Paul Auster is successful bed. We’re speaking connected the telephone and it’s successful his chamber that his reception is best. “I overmuch similar telephone calls,” helium says. “So overmuch amended than these unspeakable small squares connected a screen.” Known for his elegant, lapidary novels – The New York Trilogy and Moon Palace are much than 30 years aged present – Auster’s aboriginal vocation has seen him successful much expansive form. His Booker-shortlisted 4321 was astir 1,000 pages of speculative fiction, looking astatine the assorted paths a beingness could take. Now, successful 1 of his regular forays into nonfiction, helium has written, astatine 800 pages, different implicit portion of a book. His subject, the turn-of-the-century novelist and writer Stephen Crane, lived a abbreviated beingness – helium died astatine 28 and his implicit works could beryllium work successful a weekend. Auster’s book, though, is massive. It’s besides marvellous: portion biography, portion literate criticism. Auster takes you heavy into the bosom of his ain obsession with Crane’s extraordinary, extremist writings and it’s astir intolerable not to beryllium infected by his enthusiasm.
Auster is the writer of 20 novels, has won galore prizes and lives with his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt, successful Brooklyn, New York.
Why did you take to constitute astir Stephen Crane?
I work him early, arsenic a high-school student, arsenic galore of america did backmost then. The Red Badge of Courage was required speechmaking for astir high-school students. But past I mislaid interaction with Crane and hadn’t thought astir him excessively much. After I finished 4321, I was truly exhausted and knew that I wouldn’t beryllium capable to constitute for immoderate clip truthful I took respective months disconnected to regroup. During that time, I work a batch of things that I had been meaning to work each my life. I started speechmaking Crane again. The archetypal happening I work was The Monster, which I’d ne'er adjacent heard of. I was truthful overpowered by its brilliance - it took maine by tempest and I was shocked astatine however bully and heavy and resonant it was. That inspired maine to work everything other he’d written. My admiration kept growing. By the clip I was done with his enactment I started investigating his beingness and realised however profoundly fascinating that was. Finally, I decided to constitute a abbreviated appreciation of Crane.
That was my plan: 150 oregon 200 pages. Then 1 happening led to different and it turned into this caller subordinate of the Rocky Mountain chain. It’s an tremendous book, I know. For a beingness that was that short, it’s beauteous unusual that I should person written truthful much. But it’s not conscionable a biography, it’s besides a speechmaking of his work: it’s astir evenly divided betwixt the two.
It’s a publication that teaches america however to emotion Crane. Do you recognise yourself arsenic a teacher?
I taught for 5 years astatine Princeton. These were penning workshops. I had a fearfulness of them. Five years of teaching and I inactive person a fearfulness of originative writing. Either you person an imaginativeness oregon you don’t; either you person a consciousness for connection oregon you don’t. I did person the feeling that I was an aged antheral talking to younger radical successful this book. Not successful a classroom, but astir a meal array and sharing my penetration and enthusiasm for this writer and his work.
It feels similar you respect Crane partially for however earnestly helium takes writing.
It’s the lone mode I recognize writing. It’s surely the mode I’ve been each my beingness and it’s however each different writer I respect is – a benignant of monomaniac. I’m not definite however you tin marque immoderate creation if you don’t dainty it precise seriously, if you’re not obsessed with doing it amended each time.
Crane was precise poor. Do we request to endure for our art?
In bid to unleash bully work, determination has to beryllium thing successful you that feels retired of balance. It doesn’t person to beryllium fiscal distress - it could beryllium affectional oregon amorous. Whatever the root is, the happening that has shaken beingness up for you, it’s distress that generates art.
How did you walk the pandemic?
Unlike astir people, I don’t person a job, truthful I didn’t suffer my job. Siri and I are some writers and we carried connected doing what we do. I see america to beryllium very, precise lucky. Here successful New York, we were astatine the epicentre past spring. It was horrifying. The lone sounds successful the thoroughfare were ambulances. There was nary dependable anywhere, conscionable the birds that came flocking backmost successful lockdown. Birds that hadn’t been seen successful decades. But different conscionable dormant space, soundlessness and ambulances.
How bash you organise your books?
In a weird mode and it’s a strategy I developed implicit galore years. The books are scattered each implicit the house. So successful the downstairs impermanent country I person each my books astir sports, each my transgression novels and each my movie books and besides Judaica. I thought each these books would beryllium truly absorbing to anyone staying the nighttime here. Upstairs successful the large country we telephone the library, we person lone literature. Art books are on 1 wall. But I did the lit chronologically. It starts with Gilgamesh and past connected done the past Greeks, the Romans, the mediate ages, and past each of these is divided by country. Then upstairs we person different room and that is Siri’s country and it’s each the doctrine and science books. We are overwhelmed with books. We support giving distant hundreds of them and it ne'er makes a dent.
Which classical caller did you work precocious for the archetypal time?
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. One of the astir beauteous and shattering novels I’ve work successful my life.
Which publication would you springiness to a 12-year-old?
I deliberation I would springiness that 12-year-old Alice’s Adventures successful Wonderland. This idiosyncratic would beryllium aged capable to work it without the filter of a genitor and to recognize however fantastic and imaginative and perfectly brainsick it is. The main happening astir giving books to young radical is that you truly request to amusement them the sheer joyousness of reading, the pleasance it tin bring you. Nothing excessively heavy. Books that are effervescent – that’s what creates a emotion of reading. If I were to springiness a 15-year-old a book, I’d springiness them Candide. That’s erstwhile I work it and it changed my life. I laughed, I was shocked and I was inspired by it. That’s what a large publication tin bash erstwhile you’re young.
Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane is published by Faber (£25). To enactment the Guardian and Observer bid your transcript astatine guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges whitethorn apply
Guardian Live volition big an online lawsuit with Paul Auster connected Monday 11 October. Book tickets here