Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reading is sexy XL

(image by Iker Ayestaran)

I'm not really feeling very well today. I have this threatening tickle in my throat and cotton wool in my brain, so instead of writing the @%&# report version 3.∞ I thought I'd catch up on some outstanding blogging. I realize I haven't mentioned any books read since July, and though I've been busy, that's just wrong. I started this post, in fact, July 31.

Next, I read the New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.

27. City of Glass by Paul Auster "It was a wrong number that started it," the mystery in which our protagonist Daniel Quinn finds himself. Quinn lives a life of relative leisure, easily publishing one detective novel under the pseudonym William Wilson, about gumshoe Max Work, every year. The rest of the time he is free to read, or roam the streets of New York city. His wife and son have died, and he lives a quiet, solitary existence. A series of telephone calls from a strange, somewhat mechanical voice, asking to speak with the detective 'Paul Auster' changes everything for him. Years of writing detective novels have made him intrigued about his own abilities to be a detective, and he eventually agrees to meet Peter Stillman, the man who is convinced he is 'Paul Auster' the best detective in town. It turns out that Peter Stillman has been the victim of a very strange experiment. His father was a theologist who wrote about the myth of Paradise and the myth of Babel. His thesis was about Milton's (apparent) secretary, Henry Dark, who allegedly conceived the idea that an infant, without the influence of people to teach it the languages humanity uses since the fall of the Tower of Babel, would naturally speak God's own tongue and be a link back to Paradise. So Stillman locked up his son Peter in isolation, in the dark, for 9 long years. There was a fire, which lead to Peter's release. Eventually the police, confronted with the barely-verbal young Peter deduce what his mad father has done, and the father is imprisoned. Peter spends years in a hospital, being rehabilitated, and eventually marries his nurse. Peter has called Quinn ('Paul Auster') because his father is being released from prison and he is terrified. 'Paul Auster' should tail Stillman senior and warn, Peter and his wife, if he intends Peter any harm. The wife, Virginia, has stepped straight out of a noir film. She is more care-giver than wife, and makes a pass at Quinn. Soon Quinn finds himself at Grand Central Station, awaiting Stillman senior, and then following his bizzare tramp-like life. Stillman lives in a rooming house-style hotel, and roams a certain set range of New York, on particular paths (which may have meaning) gathering innocuous things - urban debris. There is a wonderful interplay between levels of identity: Quinn as the author William Wilson, Quinn playing the role of Max Work, Quinn playing the role of 'Paul Auster' - and then one day, it occurs him to look in the phone book and call Paul Auster, whom he meets and learns is an author. Auster is writing an essay about Don Quixote (another D.Q.) and levels of meaning and identity, questions of who is the author and how this can be, and how can a person become the character in the sort of literature which obsesses them. This is an incredible book. On one level it is a detective story (though I felt compelled to look through my Paco Ignacio Taibo II novels to find the Walsh quotation above). It's also about the romance of New York, and literature, identity, meaning, loss, homelessness - and baseball, specifically the Mets. There's a real humanity here, as well as a love of history, literature and myth. It felt like Auster's New York has something in common with Haruki Murakami's Tokyo. The streets also have echos of the literary giants past who have made it their home. It's quite amazing to read something magic, and moving, with such a spectacular structure and so rich in allusions to literature.

28. Ghosts by Paul Auster It's the late 40's. Blue has learned the ropes of how to be a good detective from Brown, now retired. White hires Blue, over the phone, to trail a man named Black. He's rented the apartment across the street from Black, and supplied it with all Blue needs to surveil Black indefinitely - without explaining why. Blue accepts the easy, paying job. Blue calls his sweetheart and warns her he's going undercover, and moves into the apartment and begins the process of watching Black. The less Black does - and he does very little - the deeper Blue slips into obsession.

The entire novel is a sort of metaphor, as clarified by the third in the trilogy.

29. The Locked Room by Paul Auster A "locked room" mystery is usually a classic sort of murder mystery in which a body is found in a locked room (think Poe, Christie or Conan Doyle, why yes, I did take a course in Detective Fiction, why do you ask?), but in this case, and in this context, it is, of course, about a book, or several. Our unnamed protagonist, a writer and critic, receives a letter from a childhood friend named Fanshawe with whom he has lost touch. He soon learns that Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving a trove of unpublished novels, letters, and stories, and a young, beautiful wife and child. He is enlisted to help get the undiscovered literary genius Fanshawe published, but soon he falls into his role - husband and father in his small family. Despite some unresolved jealously of Fanshawe, and the reality of being suspected of being Fanshawe and merely pretending to be his childhood friend, life is good in a loving relationship and with a steady source of income from editing and publishing Fanshawe, until Fanshawe writes our protagonist a letter. Fanshawe is distinctly not dead, nor ignorant of our protagonist's new role, and in fact, appears to have orchestrated it all. Our protagonist is left fearful of confessing this to his wife, and feeling like a puppet. Our protagonist needs to hunt down Fanshawe.

Of the three, the first in the Trilogy is the most compelling, and the most able to stand on its own, but by the end of the third, the view of the over-arching structure of the entire trilogy is breath-taking.

{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX}

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