In a comment on my post about Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook: True Stories, Isabella noted the blue notebook at the centre of Oracle Night, and also the mention of a number of notebooks in The New York Trilogy though she couldn’t recall offhand if any of the latter were red. I flipped back through the trilogy and found that at least three red notebooks make an appearance therein, most prominently Daniel Quinn’s red notebook in City of Glass:
After he finished eating, Quinn wandered over to the stationery shelves. A shipment of new notebooks had come in, and the pile was impressive, a beautiful array of blues and greens and reds and yellows. He picked one up and saw that the pages had the narrow lines he preferred. Quinn did all his writing with a pen, using a typewriter only for final drafts, and he was always on the lookout for good spiral notebooks. Now that he had embarked on the Stillman case, he felt that a new notebook was in order. It would be helpful to have a separate place to record his thoughts, his observations and his questions. In that way, perhaps, things might not get out of control.
He looked through the pile, trying to decide which one to pick. For reasons that were never made clear to him, he suddenly felt an irresistible urge for a particular red notebook at the bottom. He pulled it out and examined it, gingerly fanning the pages with his thumb. He was at a loss to explain to himself why he found it so appealing. It was a standard eight-and-a-half-by-eleven notebook with one hundred pages. But something about it seemed to call out to him—as if its unique destiny in the world was to hold the words that came from his pen. Almost embarrassed by the intensity of his feelings, Quinn tucked the red notebook under his arm, walked over to the cash register, and bought it.
After locating that passage, I continued to reread. When I once again encountered the fictional Paul Auster, I was seized with a sudden curiosity as to whether the real Paul Auster had ever written an essay on Don Quixote along the lines of that described by his fictional counterpart in the novel. I logged on to the online catalogue of the public library and found that there was a copy of Auster’s Collected Prose sitting on the shelf at a branch not too far away. I was in an instant gratification sort of mood, so I set off on foot to collect it myself rather than arranging to have it sent to my local branch.
This mission accomplished, I retired to a nearby coffee shop with the book. There was no Don Quixote essay included in the Collected Prose but there was much else of interest. I had a cup of tea and a leisurely read, pausing now and again to jot something down in my notebook which just happens to be red. I assure you that I didn’t acquire it under the influence of Auster’s The Red Notebook, as I hadn’t yet read that book when I bought the notebook. However, it is possible that the memory of Quinn’s notebook had a subliminal influence on my choice. Certainly my conviction when I bought it that it was exactly the right notebook for me at this moment in time echoed Quinn’s sentiments in the excerpt quoted above.
I admit that I felt a bit goofy sitting there with Auster’s Collected Prose and penning notes about it in a red notebook. But then it occurred to me that any denizens of the coffee shop well enough acquainted with Auster’s work to make the connection between the two would be apt to be sympathetic to a deliberate homage or, in the alternative, to relish an inadvertent link replete with overtones of Austerian coincidence.
From the coffee shop, I made my way to yet another branch of the library, this time on the trail of a copy of Oracle Night. So long as I was fixating on Auster and notebooks, how could I resist the Auster novel that explicitly centres on a notebook? By the end of the day, I’d criss-crossed a good swathe of the city, visiting three different branches of the public library and four bookstores (who says the reading life is a sedentary one?), and thereby acquired four more books by Auster and one about him.
I always find it an interesting exercise to immerse myself in the work of one author, to begin to track the evolution of the writing, and to make connections between the books however distant in time or disparate in genre. But it’s proving a particularly interesting exercise where Paul Auster is concerned because of the extent to which the connections are out in the open. He deliberately lets the seams show. And yet, I've begun to think that this obviousness may conceal more than it reveals, layering over deeper complexities that are worth pursuing. For the moment, I'm thoroughly enamoured with Auster's work. No doubt you will hear more from me about it in future posts.