Thirty Auster essays, reviews, prefaces, and interviews, nearly all of which have been previously published in small literary magazines or The New York Review of Books. Many of these fugitive pieces predate Auster's successful career as a novelist (Leviathan, p. 732, etc.). In fact, they chart the transition he made from being a poet to becoming one of the increasingly well-known fictional voices of our time. The essays often address notions that animate the fiction: How do you speak about the unspeakable? How does the artist see while remaining invisible? How does art re-create the body of its creator? And, most importantly, why is modern art at its best all about failure and risk? Auster, whose main influences are Beckett and Kafka, introduces and examines writers whose work often embodies these themes--from Knut Hamsun's courtship of failure to Laura Riding's abandonment of poetry. A series of essays on the Objectivist poets (Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi) forms a clear explanation of their post-Imagist aesthetic. Like Beckett characters, Auster's favorite writers pursue an art of survival--recognizing, but not acquiescing to, the absurd. Edmond Jabes deconstructs the book; Georges Perec combines literary play with human compassion; and Giuseppe Ungaretti continually confronts his mortality. Auster's historical command of modern French poetry is impressive. And his own aesthetic values are admirable--he takes a clear and levelheaded approach to writers often considered difficult and obscure. Auster's "eccentric and peculiar tastes" cohere, in these critical pieces, into something much more than his modest claim that he's "simply one writer trying to talk about others.