Read and Hear Famous Writers (and Armchair Sportsmen) J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster’s Correspondence

“Why waste my time slumped in front of a tele­vi­sion screen watch­ing young men at play?” writes one man. “I have an expe­ri­ence (a sec­ond­hand expe­ri­ence), but it does me no good that I can detect. I learn noth­ing. I come away with noth­ing.” From the oth­er man comes a reply: “I agree with you that it is a use­less activ­i­ty, an utter waste of time. And yet how many hours of my life have I wast­ed in pre­cise­ly this way, how many after­noons have I squan­dered just as you did?” This epis­to­lary con­ver­sa­tion about sports con­tin­ues, touch­ing on the pow­er of famil­iar­i­ty to endure bore­dom, per­for­mance art, hero­ism, ethics ver­sus aes­thet­ics, activ­i­ty ver­sus pas­siv­i­ty, the “big busi­ness” of the NFL against the sub­si­diza­tion of bal­let, child­hood sex­u­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, the vis­i­b­li­ty of the human ide­al, chess mania, the plea­sure of max­i­mum effort, and genre lit­er­a­ture ver­sus “the kinds of books you and I try to write.” What kind of books do these men try to write? Being the nov­el­ists Paul Auster and J.M. Coet­zee, they write books, we can safe­ly say, in their very own gen­res.

We now have a new vol­ume from both Auster and Coet­zee called Here and Now: Let­ters (2008–2011), from which a sub­stan­tial sports-relat­ed excerpt appears on the New York­er. Though not sui gener­is like the con­trib­u­tors’ own nov­els, the book does its part for the cur­rent mini-revival of col­lec­tions of let­ters between men of let­ters. (2011 saw a sim­i­lar French project from Michel Houelle­becq and  Bernard-Hen­ri Lévy. “Who would we end up with?” asked the Observ­er’s Tim Adams, imag­in­ing a British equiv­a­lent. “Irvine Welsh and Alain de Bot­ton?”) Fans of the laud­ed, pri­vate Auster and the high­ly laud­ed, intense­ly pri­vate Coet­zee sure­ly feel grate­ful for these new pieces of direct insight into the authors’ per­son­al­i­ties, and they can get a lit­tle more by watch­ing the read­ing of Here and Now at the New York State Writ­ers Insti­tute at the top of the post. Do see also Auster’s Big Think clips on what keeps him up at night, the fate of the nov­el, and how he stares down the chal­lenges of writ­ing (above). As for a solo per­for­mance from Coet­zee, could we do any bet­ter than his Nobel lec­ture?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nobel Prize Win­ner Reads From His New Nov­el

Hear Paul Auster Read the Entire­ty of The Red Note­book, an Ear­ly Col­lec­tion of Sto­ries

Paul Auster Reads from New Nov­el, Sun­set Park

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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