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Paul Auster

McClelland & Stewart

A widely celebrated novelist, poet, essayist and writer of screenplays, Paul Auster is the author of more than 30 books, including The Book of Illusions, Winter Journal, Leviathan and The New York Trilogy (City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room). Auster's work has been translated into more than 40 languages, he has won or been nominated for a number of major prizes and he's a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent novel, 4 3 2 1, was recently published by McClelland & Stewart.

Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time travel?

Becoming invisible strikes me a grim sort of erasure, something that would take your life from you and turn you into a ghostly snoop, a pair of eyes without a body. Time travel, on the other hand, is something I've been thinking about ever since I was a boy, and after much reflection on the matter, I've concluded that I would only be interested in travelling to the past. One of the best things about being alive, after all, is not knowing what the future has in store for us, and the biggest question about the future that every one of us faces – the exact day and hour of our death – is not something I would want to know in advance. But think of the pleasure of seeing your parents romping around as young children, or listening to Abraham Lincoln deliver his speech at Cooper Union in 1860, or attending the first performance of Sophocles's Antigone. Who could resist going there?

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Which book do you think is underappreciated?

The stories of Heinrich von Kleist. Kleist is of course well known in Germany, but in the English-speaking world, he is more or less ignored, which is a pity, since I consider him to be one of the greatest prose writers of the early 19th century.

What's a book every 10-year-old should read?

The problem with this question is that most 10-year-olds are incapable of reading anything more difficult than children's books. That certainly was the case with me, and although I was far from being a precocious child, I was no dullard either. It wasn't until I was 13 or 14 that I had the mental equipment to read literature for 'grown-ups,' and I suspect this is true of most other people as well. Therefore, to rephrase the question: What book should every 14-year-old read? My answer: The Odyssey. And why? Because it's the book that gave birth to all the other books that followed it.

Which books have you reread most in your life?

Don Quixote, Montaigne's Essays, King Lear, Moby-Dick, Walden.

What's more important: The beginning of a book or the end?

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If by 'beginning' you mean the first sentence or paragraph – and not the first chapter or section or chunk – and by 'end' you mean the last sentence or paragraph, then I would say the beginning is more important. Readers can vote with their hands, and unless a writer is able to capture the reader's attention and curiosity with the first words or his or her book, the reader will close that book and never come to the last words on the last page. At the same time, those last words run a close second to the first words, and with about half the novels I've written over the years, I already knew the last sentence as well as the first when I began. The last sentence is the goal you're working toward throughout the writing of the book, and if you're lucky enough to have it at the beginning, it helps to clarify your thoughts throughout the project. But books often change as they are being written, and the other half of the time – for me – the original last sentence has turned out to be useless, for what I've found in the writing isn't what I thought I was looking for. Immense struggles are often involved in the process, but therein lies the adventure of writing novels. Paradoxically, the result of all these struggles is to make it look easy – from the first sentence to the last.

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