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Report from the Interior

Overview

Paul Auster’s most intimate autobiographical work to date

In the beginning, everything was alive. The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts . . .

Having recalled his life through the story of his physical self in Winter Journal, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster now remembers the experience of his development from within through the encounters of his interior self with the outer world ...

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Report from the Interior

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Overview

Paul Auster’s most intimate autobiographical work to date

In the beginning, everything was alive. The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts . . .

Having recalled his life through the story of his physical self in Winter Journal, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster now remembers the experience of his development from within through the encounters of his interior self with the outer world in Report from the Interior.

From his baby’s-eye view of the man in the moon, to his childhood worship of the movie cowboy Buster Crabbe, to the composition of his first poem at the age of nine, to his dawning awareness of the injustices of American life, Report from the Interior charts Auster’s moral, political, and intellectual journey as he inches his way toward adulthood through the postwar 1950s and into the turbulent 1960s.

Auster evokes the sounds, smells, and tactile sensations that marked his early life—and the many images that came at him, including moving images (he adored cartoons, he was in love with films), until, at its unique climax, the book breaks away from prose into pure imagery: The final section of Report from the Interior recapitulates the first three parts, told in an album of pictures. At once a story of the times—which makes it everyone’s story—and the story of the emerging consciousness of a renowned literary artist, this four-part work answers the challenge of autobiography in ways rarely, if ever, seen before.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Sarah Manguso
…on the basis of his five memoirs alone, Auster should be recognized as one of the great American prose stylists of our time…Auster's first three autobiographical works are jewels perfectly cut, luminous little books. It is as if he had been audacious enough, as a younger man, to resist the 350-page Serious Book, but has in late middle age begun to relax. Or perhaps after perfecting the vivid and instructive novella-length essay, he has diverged from it to escape the boredom of his facility. Never mind; the best parts of Report From the Interior are as excellent as one could hope. It would not be inaccurate to describe the first section, which gives the book its title, as perfect.
Publishers Weekly
In this companion to an earlier memoir also written in the second person, Winter Journal, Auster returns to many of the concerns of his 1950s childhood in South Orange, N.J., that ran like leitmotivs through his young life and helped forge the writer’s identity he would embrace by age 22. While Winter Journal explored the “manifold knocks and pleasures” of aging as well as his parents’ unhappy marriage, this volume delves into what had nourished his young mind and heart as a child up until age 12 (he was born in 1947), such as infatuation with early TV characters like Felix the Cat, aviation miracles, the jolt of seeing The War of the Worlds for the first time, meeting Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford (then wondering if he was an imposter), and enduring long stretches of reverie-inducing boredom. Shadows were cast over his youthful obliviousness as he began to “catch on” to what it meant to be a Jew in America (an outsider, often induced to change his name), to understand the gulf between white and black, rich and poor, and to marvel at the horrors endured by Korean War veterans. Yet “Interior” serves as only part one of this work, complemented by “Two Blows to the Head,” elaborate delineation of the plots of two “cinematic earthquakes” of his youth, The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang; “Time Capsule,” a revisiting of the first self-consciously writerly letters Auster wrote as a young Columbia University student to his then girlfriend, Lydia Davis; and photos of the various themes in “Album.” This erratically episodic, somewhat puzzling compendium rounds out the edges to Auster’s oeuvre. (Nov.)
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“Intimate, even claustrophobic, this journey into the author’s memory banks reads like a primal scream, an attempt to relive his youth and evolution.”—Oprah Magazine

“Auster should be recognized as one of the great American prose stylists of our time…. [Auster’s] autobiographical works are jewels perfectly cut, luminous little books… It would not be inaccurate to describe the first section, which gives the book its title, as perfect.” – The New York Times Book Review

Report from the Interior is a fetchingly original, if eclectic, examination of what it feels like to be a young person in a puzzle-world that still hasn’t fallen into place. We all felt it as children; Auster has simply revisited it and put it into words.”— Richmond Times-Dispatch

“[Report From the Interior] adds another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of one of our greatest writers.... There are wonderful Austerian twists and ruminations here, making for a satisfying addition to his eclectic canon.” — Shelf Awareness

“[Auster is an] achingly talented essayist.” — Denver Post

"Celebrated author Auster (Sunset Park) observes his own life in this engaging memoir… Auster presents a fascinating take on the memoir. Students and fans will appreciate his original examination of his interior self." Library Journal (Starred)

“A high-wire explication of his inner life… Auster’s phenomenal literary powers are generated by his equal fluency in matters emotional and cerebral. Here the origins of that sustaining duality are revealed.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

"The interplay of memory, identity and the creative imagination informs this portrait of the artist as a young man, a memoir that the novelist’s avid readership will find particularly compelling…. Auster has long rendered life as something of a puzzle; here are some significant, illuminating pieces." Kirkus

Kirkus Reviews
The interplay of memory, identity and the creative imagination informs this portrait of the artist as a young man, a memoir that the novelist's avid readership will find particularly compelling. Even by the standards of the distinctive literary stylist and his formal ingenuity, this is an unusual book. Auster introduces it as something of a companion piece to his previous Winter Journal (2012), as he compares the two: "It was one thing to write about your body, to catalogue the manifold knocks and pleasures experienced by your physical self, but exploring your mind as you remember it from childhood will no doubt be a more difficult task--perhaps an impossible one. Still, you feel compelled to give it a try." While writing throughout in the second person, inviting readers inside his head, Auster has divided the book into four distinct and very different parts. The first is a childhood psychobiography, to the age of 12, recognizing the distortions and holes in memory while discovering the magic of literature, "the mystifying process by which a person can leap into a mind that is not his own." The second consists of exhaustively detailed synopses of two movies that he saw in his midteens, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), noteworthy for the way such a formative experience "burns itself into your heart forever." The third compiles college letters to his future (and now former) wife, the author/translator Lydia Davis, unearthed when she was compiling her archives--"you have lost contact with that person [he writes of his younger self], and as you listen to him speak on the page, you scarcely recognize him anymore." The fourth is a scrapbook, not of the author and his family, but of images from the era that remain emblazoned on his consciousness. Auster has long rendered life as something of a puzzle; here are some significant, illuminating pieces.
Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
Celebrated author Auster (Sunset Park) observes his own life in this engaging memoir. Written on the premise that his memories are not deception, Auster writes in the second person to offer the reader a bird's-eye view of his experience. Auster remembers his days as a child as "a constant plunge into the new"; he recalls that by the age of 12 "glimmers of adulthood" flickered in his brain as hormones and girls impacted his emotions and actions. Details of the novelist's college travels to Paris and the 1968 uprising by Columbia University students help portray his early adulthood. Underlying all his memories and adventures is Auster's love of reading and writing. A scrapbook of black-and-white photographs further illustrate the author's interests and heroes, from Hopalong Cassidy and Edgar Allan Poe to Sandy Koufax and Buddy Holly. VERDICT Auster presents a fascinating take on the memoir. Students and fans will appreciate his original examination of his interior self. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/13.]—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805098570
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/19/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 430,936
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Winter Journal, Sunset Park, Invisible, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. He has been awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, the Prix Médicis Étranger, the Independent Spirit Award, and the Premio Napoli. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences.

This sentence from the opening of Paul Auster's first novel, City of Glass, could also serve as a template for the author's career, both in circumstance and theme. City of Glass is perhaps the best known of Auster's postmodern detective New York Trilogy, which is rounded out by Ghosts and The Locked Room. Though the novels nominally involve cases to be solved, at base they are about the mystery of identity and how easily it can be lost or altered. In City of Glass, a mystery writer mistakenly receives a phone call for detective Paul Auster and assumes his identity, becoming embroiled in a case. The trilogy was a welcome breath of fresh air for both detective stories and postmodernist writing, and it put Auster on the publishing map.

Setting out to write his subsequent novel, Auster kept in mind the subtitle "Anna Blume Walks Through the 20th Century." The result was a woman's post-apocalyptic urban journey, In the Country of Last Things. Subsequent works such as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, Leviathan, and Mr. Vertigo offered heroes caught up in strange worlds, playing out their stories over existential subtexts. The Music of Chance carries references from Beckett's Waiting for Godot in its story about a drifter who ends up teaming with a card player named Jack Pozzi to hustle two wealthy eccentrics in a fateful poker game. In Mr. Vertigo, a boy who has the ability to levitate goes on the road in the 1920s as "the Wonder Boy," moving through a panorama of pre-Depression America.

Auster's ability to blur the line between fantasy and reality has resulted in unique stories that never operate solely as good yarns. The New York Times wrote of Leviathan -- a dead man's coincidence-ridden story, as narrated by his friend -- "Thus in the literary looking glass of Leviathan, in which things are not always what they seem, our pleasure in reading the story is enhanced by the challenge of making other connections." Auster's fondness for allegory has earned him both praise for his cleverness and criticism from reviewers who, even as they praise his talent, occasionally find him heavy-handed.

The director Philip Haas adapted The Music of Chance for the 1993 film starring James Spader and Mandy Patinkin. But it was Wayne Wang who drew Auster to the movie business in earnest, convincing him to write the screenplay for 1995's Smoke, which was adapted from the short story "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story." The film did well enough to get producer Miramax on board for a sequel bringing back star Harvey Keitel, Blue in the Face. This time, Auster not only wrote the script but co-directed with Wang; he later went full-fledged auteur with the 1998 film (also starring Keitel) Lulu on the Bridge.

In 1999, Auster made the unconventional choice of writing from a canine's point of view in Timbuktu -- although as Auster noted in the Guardian, Mr. Bones "is and isn't a dog." In telling the story of himself and his owner, a homeless "outlaw poet" named Willy G. Christmas, Mr. Bones offers a meditation on mortality, human relationships, and dreams. "If anything," Auster said in a chat with Barnes & Noble.com readers, "I thought of Willy and Mr. Bones as a rather screwball, nutty, latter-day version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the befuddled knight-errant and his loyal squire." The New York Times called Timbuktu his "most touching, most emotionally accessible book."

Auster earned some of his best reviews with his tenth novel The Book of Illusions, about a widower who develops an obsession with an obscure silent-film star and is surprised with an invitation to meet the presumed-dead actor. Book magazine called it "certainly his best...the book [has] the drive and dazzle reminiscent of the classic hardboiled yarns of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett."

Auster is an author who, in both his fiction and his nonfiction, rekindles hope for the romantic, the coincidental, and the magical in everyday life. He does this not with fantastic story lines but by heightening the significance of twists and coincidences that happen to us all the time -- if we approach things in a certain light, our lives become like movies. Auster spins the projector.

Good To Know

Auster's wife Siri Hustvedt, whom he met in 1981, is also a novelist and essayist; writing about her novel The Blindfold, the Village Voice Literary Supplement called Hustvedt "a writer of strong, sometimes astonishing gifts." Auster's first wife was writer Lydia Davis.

Desperately poor in the late '70s and working unhappily as a French translator to make ends meet, Auster wrote a detective novel called Squeeze Play to make some money. He also invented a card game called Action Baseball that he tried to sell to game manufacturers. However, Squeeze Play is "not a legitimate book," he told the Guardian; it was published under a pseudonym. Later, an inheritance from his father allowed Auster the financial freedom to focus more on his writing.

Auster has enjoyed a remarkably international following, even in the days before his Hollywood projects raised his profile; his novels have been translated into several languages, and web sites from Germany to Japan pay him homage.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Paul Benjamin
    2. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 3, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

Read an Excerpt

REPORT FROM THE INTERIOR

In the beginning, everything was alive. The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts, and even the clouds had names. Scissors could walk, telephones and teapots were first cousins, eyes and eyeglasses were brothers. The face of the clock was a human face, each pea in your bowl had a different personality, and the grille on the front of your parents’ car was a grinning mouth with many teeth. Pens were airships. Coins were flying saucers. The branches of trees were arms. Stones could think, and God was everywhere.

There was no problem in believing that the man in the moon was an actual man. You could see his face looking down at you from the night sky, and without question it was the face of a man. Little matter that this man had no body—he was still a man as far as you were concerned, and the possibility that there might be a contradiction in all this never once entered your thoughts. At the same time, it seemed perfectly credible that a cow could jump over the moon. And that a dish could run away with a spoon.

Your earliest thoughts, remnants of how you lived inside yourself as a small boy. You can remember only some of it, isolated bits and pieces, brief flashes of recognition that surge up in you unexpectedly at random moments—brought on by the smell of something, or the touch of something, or the way the light falls on something in the here and now of adulthood. At least you think you can remember, you believe you remember, but perhaps you are not remembering at all, or remembering only a later remembrance of what you think you thought in that distant time which is all but lost to you now.

January 3, 2012, exactly one year to the day after you started composing your last book, your now-finished winter journal. It was one thing to write about your body, to catalogue the manifold knocks and pleasures experienced by your physical self, but exploring your mind as you remember it from childhood will no doubt be a more difficult task—perhaps an impossible one. Still, you feel compelled to give it a try. Not because you find yourself a rare or exceptional object of study, but precisely because you don’t, because you think of yourself as anyone, as everyone.

The only proof you have that your memories are not entirely deceptive is the fact that you still occasionally fall into the old ways of thinking. Vestiges have lingered well into your sixties, the animism of early childhood has not been fully purged from your mind, and each summer, as you lie on your back in the grass, you look up at the drifting clouds and watch them turn into faces, into birds and animals, into states and countries and imaginary kingdoms. The grilles of cars still make you think of teeth, and the corkscrew is still a dancing ballerina. In spite of the outward evidence, you are still who you were, even if you are no longer the same person.

In thinking about where you want to go with this, you have decided not to cross the boundary of twelve, for after the age of twelve you were no longer a child, adolescence was looming, glimmers of adulthood had already begun to flicker in your brain, and you were transformed into a different kind of being from the small person whose life was a constant plunge into the new, who every day did something for the first time, even several things, or many things, and it is this slow progress from ignorance toward something less than ignorance that concerns you now. Who were you, little man? How did you become a person who could think, and if you could think, where did your thoughts take you? Dig up the old stories, scratch around for whatever you can find, then hold up the shards to the light and have a look at them. Do that. Try to do that.

The world was of course flat. When someone tried to explain to you that the earth was a sphere, a planet orbiting the sun with eight other planets in something called a solar system, you couldn’t grasp what the older boy was saying. If the earth was round, then everyone below the equator would fall off, since it was inconceivable that a person could live his life upside down. The older boy tried to explain the concept of gravity to you, but that was beyond your grasp as well. You imagined millions of people plunging headlong through the darkness of an infinite, all-devouring night. If the earth was indeed round, you said to yourself, then the only safe place to be was the North Pole.

No doubt influenced by the cartoons you loved to watch, you thought there was a pole jutting out from the North Pole. Similar to one of those striped, revolving columns that stood in front of barbershops.

Stars, on the other hand, were inexplicable. Not holes in the sky, not candles, not electric lights, not anything that resembled what you knew. The immensity of the black air overhead, the vastness of the space that stood between you and those small luminosities, was something that resisted all understanding. Benign and beautiful presences hovering in the night, there because they were there and for no other reason. The work of God’s hand, yes, but what in the world had he been thinking?

Your circumstances at the time were as follows: midcentury America; mother and father; tricycles, bicycles, and wagons; radios and black-and-white televisions; standard-shift cars; two small apartments and then a house in the suburbs; fragile health early on, then normal boyhood strength; public school; a family from the striving middle class; a town of fifteen thousand populated by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, all white except for a smattering of black people, but no Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims; a little sister and eight first cousins; comic books; Rootie Kazootie and Pinky Lee; “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; Campbell’s soup, Wonder bread, and canned peas; souped-up cars (hot rods) and cigarettes for twenty-three cents a pack; a little world inside the big world, which was the entire world for you back then, since the big world was not yet visible.

Armed with a pitchfork, an angry Farmer Gray runs across a cornfield in pursuit of Felix the Cat. Neither one of them can talk, but their actions are accompanied by a steady clang of jaunty, high-speed music, and as you watch the two of them engage in yet another battle of their never-ending war, you are convinced they are real, that these raggedly drawn black-and-white figures are no less alive than you are. They appear every afternoon on a television program called Junior Frolics, hosted by a man named Fred Sayles, who is known to you simply as Uncle Fred, the silver-haired gatekeeper to this land of marvels, and because you understand nothing about the production of animated films, cannot even begin to fathom the process by which drawings are made to move, you figure there must be some sort of alternate universe in which characters like Farmer Gray and Felix the Cat can exist—not as pen scratches dancing across a television screen, but as fully embodied, three-dimensional creatures as large as adults. Logic demands that they be large, since the people who appear on television are always larger than their images on-screen, and logic also demands that they belong to an alternate universe, since the universe you live in is not populated by cartoon characters, much as you might wish it was. One day when you are five years old, your mother announces that she will be taking you and your friend Billy to the studio in Newark where Junior Frolics is broadcast. You will get to see Uncle Fred in person, she tells you, and be a part of the show. All this is exciting to you, inordinately exciting, but even more exciting is the thought that finally, after months of speculation, you will be able to set eyes on Farmer Gray and Felix the Cat. At long last you will discover what they really look like. In your mind, you see the action unfolding on an enormous stage, a stage the size of a football field, as the crotchety old farmer and the wily black cat chase each other back and forth in one of their epic skirmishes. On the appointed day, however, none of it happens as you thought it would. The studio is small, Uncle Fred has makeup on his face, and after you are given a bag of mints to keep you company during the show, you take your seat in the grandstand with Billy and the other children. You look down at what should be a stage, but which in fact is nothing more than the concrete floor of the studio, and what you see there is a television set. Not even a special television set, but one no bigger or smaller than the set you have at home. The farmer and the cat are nowhere in the vicinity. After Uncle Fred welcomes the audience to the show, he introduces the first cartoon. The television comes on, and there are Farmer Gray and Felix the Cat, bouncing around in the same way they always have, still trapped inside the box, still as small as they ever were. You are thoroughly confused. What error have you made? you ask yourself. Where has your thinking gone wrong? The real is so defiantly at odds with the imagined, you can’t help feeling that a nasty trick has been played on you. Stunned with disappointment, you can barely bring yourself to look at the show. Afterward, walking back to the car with Billy and your mother, you toss away the mints in disgust.

Copyright © 2013 by Paul Auster

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