The following is an extract from an interview with the American writer Paul Auster. Match the questions (A to J) with the answers (1 to 8). There are two extra questions.





1. It's true. I did work for about six months on an Esso oil tanker. I got the job after I left college. I didn't know what I wanted to do in life. I didn't want to be an academic, which is probably what I was best suited for, but the idea of spending my life in a university was just awesomely terrible. I had no real profession. I hadn't really studied for anything. All I wanted to do was write. I guess my ambition was simply to make money however I could to keep myself going in some modest way, and I didn't need much, I was unmarried at the time, no children.

5. I don't think that you can be prescriptive about anything, I mean, life is too complicated. Maybe there are novels where the author has not in the least thought about it in terms of film, which can be turned into good films. Just about every good novel turned into a film turns out to be disappointing. It's rare, I can only think of a few cases where the film is anywhere close to the novel. Nevertheless, I think that we are all hungry for stories, and novelists tell the best stories.

2. Well, it was certainly a fundamental time. I had been writing before that, very much wanted to do this with my life, I'd already decided. But those years when I was a student were crazy times in America. We're talking about the late '60s and Columbia University, where I was a student, was a particular hotbed of activity, and I was swept up in a lot of it and compelled by a lot of it. As a consequence I didn't really do as much writing as I would've hoped. I guess I wanted to leave America for a while. I needed some breathing room.

6. Well I think there are several, but if I had to say just one, one book that I keep going back to and keep thinking about it's Don Quixote. That's the one, for me. It seems to present every problem every novelist has ever had to face, and to do it in the most brilliant and human way imaginable.

3. Well, yes, I suppose so, you just don't know how complex and mysterious the world can be.
You see, the interesting thing about books, as opposed, say, to films, is that it's always just one person encountering the book, it's not an audience. It's me the writer and you the reader, and we're together on that page, and I think it's probably about the most intimate place where human consciousnesses meet. And that's why books are never going to die. It's impossible. It's the only time we really go into the mind of a stranger, and we find our common humanity doing this. So the book doesn't only belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader as well, and then together you make it what it is.

7. I finished a book, it's not a novel. It's a nonfiction work. It's hard to describe it. I would call it an autobiographical essay about money. It's about money, about not having money. It's called Hand To Mouth. And since finishing that, I'm creeping my way back into a novel I had started before.

4. Well, it's a very interesting point. I find it impossible to start a project without the title in mind. I can sometimes spend years thinking of the title to go with the thing that's forming in my head. A title defines the project somehow and if you keep finding the ramifications of the title in the work it becomes better, I'm convinced of this. So, yeah, I think about titles a lot. Sometimes I just walk around making up titles for things that don't exist, and never will exist.

8. I think everyone goes through this love/hate relationship to the place. But at a certain point a few years ago I realized I had to stay. It's better for me to be there, in the long run. So...I'm staying. Maybe later, maybe somewhere down the road, I'll change my mind. But for now, and the foreseeable future, I'm not going anywhere.





John Irving says his favorite novel is Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, and he's read it perhaps a dozen times. Is there a book like that for you?


Let's get metaphysical for a moment. Do you feel as an author that you open yourself to some sort of channel and the story is out there waiting for you?


Are you about to unveil another novel?


Let’s talk about the process of writing. Do you write one novel at a time or start some stories and then work on one of them and then move to another one all at the same time?


In The Country of Last Things, City of Glass, The Music of Chance, Smoke...they sound like kernels of ideas as opposed to being derived later from an overview in the long run. Is this the case?


This idea of the intrinsic differences between the film and the novel. Annie Dillard says that "novels written with film contracts in mind have a faint but ruinous odor," warns writers not to even think in those terms if you want to write a serious novel. What is your feeling about that?


Lou Reed, in Blue In The Face, says he's been trying to get out of New York for 35 years, but he can't seem to leave. Is this your desire?


Why did you decide to head for France? What made you do that?


Have you ever thought of living anywhere else in the world?


I'd like to delve into the past as our departure point. You were, at one time, a merchant seaman, and I wonder how this came about.


Source: edited and adapted from