2009 New York Times Notable Book
2009 Favorite Fiction Los Angeles Times
2009 Best Books The Christian Science Monitor
2009 Best of Slate.com
2009 A Year's Reading Favorites The New Yorker
2009 Best Books Seattle Times
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)
"We come to see that Baker has written, here as elsewhere, a book of associations...in which he celebrates the superfluous details of life....He is an expert craftsman...[The Anthologist] is a testament to -- indeed an anthology of -- moments when poetry and life touch against each other....[Baker's work] is a rare example of affectionate art, of brilliant writing that manages to collect and display the odds and ends of existence in a way that makes the reader like it and him." Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Mr. Baker...slips effortlessly into the eager, friendless voice of a man who is every bit as glamorous and dynamic as his name suggests....funny, self-deprecating...delivers unexpectedly illuminating thoughts....But the real beauty of The Anthologist lies in what Paul does not overtly say....enjoy this book's intensity. Don't break its spell." New York Times
"[A] novel inside a novel, a life within a life....Baker is a hybrid of past and future. His style has a meditative echo, like a man in a cave walking toward a light on the other end....On paper, in his essays and his fiction, he knows exactly where he is." Los Angeles Times
"[The Anthologist is] startlingly perceptive and ardent...Chowder is possibly the most appealing narrator Baker has invented....You don't have to agree with these opinions; you just savor the tartness of a raw take....Baker is a beautiful writer, and bracing reader of poetry...[a] tremendous success....We read poems because they have a knack for mattering. And how pleasing it is to be so gently, so poetically reminded of that." -- David Orr, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] light, funny, deeply literary hybrid that functions both as a novel...and a lip-smacking Bakersian treatise on the joys of poetry." -- Sam Anderson, New York magazine
"The Anthologist is a slyly intelligent rant about the crazy paradoxes of artistic careerism, and a casual and hilarious series of lessons on poetry...Baker's comic brio and high-energy pace make [Chowder's] lurching progress a winning pleasure." -- Mark Doty, O, the Oprah Magazine
"Baker's best novel to date... You'll laugh, you'll howl, you might even recite. You will learn useful stuff...Chowder is not just one of Baker's great inventions. ...[he] is instantly unforgettable, one of the most concretely realised voices in modern American fiction...Luminous with wisdom both instinctive and learned and...improbably wise. ... every so often the culture produces a writer such as Nicholson Baker, whose every page and every line is inked with a wicked yen for the mischief of lingo." -- Simon Schama, Financial Times (London)
"[The] wonderful new novel The Anthologist...offers something different and (after all the books that have been written about tortured artists) better...The drama and emotion in The Anthologist builds subtly. You become so engaged by Chowder's narrative voice, and his engrossing musings about poetry, that his loneliness and his valiant attempts to cope with despair creep up on you. When they do, you're moved by this sincere, funny, sad man." -- Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
"The happiest felicity in a book full of them is that such a loving and superbly witty homage to poetry -- and to life -- could have been achieved only through the prose sentences of Nicholson Baker." -- William H. Pritchard, The Boston Globe
"In the brisk and entertaining The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker...writes a completely successful novel about poetry....The book is constantly appealing in its witty approach to its ostensible subject -- the charms, rewards and continuing values of poetry....The Anthologist is pure pleasure -- it takes unbridled joy in the love of poetry. It will send readers back to beloved poems or make them search out new ones....provocative fiction." -- Robert Allen Papinchak, The Seattle Times
Paul Chowder is trying to write the introduction to a new anthology of rhyming verse, but he’s having a hard time getting started. The result of his fitful struggles is The Anthologist,
Nicholson Baker’s brilliantly funny and exquisite love story about poetry.
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A New York Times Notable Book, 2009
Favorite Fiction of 2009–Los Angeles Times
Best Books of 2009–The Christian Science Monitor
Best of 2009–Slate.com
"A Year’s Reading" Favorites, 2009–The New Yorker
Best Books of 2009–Seattle Times
About the Author
Nicholson Baker was born in 1957 and attended the Eastman School of Music and Haverford College. He is the author of seven novels, including Vox and The Mezzanine, and three previous works of nonfiction, including Double Fold, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001. He lives in Maine with his family.