entering a similar stage of life.

In the early pages of Winter Journal, Auster tells of childhood injuries; the scars of which he still carries. What is striking is how well Auster renders the impersonal concreteness of events and suggests that the injuries that we unknowingly escaped may have been far more formidable than those endured. Also recounted are brief moments of remembered weather, illnesses huge and physical indignities small and the joy of playing baseball ("Never a dull moment, in spite of what critics of the game might think.") The car accident that represented his family's instantaneous transition from the quotidian to the cataclysmic is described as well ("as if Zeus had hurled a lightning bolt at you and your family.")

As he moves deeper into the book, the author loses focus a bit from his intended "phenomenology of breathing." But whether listing memories from each of his personal residences, remembering the death of his mother or describing why the film noir movie DOA represents a touchstone for an event in his life, Auster remains interesting, engaging and personal.

A journal can be forgiven for being a bit uneven and episodic. But even with these shortcomings, this small book left me wiser and more a part of my own life than I was when I opened it to begin reading. Its impact may have been heightened for me because of my age and a brush with mortality of my own just this year. But for those readers who have difficulty identifying with Auster's Journal, I recommend carefully considering the deep truths implicit in the book's opening sentence: "You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else."
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fast Walk Through Life Aug. 4 2012
By W. A. Carpenter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Paul Auster's Winter Journal is a compelling review of his life up to age 64. Very well written, though rather oddly done in the 2nd person (perhaps because he sees his body as outside of himself?). I read it in two sittings on a single day, unwilling to stop even though little in the book is really compelling. It should perhaps be titled "Autumn Journal" as it ends "You have entered the winter of your life.", which seems an accurate description of what life is like at age 64.

There's a fascinating rhythm to the language in the book, like a fast walk through the streets of Manhattan. This is quite deliberate as the author discusses writing as a lesser form of dance, based on the rhythms of walking. Such writing is a pleasure and there are a number of these pleasures throughout the book.

I found two sections of the memoir to be especially good. His description of his mother's death is quite moving. And oddly enough, his summary of the plot to the 1950 movie "D.O.A." somehow becomes both personal and powerful.

I suspect that this memoir would be of less interest to younger readers, but for this late middle-aged reader it was completely absorbing and provided some (cold) comfort in knowing that we all face similar problems of body, memory, and meaning as we approach the winter of our lives.
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