The anthologist

by Nicholson Baker

Hardcover, 2009





New York : Simon & Schuster, 2009.


The Anthologist is narrated by Paul Chowder--a once-in-a-while-published kind of poet who is writing the introduction to a new anthology of poetry. He's having a hard time getting started because his career is floundering; his girlfriend Roz has recently left him; and he is thinking about the great poets throughout history who have suffered far worse and deserve to feel sorry for themselves. He has also promised to reveal many wonderful secrets and tips and tricks about poetry, and it looks like the introduction will be a little longer than he'd thought. What unfolds is a wholly entertaining and beguiling love story about poetry: from Tennyson, Swinburne, and Yeats to the moderns (Roethke, Bogan, Merwin) to the staff of the New Yorker, what Paul reveals is astonishing and makes one realize how incredible important poetry is to our lives. At the same time, Paul barely manages to realize all of this himself, and the result is a tenderly romantic, hilarious, and inspired novel.… (more)

Media reviews

The Anthologist is an enjoyable novel with many shrewd and hilarious observations on poets and poetry that regretfully leaves out the most important thing about the hero.
3 more
The romance is a thing of sweetness and delicacy, but the events are small, as they so often are in Baker's books. In his hands, remember, even World War II, the Greatest Generation's greatest epic, turned into a string of anecdotal pearls, most of them no longer than a paragraph. Like watching paint dry, is the dismissive phrase some might apply to his micro-narratives, which is exactly the wrong one, since I'm sure Baker could write a charming, brilliant book about paint drying if he felt like it.
Mr. Baker has written “The Anthologist” (a mild-mannered effort that could not be less like his previous book, “Human Smoke”) as if it were a rambling... monologue, a long chat emanating from the sock level of the poetry world. He slips effortlessly into the eager, friendless voice of a man who is every bit as glamorous and dynamic as his name suggests.
Nicholson Baker has written a novel about poetry that’s actually about poetry — and that is also startlingly perceptive and ardent, both as a work of fiction and as a representation of the kind of thinking that poetry readers do.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TerryWeyna
My husband has been teaching two sections of poetry this semester, and he marvels at how wary his students are of the stuff. Even after they understand the technical underpinnings – form, meter, rhyme, metaphor – many of them still don’t take to it, don’t delight in the striking language that can ravish the soul.

Me, all I need to do is think, “I shall rise now and go, and go to Innisfree,” from Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and I feel myself grow calm, my muscles go limp (“And I shall have peace there, for peace comes dropping slow”). Or I recall “Come slowly, Eden,” the Emily Dickinson poem my husband sent me by email after our first meeting, by which I knew that he and I were going to have a future. Poetry surrounds and sustains and informs us, makes us happy, makes us think.

I want to give The Anthologist to all of my husband’s students and tell them: “This, this is why you should love poetry. Paul Chowder will tell you exactly why it’s so wonderful, and you’ll finally understand.” The novel, narrated by Chowder, is an extended love letter to poetry. Chowder is a poet of some minor repute himself, and he has just finished putting together an anthology called “Just Rhyme.” All he needs to do to finish it and get the royalties rolling in is write an introduction. But Chowder has a case of writer’s block that just won’t give. As a result, we’re treated to his ruminations on poetry, a sort of talking rough draft as he carefully avoids doing any serious writing. “Hello, this is Paul Chowder, and I’m going to try to tell you everything I know,” he begins.

"Well, not everything I know, because a lot of what I know, you know. But everything I know about poetry. All my tips and tricks and woes and worries are going to come tumbling out before you. I’m going to divulge them. What a juicy word that is, 'divulge.' Truth opening its petals. Truth smells like Chinese food and sweat."

And everything does come tumbling out, in ways funny and profound, silly and sensible, thoughtful and thoughtless. How else to explain a passage like this:

"My life is a lie. My career is a joke. I’m a study in failure. Obviously I’m up in the barn again – which sounds like a country song, except for the word 'obviously.' I wonder how often the word 'obviously' has been used in a country song. Probably not much, but I don’t know because I hardly listen to country, although some of the folk music I like has a strong country tincture. Check out Slaid Cleaves, who lives in Texas now but grew up right near where I live."

Yes, it does seem like Chowder is a failure, but it’s apparent that we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator. It doesn’t make sense that he’s a failure when he’s able to not work at anything – he isn’t a professor/poet, has only taught a bit and hated it, and he doesn’t seem to have inherited money, so one is almost forced to conclude that he has made enough from his writing to sustain himself. The occasional job of manual labor can’t possibly be enough to sustain him. Roz, the woman he loves and who lived with him for eight years until she couldn’t deal with his writer’s block any longer, doesn’t seem to have supported him. And he’s been asked to be a featured guest at a seminar in Switzerland, so he must be a poet of some repute. Just who is this guy?

We never really find out – but we do find out a lot about poetry. Meter is Chowder’s particular bête noir. He believes that most poems rely upon a “rest” to fill out their meter, so that poetry that seems to have three beats usually has four. He doesn’t think much of iambic pentameter, either, Shakespeare or no Shakespeare. He’ll often spell out the meter, with little numbers in circles about lines of poetry to give us the beat, until we seem to be able to hear that rest, too.

He’s also big on rhyme, as you might expect from an anthologist who has just completed assembling a volume called Only Rhyme. He isn’t exactly opposed to free verse, and believes some fine poems have been written in free verse, but really, “I always secretly want it to rhyme. Don’t you, some of you?” He believes that a poem that doesn’t rhyme shouldn’t even be called a poem:

"It’s a plum, not a poem. That’s what I call a poem that doesn’t rhyme – it’s a plum. We who write and publish our nonrhyming plums aren’t poets, we’re plummets. Or plummers. And some plums can be very good – better than anything else you might happen to read ever, anywhere. James Wright’s poem about lying on his hammock on Duffy’s farm is a plum, and it’s genius. So is Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, 'The Fish,' of course. 'I caught a tremendous fish' – genius."

A paragraph like that makes you want to run for your own anthologies, doesn’t it? I pulled my copy of Bishop’s poems from the shelf because I hadn’t read “The Fish” before. Chowder’s right about it; it truly is wonderful. You haven’t really looked a fish in the eye until you’ve read this poem, and you certainly haven’t understood how much we share with our piscine prey.

Chowder walks us through his days of thinking about poetry, and I started to understand what he was doing, because it’s familiar to me from my own writing. He’s writing his introduction to his anthology in his head, working it out, figuring out what he wants to say, sorting out what matters and what doesn’t. This is a vision of how a poet and scholar works. It’s brilliant. And it’s peculiar. I loved it for both characteristics.

The temptation to quote passage after passage is strong, but I will resist and simply tell you that you must read this book. Whether you like poetry or not, you really should read this book. Rarely have I seen an author take such joy in words and how they are arranged on the page, and it is definitely contagious. Baker is always doing something new and strange; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time, it most definitely does.
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LibraryThing member timjones
I loved this book. To be fair, as a co-editor of two poetry anthologies who has faced exactly the task facing poet Paul Chowder in this novel - that is, to (co-)write an an introduction to the whole shemozzle - I could scarcely be more squarely in the target audience: but even so, I easily identified with the shambling, rather hangdog narrator and enjoyed the contrast because his deep, if exasperated, knowledge of poetry and his haplessness with almost everything else. His attitude to his ex is refreshing too - rather than being bitter or angry or cynical, he just wants her back. A really fun novel that also teaches you useful stuff - what could be better?… (more)
LibraryThing member Liabee
This book it did reach out to me
With salted humor, on bended knee
Imploring grace for poetry.
Liked it a lot - a couple of chapters o'er the top with
the technical woo-woo, but mostly fab.
We root for Roz!
LibraryThing member theanalogdivide
This is a gorgeous piece of writing. Baker knows his way around an artfully turned phrase, and the treatise on meter in poetry embedded in the work gave me a new appreciation for verse I didn't even realize I was looking for. However, as a novel, I simply felt like an author spinning his wheels. What started as a charming portrait of the author in the midst of writer's block quickly turned into an arduous slog of navel-gazing. I found lots to admire here, but not nearly as much to enjoy.… (more)
LibraryThing member RachelWeaver
The narrator of this book is by turns funny, vulnerable, frustrating, charming, haughty, brilliant, and pathetic. In other words, he may be the most lovable, authentic character ever to appear in American literature. This book continues to jangle around in your head for weeks after reading it, much the way a particularly catchy metered stanza might.… (more)
LibraryThing member 2chances
Well, this may be the most delightful book I have read this year.

Paul Chowder's life isn't going particularly well. Sometime poet and current anthologist, he is struggling to write an intro to his anthology of poetry, ONLY RHYME. But his chronic procrastinating has left him without a girlfriend, without cash, and, it sometimes seems, without hope. Paul longs to win Roz back by completing the intro, but instead he seems to spend a lot of time sitting on his driveway in a white plastic chair.

But Paul is not your ordinary embittered failure. He is neither embittered nor a failure, in fact - just a sincere and genuinely kind guy who can still get pretty wound up when talking about poetry. His first-person narrative is funny, humble, sweet, and rambling - because he can't talk long without telling you something pretty neat about poetry, about meter, about enjambment or Edgar Allen Poe or Swinburne or what a good idea it is to to dance about in waltz steps to iambic pentameter.

Nicholson Baker (really? That's really his name?) has a marvelous gift for putting words together in such a perfect way that you think they must have been born to be placed just so. I loved this: "Let's have a look at this poem. Here it is, going down. You can tell it's a poem because it's swimming in a little gel pack of white space...All the typography on all sides has drawn back. The words are making room, they're saying, Rumble, rumble, stand back now, this is going to be good."

Or this: "When I look at the lives of the poets, I understand what's wrong with me. They were willing to make the sacrifices that I'm not willing to make. They were so tortured, so messed up.

"I'm only a little messed up. I'm tortured to the pint where I don't sleep very well sometimes, and I don't answer mail as I should. Sometimes I feel a languor of spirit when I get an email asking me to do something. Also, I've run up significant credit-card debt. But that's not real self-torture."

Paul's passion for poetry keeps this narration from sinking into greyness; it stays funny, lively, and fascinating throughout, until I wanted nothing more than for Paul to win back his short, loving, generous Roz - and finish that damned intro. Plus, he healed a long-standing wound in me by pointing out that iambic pentameter is not on five beats, but six or three, WHICH I TRIED TO TELL MY ENGLISH TEACHER IN HIGH SCHOOL (but she wouldn't listen.) Lovely, lovely book. And the cover is beautiful, too.
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LibraryThing member subbobmail
Any book that mentions Slaid Cleaves on the second page is fine by me (yay Slaid!), but Baker's new novel is more than fine. It's the first-person tale of an aging poet who has just lost his lady because he can't bring himself to write the introduction for a new anthology of English poetry. We watch & listen to him slowly fall apart and feel comically impotent. He tries to distract himself with impassioned opinions about poetry -- readers will learn about Pound and Swinburne and pentameter vs. the 4-beat line -- but really he just wants his gal back. This book really shouldn't work -- it's almost entirely free of incident -- but Baker is so engaging on a sentence-by-sentence basis that a reader can easily zip through the whole thing in one sitting. And we don't by now need to be reminded that Nicholson Baker can make a nutshell seem like infinite space, do we?… (more)
LibraryThing member theageofsilt
I agree with most of the reviews below. I can't imagine a more pleasant afternoon than a visit from Paul Chowder, the anthologist. We would enjoy a cup of tea and I would listen to his rants about poetry and his complaints about his life. it would be time happily spent and this is how this book feels -- like a visit from an interesting and sometimes exasperating friend.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sean191
Nicholson Baker continues to be a writer I want to read. He's a bright guy with a lot of knowledge and he's able to focus his writing talents on minutiae in a way that can make it interesting to read about pocket lint. For the Anthologist, the main character is the typical Baker construct - an off-kilter individual who has a lot of knowledge, is able to focus on minutiae and has some random weird thoughts interjected. Plus, I couldn't help but learn a little here and there and refresh my mind about some poetry. Overall, another enjoyable book from Baker.… (more)
LibraryThing member plenilune
Paul Chowder is a down-on-his luck, occasionally-published poet with a particularly nasty case of writers block. He is unhappy with his line of work, and with how both his career and his personal life are going. He hallucinates encounters with famous poets and teaches mock classes in his barn to no one. And while you have to take some of his impassioned monologues on poetry with a grain of salt, he is also the next iconic character of American literature.

As both a lover of poetry and an aspiring poet, I had looked forward to reading this book and I was not disappointed. While this was a lighter read than I had expected, what with all of the critical acclaim, in its brisk stream-of-consciousness pace it remained true to character. This is my first Baker, but if this novel is any indication, he is a master of his craft.
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LibraryThing member Girl_Detective
Paul Chowder, the narrator, is a poet trying to write the introduction to an anthology of rhyming poems he's put together. Paul's writers block is the stuff that 12-step programs are made for. His girlfriend has moved out, he keeps injuring himself and he's obsessed with cleaning his office instead of writing.

In between his dryly hilarious musings on his sad sack life, Paul holds forth on poetry, explaining in a clear, entertaining manner why rhyme is often reviled, and why pentameter is just plain wrong. He quotes many poets, including Mary Oliver, who I read and enjoyed last year. Chowder made me like poetry, which I generally don't, and made me want to read more, which is unusual for me. There's not much by way of plot here, but there's plenty of Paul, who's a great character. And the ending is not only charming, but a clever way of reframing the book. This was a smart, quick, funny read that I thoroughly enjoyed.… (more)
LibraryThing member shelley436
Nicholson Baker knows how to perfectly balance facts and tidbits about a specific topic (in this book, poetry), and ruminations about ordinary life (here, the musings of a fictional poet living in New Hampshire), into his works to make them both edifying and enjoyable. The Anthologist is a great read for those who love diving into a specific topic and surfacing every once in a while to follow a linear plot. In this book, Paul Chowder, poet and anthologist, directly addresses the reader, offering insights gleaned from his years of writing poetry, while also entertaining the reader with the current state of affairs of his private life, both big (his recent break up and his inability to write an introduction to the anthology he is compiling) and small (his progress in cleaning out his barn). Overall this a solid, entertaining read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cariola
My response to The Anthologist is a mixed one. Baker effectively replicates through his protagonist, Paul Chowder, the way the mind--or at least my mind--tends to work, fixating on one subject--poetry here--for long stretches of time, but fairly easily distracted by other, more personal, less philosophical, and more mundane things, like 'what is the meaning behind the fact that I now have three Band-aids on the same finger? there must be a meaning in this.' As a scholar and poet myself, one who tends to put off deadlines by finding infinite distractions, I recognized my own process of "head writing": letting things circulate until they seem to fall into place.

Well, it's rather charming for awhile, but I'm afraid that eventually I found all this a bit affected and tedious. And I found myself arguing back against many of Paul Chowder's claims about poetry, even as I agreed with others. It's true that the character's passion for poetry--preferably rhymed poetry with four beats per line--shines through; but I also felt that his views were rather narrow. There's some real junk being published as poetry today--but also some very fine unrhymed free verse. The kind that irks me most is poetry that just plays with sound for its own sake and to show off the poet's cleverness, poetry that has no meaning behind it and creates no images to stir the imagination or the senses. And, oddly, that is the same way that Baker's prose began to affect me. By page 160, I started to skim because I just wanted to be done with it.

So I'm giving The Anthologist 3.5 stars for its originality and some moments of brilliance, as well as for making me laugh a bit, but I can't recommend it more highly than that.
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LibraryThing member pedalinfaith
A delightful meandering through the free associations of a procrastinator, neighbor, and passionate poet, detailing the fragility and rawness of the human heart and the multi-layered genius of poetry's ability of expose it.
LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
A delight. I read this when it came out a couple years ago, and it recalled the melding of the humorous and the literary I experienced in reading Vikram Seth's Golden Gate and its fore-runner Pushkin. Poetry is a pretty serious subject in modern America--to its own detriment, and to the fracture of the Chaucerian-Shakespearean-Molierian-Byronic tradition. I cannot recall another novel that dares to take as its subject a literary professional who talks prosody in his sleep. Nicholson Baker's amusing take on the Po Biz makes this a keeper--though at the moment mine is loaned out, has been for months.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarissaC
I guess you could say I like poetry. I don't live, eat and breathe it, but on a particularly self-reflecting day, I'll pick up Robert Frost and memorize one or two poems so that I can tumble them over in my head when I get bored later that week. Quirky, yes, but that is me. I'm also not really a fan of a reading an entire novel based on stream of consciousness. I can handle up to around 5,000 words of spouting off at the mouth by the author - but that's where I draw the line.

You know how you're sitting in a class for the first time that semester, and realize that the professor is more than just an amazing teacher and you could listen to them lecture all day long? (Yeah, yeah not all of you are students so just go with it and pretend for a minute.) It doesn't matter the subject because you catch the enthusiasm of the teacher through the intensity of the words they say and the expressions on their face. Congratulations, Nicholson Baker, you've just created a new favorite professor.

Well. Maybe. The Anthologist is narrated by Paul Chowder, a sometimes published poet working on an introduction to an anthology. His girlfriend just broke up with him because he can't find the motivation to finish the introduction, his editor is hounding him for the same reason, and he has this fascination with rhyming even though it's a talent he doesn't possess. In fact, his anthology is called Only Rhyme. Paul also has a knack for self-injury. More importantly, he has a knack for stringing words together that make you literally laugh out loud.

Actually, it's Baker that does that. He looks at poetry as a side salad, claims that death is his health insurance and makes a case for Friends as a legitimate representation of culture. And there's also discussions of rhyme, meter, how poetry works in French versus in English, a rant at Milton for screwing it all up.... I wouldn't mind reading a commentary by Baker on poetry at all.

This is where that "maybe" comes in. I could honestly do without the plot and I really don't like Paul. He whines a lot about his ex. And about his dog. And his office. His only saving grace may be his honesty. He knows he's procrastinating and he knows he's a whiner. In reality, the plot is more of a frame for the commentary anyway. In an interview, Baker talks about buying Sharpies and growing a longer beard, just to put himself in the mindset to write this book. I can respect that.

But again, I'd rather read his commentary about poetry and history than Paul's random thoughts on life.
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LibraryThing member Lisahgolden
This the first book of Nicholson Baker's that I've read. I will definitely be reading his other works.I don't know where to begin with this review so I'm plunging in with how this novel about a poet and writer who is getting ready to write the introduction for an anthology of poetry he's editing. Some people might call that "getting ready" procrastination. It certainly looks, feels, tastes and smells like procrastination. As I've been working for nearly a year on my own manuscript for a novel, I assure you, this is not procrastinating. It's thinking. Mulling. Necessary.I like Nicholson's writing style. His language is funny, very easy to read and he's able to write extensively about a subject that I'm typically distanced from. He does so without intimidating or boring me. This is saying a lot because my attention span is brief and shrinking.I must say that reading this book taught me as much about poetry as any class I may have faked my way through in college. Baker intersperses the commentary of the main character's goofing around and living life and doing things around his house, anything other than sitting down and writing that introduction and those tangents into the everyday and familiar can be quite hilarious in a quiet way.If you read this book, do so with an anthology of poetry nearby. You're going to want to read some of these poems all the way through. Luckily, my husband used to work for a paperback warehouse where he could buy deeply discounted remainders and books with problems. I tell you that to explain how we came to own Immortal Poems of the English Language edited by Oscar Williams. Because, trust me, we don't sit around this house and read poetry. That might cut into our television time or our social networking on the computer time.One night while reading this novel in bed, I did read aloud some of the mentioned poetry to my husband. He was polite and indulgent. He even used his cell phone to look up some information about Emily Dickinson for me. We discussed the way poets focus on death or, at least, lack cheer. Then my husband reminded me that he likes to call this anthology Immoral Poems...... Poetry is doomed in our hands.… (more)
LibraryThing member madcurrin
I loved this book, it's a little treasure. It doesn't matter that The Anthologist meanders along like no novel ever should and that the plot goes pretty much nowhere. Every page crackles with the joy of writing. Nicholson Baker gets inside the head of a writer and gives an entertaining masterclass in the art of rhyme while he's at it. All writers should read this, poets or otherwise.… (more)
LibraryThing member jlafleur
Very sorry I made the effort and finished this. A book of semi-interesting musings and explanations of poetry, but not a coherant novel.
LibraryThing member deborahk
The audio version of this book is just plain excellent -- read by the author Nicholson Baker, it's hard to believe the bearish looking man I saw in google images, is the speaker of this impossibly intimate portrait. I also learned a whole lot about poetry, something I haven't much cared about since reading poems to my son. I loved this book and wholeheartedly recommend the audio version, even though I may now have to read it in print to make sure I didn't miss anything.… (more)
LibraryThing member JimElkins
This is a combination novel and friendly teacherly essay on poetry. One comment on the book as a novel, another on the book as an essay, and a third on the two together.

1. As a novel: Nicholson Baker is not a major novelist. His sense of the offhand, the corny, the careless and carefree, the vernacular, and the informal, is too easily satisfied, and it amounts to too much of his sense of what contemporary writing can be. He is too easily convinced that home-town, unornamented, straightforward, honest description is the best way to write a novel. Or to put it the other way around: it is easy to see the kinds of writing he doesn't like -- they would include consciously developed styles and manners of all sorts -- but not easy to see why he is so content writing what he takes to be their opposite. I imagine he might justify it to himself as a development of the American novel after Updike, somewhat in the line of Ellis or DeLillo: a minimalist, anti-modernist, firmly North American, styleless style or mannerless manner. But it is weak, unable to account for its persistent low-level fear of writing.

2. As an essay on poetry: it's good, but not on topic. The narrator, a poet, is working on an anthology of rhymed verse, and in the course of the book he tells us many times how important and interesting rhyme is. None of the reviewers of the book seems to have noticed that he doesn't actually say more than a sentence or two about rhyme itself. The entire essay on poetry is about meter. On that subject, it's fun, clear, and entertaining, and I'd recommend it if it were published by itself, without the interlarded novel. And it's unfortunate that the poetry essay is all about North American poets, with the usual sprinkling of Victorian predecessors in a predictable canon (Swinburne instead of Browning, shout-outs to contemporaries like Graham who might read his book, etc.). And the review in the New York Times is absolutely right about Baker's lack of connection with the real poetry world, even in North America: Baker scarcely mentions publications other than "The New Yorker," and he imagines a poetry conference in Switzerland where the room is abuzz at the appearance of Paul Muldoon. That social isolation is of a piece with Baker's advocacy of rhyme and regular meter. If he were a student, I'd shut him in a room with some books of Celan's until he saw that meter can be broken in fascinating ways -- that poetry doesn't need to be either regular or simply "free" -- and that a poet's voice, like a novelist's, can involve more than just the assiduous mimicry of daily informal speech. I wonder if Baker thinks his loyalty to regular meter and rhyme (which he fails to separate) are a sign that he is not only contemporary and postmodern, but also a deep traditionalist: if so, that puts him very firmly in the NPR - PRI - Lake Wobegon set. This is just the kind of novel that makes Horace Engdahl right.

3. As a composite essay and novel: it doesn't work. When the essayist is in the room, he talks to us, asking us to try out the sound of lines, and even to sing along. But when the novelist is speaking, it's an ordinary first-person narrative. We are asked not to notice when we, the readers, are suddenly urged to disappear for a few minutes so the novel can resume. And we're asked not to be surprised when the character in the novel we're reading abruptly turns to us and asks us a question. It's not that this couldn't work: it's that Baker doesn't notice it as a problem. I think that's of a piece with his studied insouciance about voice: just say what you mean, don't gussy it up, and you're a novelist.
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LibraryThing member spacegod
Ever since The Mezzanine (best book ever written #32), Baker has been a personal god of mine. Marvelous minutiae meets a rambling overview from poems to Tetris to Sharpies.
The Anthologist is simple and profound, silly and useful.
It's a book about poetry for people who hate poetry.
And all you poem-huggers will embrace this as well.

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LibraryThing member Hebephrene
A slight effort. Nothing he does will make me like The Mezzanine any less but this was negligible. There is almost no story here. Nor did I believe it for a second; it seemed bolted on as if Baker couldn't decide whether to write an essay or not. His musings on poetry - namely that the iambic pentameter is not the basis of the English line that in actuality its four beats and a silent rest - was fascinating and I could have used more on that. In the meantime there was a lot of gossip about poets and not all of it was uninteresting.… (more)
LibraryThing member flydodofly
About poetry anthologies: "You have to read the unchosen ones to understand the chosen."

I am seriously considering writing down the poets' names and going after all the wonderful poems out there. One forgets to read poems. Prose is so much more available and digestable, and one tends to think: I have to be in a special mood for poems. Strong enough to take the life in this concentrated form, while still vulnerable and open enough to allow yourself to feel the intensity.
I loved the book. It was quirky and funny and sad and had great yet undramatic things in it and my favourite were the endings of a section, where Baker suddenly changes the subject in a very "poetic" kind of way. It was a very enjoyable read, and it gave me lots and lots of new ideas which I would like to start exploring.
"And that's what poetry gives me. Many, many beginnings."
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
This is a stream of consciousness novel about a poet trying to write an introduction to a poetry anthology, while dealing with the loss of his girlfriend and his own middle-aged anxieties. It sounds much better than it actually is. The main bulk of the book is essentially a thesis on poetry, and reads much more like a literary criticism textbook than a novel. I don't mind non-fiction, and in fact read a lot of it, but when I pick up a fiction work I don't anticipate a non-fiction rant about the importance of rhyme in poetry. If the author had stuck to his ruminations on the lonliness of a middle-aged man, and his difficulty trying to complete a piece of work that seems to someone not doing it like it should be an easy task, he would have had something. The endless discussion of poets works the first time, as it helps to center the character in his world, but endless chapters about iambic pentameter and three-beat vs. four beat lines is really too much. I was very disappointed in this work, and wouldn't recommend it to any of my friends, because they probably wouldn't speak to me again.

Reading this did set me to musing on how, when you're slogging through a book you're not enjoying, all the other books on your shelves, all those wonderful unread books, become a siren song, especially when you've gotten to the point where you've read too far to consider just putting it down and walking away. Suddenly every other book you could be reading appears as the best possible book in the universe, and you really want to just move on and finish this mess so you can answer that call. In fact, I took an extra bath just to have reading time so I could get this book finished and not feel like I had to read it anymore.
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