Random Encounters

I first learned the author’s name Paul Auster in London, 1997.

London was the last city of my three weeks vacation. The city was humid, by then I was tired of foreign places, and the plane that would take me home was three days away. During the night, I treated myself to musicals; during the day, I roamed the streets of London aimlessly. Sick of museums and touristy sites, sick of the not-so-adequate air-conditioning in public places, I couldn’t wait to go home. On the second day, even the streets stopped look appealing to me, I saw a nice little bookstore and I went in. I was like a kid in the candy store, not only because I love books but also because among all the names on the most popular novels covers there, i only recognized one or two. Wow! Amazing! So the Brits with their funny accent also read read different authors than the Americans. Excited by my new discovery, I browsed through all the books on the store’s top ten list and settled on a new name Paul Auster. Funny enough, the title was actually “The New York Trilogy”. I had to fly across the Atlantic ocean in order to read a book about New York.

It was a strange book. Auster’s main characters seemed displaced, like ghosts gliding through a noisy and crowded world without being seen. There I was, alone in a strange city, a place almost no one knew my name, my life, reading a book about someone living a similar kind of existence. Naturally I associated that feeling with London.

Many years later, when I read of a book called Leviathan from some other novel, my curiosity made me combed my local bookstore and purchased it. Reading Leviathan reminded me of “a British writer I once read.” I went to my bookshelf and dug out The New York Trilogy again, then I realized they were by the same author, and he was not British.

Tonight, after watching Donald Trump’s much raved reality show The Apprentice, I found myself channel surfing through Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Will and Grace; and eventually stumbled onto KQED’s Charlie Rose! My friend sab had been trying to get me to watch Charlie Rose since five years ago, “You’d love it! It is right in your alley! He always interviews authors, actors, directors, etc. You know, the kind of people you’d dig. He is a great great interviewer! Trust me on it.” Sab was the one originally introduced me to FreshAir, so I absolutely trusted his taste. But I don’t watch much TV and I have always been a night person. Apparently Sab always watched Charlie Rose on Sunday morning 8am! It proved to be an impossible task and I haven’t watched one show till tonight. Who would have thought?

What’s more, tonight, Charlie’s last guest was no other than Paul Auster. It was amazing to watch an author one had known only through his words. He wasn’t what I had imagined. But then again, I always imagined him to be in a trench coat and bowler hat, walking through a futuristic bladerunner-like dark streets of New York City, tall and slender, a lonely shadow. I’ve never imagined his face. He has a sculpture-like face, very large and carved in eyes, square face, square mouth, and square eyes. He reminded me of Giants in Picasso’s paintings.

Rose was asking him about his new book, Oracle Night. They talked about how he started writing this book and how it was completed. How he worked (no computer, no type-writer, and very slow writing, could take a couple of weeks to find the next sentence), how he defines love (the highest form of love is forgiveness), how he was inches from sudden death multiple times (once a person sat next to him was struck by lighting, once his fellow passenger died in a car crash that he was able to walk away from, etc.).

Sab was right, Rose was a marvelous interviewer, as good as, if not better than, Terry Gross. As for Auster, I’ve decided that him in person is a lot more likable than his characters (okay, I admit his last bit of sappy confession on love being forgiveness did get to me). 😉

I guess I would make a habit of watching late night shows again. 🙂