Paul Auster: computer, no; cigars, yes


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Author Paul Auster talks to fans after being interviewed by David Ulin in 2006.

Paul Auster’s new novel, ‘Man in the Dark,’ is out this week. Jane Smiley reviews it for us, saying, ‘In ‘Man in the Dark,’ we have a beautiful setup concerning the intersection of the personal and the political.’

Edward Champion spoke to Auster at his home; the ‘Bat Segundo Show’ podcast is available now. In it, Auster explains his work process:


I don’t have a computer. I’m not on the internet.

He notes that the people around him seem to have many e-mails to answer (yes, indeed), and that he still prefers writing on his typewriter.

When he’s working, Auster avoids reading fiction, but when he’s done writing he makes sure to keep up with certain novelists. When pressed, he came up with a few contemporaries: Don DeLillo, J.M. Coetzee, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie and Rick Moody.

Champion often presses, sometimes in unusual directions. At one point he calls his own question pedantic; at another, Auster says that he’s ‘parsing too finely.’ But that same impulse also leads to the kind of attention to the text that authors appreciate. When asked about the use of quotation marks (and lack of them) in his various novels, Auster pauses to say, ‘You’re doing your homework. I’m very glad to answer this question.’

An excerpt from the interview -- with Auster on cigars -- after the jump.

After Champion asks about specific dollar amounts in a few of Auster’s novels, he asks ‘What is it about money?’ At first Auster is surprised to find this theme emerge from his work.

Auster: It’s funny. I never, never thought about that. Wow. Well, listen, money’s important. Everyone cares about money. And when you don’t have money, money becomes the overriding obsession of your life. I wrote a whole book about that.... Hand to Mouth. And the only good thing about making money is that you don’t have to think about money. It’s the only value. Because if you don’t have it, you’re crushed. And for a long period in my life, I was crushed. And so maybe this is a reflection of those tough years. I don’t know. I don’t know. <snip> Correspondent: It’s now thirty years since the events depicted in Hand to Mouth. I mean, is this something you just haven’t forgotten about? Auster: I guess I haven’t forgotten about it. (laughs) Correspondent: Do you still pinch pennies to this day? Auster: No, no, no. Not at all. No, I’m not a tightwad at all. I’m generous. I give good tips. It’s just — the way I live my life, ironically enough, is: I don’t want anything. I’m not a consumer. I don’t crave objects. I don’t have a car. We don’t have a country house. We don’t have a boat. We don’t have anything that lots of people have. And I’m not interested. I barely can go shopping for clothes. I find it difficult to walk into stores. The whole thing bores me so much. I guess the only thing that I spend money on is cigars and food and alcohol. Those are the main expenses.


Listen to the whole Auster interview online.

--Carolyn Kellogg

photo: Carolyn Kellogg