Benjy's Reviews > Mr. Vertigo

Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster
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's review
Oct 17, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: 2008

Reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking about a very different author, Paul Coelho, who wrote a very similar kind of novel, The Alchemist. Both of them are more a parable than a book, a motivational speaking seminar designed to make you wake up and realize the miracles that you (yes YOU) could make happen if you only dared to believe they were possible.

In Mr. Vertigo, the feat is flying, in the Alchemist it's "becoming the wind" or something of the sort. Mr. Vertigo's telling is more nuanced, has a far more entertaining voice to guide you along, and was, I thought, more moving.

The book spans an entire lifetime in a short set of chapters and I've always been a sucker for films, books, or songs that try to capture so long a span of time in so compact a medium. Even a so-so comedy like Walk Hard, or a brief song like "Time" by Pink Floyd, has something poignant behind it. These pieces do what we cannot normally do ourselves -- examine our mortality from an outside perspective. On a basic level we all know that life is short, youth is fleeting, and that only some accomplishments will follow you a lifetime. But in practice, it's ridiculously easy to push it to the back of your head, to let small things suck up your time (see Facebook), to lose sight of the big picture in favor of the passing thrill. People do it all the time and many do it their whole lives. These movies and books remind us that when the time comes to make your 120 minute biopic, you might not like what you see.

Books like this, especially when artfully written as Auster's, may be summed up with a corny moral we've all heard before (Seize the day, life is short, etc.), but that they can make us stop, just for a day or even a moment, and truly reflect on where we are in our lives, makes them crucially important. They can provoke us to ask the questions we should be asking every day, but avoid out of laziness, fear, and comfort -- am I a good person? Am I doing everything I can do better myself? Am I letting petty and small things get in the way of lasting peace?

So, corny or not, I think this book is worthwhile reading for everyone.

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