As I increase my experience and exposure to Paul Auster’s work, the more he is becoming one of my favorite authors. After finishing Travels in the Scriptorium, the addiction of desiring to read more of his work is evident.
After reading Adam Gopnik’s wonderful, complex and at times arduous memoir Paris to the Moon, it was suggested by an editor that I try to read something shorter and/or less heavy. Scriptorium is much shorter, but it’s equally as complex in its own right. Instead of a dense memoir of life in a European city, what Auster presents is a piece of metafiction filled with literary devises and clues of blatant intertextuality (references to his previous work).
Instead of delving into The New York Trilogy and then maybe Timbuktu, abandoning fiction for a book about the afterlife, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, seems reasonable. What’s not reasonable is not letting up on the quality of texts for recreational reading. I’m a glutton for punishment, yet I love to challenge. Self-deprecating humor is my go-to, yet I often torture myself.
If you don’t believe me, Roach’s book contains footnotes and several of them.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in a story. The aforementioned editor and I discussed this. We also talked about how people have the tendency to skip to the end of the book. The reader may want to know if their hero or heroine is going to survive or at least “be OK” in the end.
My teenager self had this tendency, especially regarding works by Stephen King or Michael Crichton. If I am going to invest my time in these characters, I would like to know if they’re going to live past this ordeal. Or, if there are too many characters, who should I pay more attention to?
(Dear past self:
All Most of the characters are important. Duh. Stories are propelled by relationships.) I luckily grew out of this phase.
Mr. Blank, the tormented focus of attention in Travels in the Scriptorium, is surrounded by a nearly bare room. He has objects labeled with words written on tape, because his memory is terrible. Remembering things the day before is next to impossible, so he takes notes. The one of the very few things he remembers clearly is Whitey, a white rocking horse he had as a child.
The guy despite being covered in white, blanketed in white and surrounded by white, its clear while reading he has a gray cloud over him. As he continues to meet characters, some more familiar than others, the story begins to turn into M.C. Escher art.
Going back to the metafiction mention: Blank doesn’t know what’s real or make believe. The script on the desk has missing pages. He doesn’t know what to believe, and these people are essentially pink elephants to him. And this is when he is sober. The rotating visitors do drug him to the point where he definitely does not know which way is up.
There isn’t an urge to move to the end of Roach’s book. There aren’t any characters. It’s a researched piece. (Remember the footnotes?) It’s a book about beliefs as much as it is about science.
She writes at the beginning that beliefs cannot be proven — i.e. creating Eve from Adam’s rib, a talking snake and Lazarus’ returning back to life — but science can be proven wrong. This was a similar madness Mr. Blank was experiencing. None of his beliefs were being answered, and his thoughtful reasoning was countered or debunked.
That’s life. We can’t skip to the end of the story. The reason the manuscript in front of us is not complete is due to the fact the rest has to be written. We don’t know what negatives or positives lie ahead. We feel as if we have a cloud hovering above our heads. Sometimes we’re right, and many times we’re wrong. (Sometimes it’s because we live in central New York and we have no control over weather.)
We do have control over our lives, however. And, as much as we may deny it, we want to share our lives. It’s key to find that white horse for personal calibration. Or find that person, stare into their eyes and get lost a little before returning to your own body.
Oh! I almost forgot. The white horse was mentioned and the pink elephants, too. The green hippo: Well, it has nothing to do with anything. It’s extra information in a math problem. It’s a red herring. It’s not a way of alluding to the elephant in the room.
It’s literally a green hippo about the size of a tennis ball. It is heavy and solid enough to knock a person unconscious or to death.
I got him at The Fair:
The feature picture for this post is from the cover of Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium.