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Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure

Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure

Paperback

By (author) Paul Auster

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  • Publisher: FABER & FABER
  • Format: Paperback | 448 pages
  • Dimensions: 126mm x 192mm x 38mm | 281g
  • Publication date: 16 November 1998
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0571195970
  • ISBN 13: 9780571195978
  • Edition statement: Trade Paperback.
  • Sales rank: 218,985

Product description

"One of the most original and audacious autobiographies ever written by a writer." (Le Monde). Hand to Mouth tells the story of the young Paul Auster's struggle to stay afloat. By turns poignant and comic, 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: a card game, a thriller about baseball, and three short plays. Hand to Mouth is essential reading for anyone interested in Paul Auster, in the figure of the struggling artist, in the nature of poverty, or in baseball.

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Author information

Paul Auster is the best-selling author of Invisible, Moon Palace, Mr Vertigo, The Brooklyn Follies, The Book of Illusions and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. In 2006 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his other honours are the Independent Spirit Award for the screenplay of Smoke and the Prix Medicis Etranger for Leviathan. He has also been short-listed for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (The Book of Illusions) and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (The Music of Chance). His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Review quote

“Delightful...A gracious and humane tale...One can only marvel at Auster’s artistry. —T"he Boston Sunday Globe" “Auster writes in a voice so clear, so mesmerizing, and so profound...[he] is unafraid of his own power, precisely because he has acknowledged humiliation’s alchemy, its way of letting words vibrate at whatever weird, golden velocity they wish, "Hand to Mouth "vibrates...beautiful.” —Wayne Koestenbaum, "Bookforum" “Required, inspiring reading for Auster-holics and aspiring writers.” —"Kirkus Reviews" “An engaging account of his early attempts to stay afloat as a writer...with a colorful cast of sharply etched characters who he meets along the way.” —"Chicago Tribune" “As a cautionary tale for writers, this is a superb book.” —"Publishers Weekly"

Editorial reviews

Artistic failure, financial woes, and broken love are the subjects of Auster's wide-ranging philosophical memoir, a candid assessment of the demands and rewards of art, work, and money. Auster's (Mr. Vertigo, 1994; Leviathan, 1992; etc.) success provides an ironic subtext to this catalog of misery: The author of 14 books of fiction, poetry, essays, screenplays, and translations laughs last, since this putative chronicle of failure includes work that originally lacked an audience. That material, presented in three appendixes, includes a trio of one-act plays (one of which, Laurel and Hardy Go to Heaven, isn't bad); Action Baseball, a nifty game complete with cut-out playing cards that failed as a desperate get-rich-quick scheme; and Squeeze Play, a thinking man's mystery featuring a wise-cracking Ivy League gumshoe. All provide interesting footnotes to Auster's development as a novelist. The main attraction, though, is the long title essay, a bare-knuckles grapple with the choices he made during a rocky literary apprenticeship. The central problem, Auster writes, "was that I had no interest in leading a double life" like writers who "earn good money at legitimate professions" and write in their spare time. He took the old-fashioned approach, eschewing MFA programs (both as a student and teacher) to earn his chops in the school of hard knocks. He shipped out with the merchant marine, explored France and Ireland, won a few minor grants. But despite help from friends like Mary McCarthy (whose influence led to a memorable freelance gig translating a new Vietnamese constitution in 1973), Auster spent years of penury doing "literary hackwork" while his fiction went nowhere and his marriage foundered. Even an attempt to sell out ended with his publisher kaput and a detective novel languishing in a warehouse. Risk and failure - common themes in Auster's work - gain real-life urgency as autobiography. Required, inspiring reading for Auster-holics and aspiring writers. (Kirkus Reviews)