If Paul Auster had read reviews of his book Winter Journal, he might have been disappointed with a number of them, several of which called this effort an essentially prosaic, episodic, arc-less piece of writing. I think they didn't get the point.
It is true that this book lacks the classic linear temporal structure that autobiographies commonly follow, but this is Paul Auster writing. One critic whose review departs from the expectation of a diachronic trajectory suggests that the book is "a literary composition — similar to music — composed of autobiographical fragments". That's getting closer.
Auster himself tells us that he will "try to examine what it felt like to live inside this body from the first day that you can remember being alive until this one. A catalogue of sensory data. What one might call a phenomenology of breathing."
A "phenomenology of breathing" — a way to collect and structure experience and consciousness via breath, that is, through the senses, the body. Yes, that's what Auster does: he writes his life, told in fragments, episodes, through lists of things like childhood games played, places travelled to, scars left behind from youthful mishaps, addresses lived at over a lifetime.
The unconnectedness, the varied lengths of the recollections, the poetic texture of the book also informs the rhythm of the reading: sometimes we slow down to think about something that's being recounted, prompting us, too, to remember and list our own childhood candies (feeling again their stickiness on our hands). Sometimes we speed up to find out what that terrible car accident did to himself and his family.Winter Journal is in turn jubilant and melancholy, deep and light, and always carefully and beautifully written.