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am 18. Juni 1998
Who wouldn't want to read about another's failure? Especially if they end up a success in the end. What's the path? What turns finally led to success? What you get is a finely honed first paragraph and then sketchy remembrances. My biggest surprise was getting to the description of that god-awful Laurel & Hardy play when he says he rewrites this dreck and puts it into a labeled file supposedly never to see daylight again. Then there's the asterisk referring you to appendix 1. I search the back of the book and find appendix 3 and then work my way back up to appendix 1...a mere 20 or so pages from the end. And like something long dead climbing from the coffin, it stood cringing in full daylight. Boom...it hit me...Paul was at a point where he was out of fresh ideas and thought....geez, what if I pull out that awful stuff from the beginning...get some mileage out of failure. Wouldn't that be ironic/funny? Except for anyone who actually started to read appendix 1 and said, "hey, this ain't no waiting for Godot, is it?" Then it was the sound of one book slamming. Shut that is. Nobody ever said bad writing gets better with age. (more like string cheese stuck in the back of a drawer for 50 years...ewww, the stench.) Am I too unkind? Sorry, no mercy for bad writing fobbed off on unsuspecting readers. Next time, Paul, leave it in the folder. Or better yet, misplace the folder.
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am 9. Oktober 1998
An autobiography that's too short to deserve five stars.
In his formative years Auster had all the ingredients of the born loser: stubborn and repeated "I'll manage"s, the refusal to build on luck (he resigns from numerous jobs-to-die-for), the need to namedrop (John Lennon, long-forgotten political activists), the dissipation of talent (pay-per-word translations), delusions of capitalist success (the baseball game)... a lazy willingness to drift with the tide of life. Thus a wholly predictable 'chronicle of early failure'.
Essentially it's that writer's hunger theme again. 'Writing' transformed by the distorting lens of time (nostalgia? the complacency of literary success? self-mythologizing?) into a biological need, an addiction, an affliction. Monetary practicalities are often defenestrated in favor of higher ideals. Auster is at times only sustained by generous handouts from New York literary funds.
Our ongoing curiosity is perhaps fueled by the fact that all the while we know that the pumpkin turned into the glittering coach... sadly we don't get to see any of the fairy godmother's handiwork. What turned the born loser into the 'only American writer under 50 with any claims to greatness'?
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am 22. September 1997
How much you enjoy Paul Auster's 'Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure' depends on why you read it in the first place. His premise for this memoir is laid out simply in the subtitle, where 'chronicle' refers to a straightforward narrative combined with the actual texts of his first publishing efforts, one of which is a card game. It sounds like a breathtaking rollercoaster, but the thrills end up happening on a kiddie scale.

The problem with 'Hand to Mouth' is that there's too much failure and not enough chronicle. Auster's path to publication includes several waystations: a merchant ship, stints in France, a Catskills resort. At one point, just before describing the outcome of his assignment to help a film bigshot's wife write a vanity book in Mexico, he begins, "Without rehashing the whole thing..." Well, what else are memoirs for, you might ask? Several instances Auster mentions thoroughout his story--the birth of his child and breakup of his marriage, for example, which get no more than a sentence or two--merit all the rehashing this talented writer can muster. Instead, the space saved by Auster's restraint goes to three plays, a card game, and a mystery novella from his early days. Of these, the mystery is really the only thing that stands on its own; maybe that's why it's the only item he was able to sell before going on to write acclaimed novels such as 'Mr. Vertigo' and 'The Music of Chance.'

This brings us back to why you might choose to buy Auster's book. Those looking for personal details or a finely honed true-life adventure story should look elsewhere; but any aspiring writer can find encouragement in Auster's trials and tribulations. Despite the excess of economy in what he tells, Auster makes even a sketch of his past an enveloping read. And if it leaves you hankering for more, is that such a crime? At $25 for the hardcover, well, *almost*.
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am 29. September 1997
Paul Auster's latest book disappointingly contains no significant work of new fiction. Although Auster gives an intriguing insight into his early years as a struggling writer in and around New York and Paris, it seems to be more about bringing an era to an end, rather than the new beginning I'd hoped for. One would have thought that after "Smoke" and "Blue in the Face" Auster would be ready to try something new. But for someone familiar with "Squeeze Play" Auster's latest book contains little in the way of new material - and could almost be regarded as an appendix to "The Red Notebook". Ultimately I was very disappointed that Auster should breeze back into the literary frame with such a low-key piece of work. It's been a long while (too long) since "MR Vertio"; and although the films "Smoke" and "Blue In the Face" gave us something new, I'd like to see one of America's most prominent literary writers taking more chances if he is to maintain his current high profile. This is unfortunately not a significant return to fiction and more a book for dedicated followers.
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am 23. Juni 1998
This chronicle had me fully engrossed, partly because on several occasions one can spot the origins of motifs that show up in Auster's later work.
Auster's hardheaded determination to do things his way is what leads him into his many misadventures. However, also poignant is that when he's finally had it and is ready to sell out, no one is buying.
Unlike other reviewers here, I was glad to have the opportunity to have a first-hand look at his early efforts, which are offered as appendices. One can see in the Laurel and Hardy play the seeds of "The Music of Chance." And in "Squeeze Play," Auster accomplished quite competently what he set out to--imitation. What that story lacks is Auster's now mature voice, which can be enjoyed in the main of this book.
I was disappointed by the abruptness of the ending: I'd have been happy to read more about his early steps out of habitual failure. But perhaps that's only to say that I wished the book would go on longer, and that's always a sign of a much enjoyed book.
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am 10. Mai 1999
"Hand to Mouth" is not one long biographic story of the great author Paul Auster. The book is a collage of different text genres - biograhy, play and a detective story. The actual "Hand to Mouth" named essay describes the ruling aspect of the authors early years- the constant struggle to survive. Auster describes his various blue collar jobs, journalistic and translation jobs and his literary work of his early years. Despite financial and literary failures in jobs and texts Auster was determined to go on writig. The plays printed in the Appendix are really not that drammatic in the sense of a drama. They consist of rather boring dialogues but they are interesting when read as beginnings on a way to become a writer. The detective story "A squeeze play" is quite thrilling and exciting. The not so perfect texts and the mixture of genres make "Hand to Mouth" an enjoyable lecture compared to other biographies that are often written in a heroic style.
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am 25. November 1998
Why read Paul Auster? Because he is simply the best American fiction's write alive! Maybe when starting reading his books (especially Hand to Mouth)you feel as you have it done before. You may think, sure I read something like that before! That's true. Paul Auster is a mix of Knut Hamsun, John Fante and Charles Bukowski. Hand to Mouth is quite similar to Hunger and all the stuff Bukowski and Fante wrote. But there's one big difference. Auster is not crude as the others and he writes fiction in a way to make the words easy to swallow as a good wine. He has the magic to catch our attention when we read the first paragraph of any of his books. Hand to Mouth is really short (I'm not talking about the appendices) and seems like a sudden death. But I'm sure that's not the last autobiographical book Auster wrote (and his better at that) and I hope I can read more and more new books from him.
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am 21. Juli 1999
The early, unending attempts of Paul Auster to become a writer, in both the wordly and literary sense. The monumental quantity of his failures is an example to all would-be artists, of any genre, of the need to persevere in one's creative efforts. He includes three samples of his early and unsuccessful attempts, and through these examples the reader sees Auster's beginning efforts at expressing themes which he later developed fully. Not too many people are willing to expose their awkward early attempts, but by including these early examples, it gives us the extraordinary chance to compare them to their later, final form in his published works. An unusually honest and intimate look at the struggle to create, and the mindboggling tenacity it requires.
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am 23. März 2000
Like some obscure import record of your favourite band or musician, Hand To Mouth is really only going to appeal to the most die-hard fan. Auster's honest though somewhat uninteresting chronicle of his early failures may appeal to struggling 20-something wannabe writers, but generally the appeal is limited. One can't help but feel Auster should of held onto this material until later in his life - a complete autobiography in his later years would be more valuable.
The early previously unpublished works included in the book are a must for fans and Auster must be commended for being so brave as to include them here. Perhaps most entertaining is the publication of his 'action baseball' game.
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am 7. Oktober 1998
I'm reviewing the beginning of this memoir, because I don't think I'll make it to the end. Auster's novels are interesting because he takes improbable caricatures (Mr. Vertigo) and makes them human. His memoir is all about taking humans and turning them into improbable caricatures. His descriptions of the inspiring working class folk who colored his youth are cloying and painfully cliched. Some of these memories seem contrived and over-dramatized-- did an ingrown toenail really foreshadow his death and alter his outlook forever? Maybe a pedicure would have saved us all $12, and the embarrassment of reading through this mess.
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