Paul Auster, Samuel Beckett, and the Brooklyn Book Festival

The second annual Brooklyn Book Festival is this Sunday, September 16, with events to be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall (Court and Joralemon Streets), the adjacent Borough Hall Plaza and Columbus Park, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and St. Francis College. All events are free and open to the public.

PEN will have a booth there, space #35, in Borough Hall Plaza, where some amazing writers will stop by to answer questions and to talk about why they’re members of PEN:
9:45-10:45 Colin Channer & Ana Castillo
1:00-1:30 Mo Willems
1:30-2:30 Mary Gaitskill & Jonathan Safran Foer
:30 PEN President Francine Prose & A.M. Homes
3:30-4:30 George Packer & Tim McLoughlin
4:30-5:30 Mohammed Naseehu Ali
And, at 11:30, we’ll be giving away free copies of PEN America to the first 50 writers and readers who come by to say hello. We’ll answer questions about the mission of PEN America, how to subscribe and support the magazine, etc. So come see us.

The night before the festival, a “Book Festival Gala VIP event” will be held, where beloved Brooklyn author Paul Auster will be the guest of honor. Auster has received a number of accolades by now, of course. Nonetheless, as he explained in issue 5 of PEN America, “no writer” has “any idea” what his work is actually worth. It’s a lesson he learned from Samuel Beckett, with whom Auster spoke on a few occasions in Paris. This particular lesson he learned at their first meeting, in the early seventies, when Auster was about twenty-five years old.
...at some point during the conversation, Beckett told me that he had just finished translating Mercier et Camier, which was his first French novel; it had been written about twenty-five years earlier.

I had read the book in French and liked it very much, and I said, “A wonderful book.” I was just a kid, after all. I couldn’t suppress my enthusiasm.

Beckett shook his head and said, “Oh no, no, not very good. In fact, I’ve cut out about 25 percent of the original. The English version’s going to be a lot shorter than the French.

And I said (remember how young I was), “Why would you do such a thing? It’s a wonderful book. You shouldn’t have taken a word out.”

He shook his head and he said, “No, no, not very good, not very good.”

We went on to talk about other things, and then, out of the blue, ten or fifteen minutes later, apropos of nothing, he leaned forward across the table and he said to me, very earnestly, “You really liked it, huh? You really thought it was good?”

This was Samuel Beckett, remember. And not even he had any idea of what his work was worth. Good or bad, meaningful or not, no writer ever knows, not even the best ones. And I suppose especially not the best ones.

1 comment:

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