Talking to Strangers is a freshly curated collection of prose, spanning fifty years of work and including famous as well as never-before-published early writings, from 2018 Man Booker Prize–finalist Paul Auster.
Beginning with a short philosophical meditation written when he was twenty and concluding with nine political pieces that take on such issues as homelessness, 9/11, and the link between soccer and war, the 44 pieces gathered in this volume offer a wide-ranging view of celebrated novelist Paul Auster’s thoughts on a multitude of classic and contemporary writers, the high-wire exploits of Philippe Petit, how to improve life in New York City (in collaboration with visual artist Sophie Calle), and the long road he has traveled with his beloved manual typewriter.
While writing for the New York Review of Books and other publications in the mid-1970s, young poet Auster gained recognition as an astute literary critic with essays on Laura Riding, John Ashbery, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, and others. By the late seventies and early eighties, as the poet was transforming himself into a novelist, he maintained an active double life by continuing his work as a translator and editing the groundbreaking anthology, The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry. His prefaces to some of these books are included in Talking to Strangers, among them a heart-wrenching account of Stéphane Mallarmé’s response to the death of his eight-year-old son, Anatole.
In recent years, Auster has pushed on with explorations into the work of American artists spanning various periods and disciplines: the notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the films of Jim Jarmusch, the writings of painter-collagist-illustrator Joe Brainard, and the three-hit shutout thrown by journeyman right-hander Terry Leach of the Mets. Also included here are several rediscovered works that were originally delivered in public: a 1982 lecture on Edgar Allan Poe, a 1999 blast against New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and one of the funniest introductions a poetry reading ever heard in the state of New Jersey.
A collection of soaring intelligence and deepest humanity, Talking to Strangers is an essential book by “the most distinguished American writer of [his] generation . . . indeed its only author . . . with any claim to greatness.” (The Spectator)
Man Booker Prize finalist Auster (4 3 2 1) gathers 44 pieces of nonfiction and essays in this wide-ranging and probing collection. His insightful literary criticism, written in the 1970s and '80s for Commentary and the New York Review of Books, among others, discusses Kafka's letters, the short-lived Dada movement, and the influence of French poets on their British and American counterparts. More recent works include a tribute to Auster's long-lived manual typewriter and an account of an evening at Shea Stadium watching Mets pitcher Terry Leach shut out the Giants. The collection's highlights include reflections on artists both classic and contemporary, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose notebooks reveal the humorous side of "a notoriously melancholy man," and Jim Jarmusch, whose films are characterized by "loopy asides, unpredictable digressions and an intense focus on what is happening at each particular moment." The book also includes newly published work, notably a lively 1982 lecture on "the luckless, misunderstood Edgar Allan Poe," who was greatly admired and rescued from obscurity by French poets Baudelaire and Mallarm . This vibrant collection fully displays Auster's wit and humanity and offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a celebrated author.