Cornerhouse, September 28, 2009 (view all comments by Cornerhouse)
This is a love letter to poetry, rhymed or otherwise. Paul Chowder is a poet who has edited an anthology and is now trying to write the introduction to the anthology, but not getting anywhere. Because the anthology is devoted to rhyming verse, the introduction, which we rehearses bits and pieces of for the reader in the fast-moving mostly internal monologue that makes up this entire novel, is about rhyme and meter and his obsessions with the four-beat line + rest that the rest of the world calls the iambic pentameter. He thinks about poets, poetry, rhyme, meter, books of poetry -- while also setting bits and pieces of poetry to music, diagramming the meter of other bits, and generally trying to make his way in the world. In the end, he writes a 230 page introduction and 23 new poems on the plane flying home from a poetry conference in Switzerland, while painting houses to make money.
It's an oddly comforting vision -- and one that would normally be bleak, except for the fact that this entire novel is funny. Very funny. So funny, in fact, that I feel like I should read it again just for the jokes. And the poetry.
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Simon & Schuster -
by Jill Owens,
The Anthologist is the one of the funniest books I read this year, and one of Baker's best in a long time. Baker creates an incredibly winning main character in Paul Chowder, a minor poet trying (and repeatedly failing) to write the introduction to an anthology of new poems. The Anthologist is gorgeously written, intelligent, witty, and surprisingly touching, as well as filled with more insight about poetry than a dozen anthologies.
by Jill Owens
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"In Baker's lovely 10th novel, readers are introduced to Paul Chowder, a 'study in failure,' at a very dark time in his life. He has lost the two things that he values most: his girlfriend, Roz, and his ability to write. The looming introduction to an anthology of poems he owes a friend, credit card debt and frequent finger injuries aren't helping either. Chowder narrates in a professorial and often very funny stream of consciousness as he relates his woes and shares his knowledge of poetry, and though a desire to learn about verse will certainly make the novel more accessible and interesting, it isn't a prerequisite to enjoying it. Chowder's interest in poetry extends beyond meter and enjambment; alongside discussions of craft, he explores the often sordid lives of poets (Poe, Tennyson and Rothke are just some of the poets who figuratively and literally haunt Chowder). And when he isn't missing Roz or waxing on poetics, he busies himself with a slow and strangely compelling attempt at cleaning up his office. Baker pulls off an original and touching story, demonstrating his remarkable writing ability while putting it under a microscope. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by New York Times Book Review,
"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....Chowder is possibly the most appealing narrator Baker has invented."
The Anthologist, narrated by poet Paul Chowder, captures all the warmth, wit, and extraordinary prose style that have made Baker an American master.
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 incredibly 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.
The Anthologist captures all the warmth, wit, and extraordinary prose stylethat have made Baker — a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author — an American master.
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