The Anthologist [Paperback]
- Simon & Schuster Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 05 August 2010
- Modern & Contemporary
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This book is like a long, beautiful love poem to poetry. Exquisite.
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.
I was only about 20 pages in before I started recommending this book to everyone I know. It was on my list because I'm interested in books that play with our sense of what a novel is supposed to be and do, and this is a marvelous example of that, but so much more, too. It's also the crash course in poetry I've always wished for, and a meditation on writer's block and, more broadly, failure in general. It's charming and fun and thought-provoking and made me instantly want to write a novel just like it. By far my favorite so far of Baker's books.
This book it did reach out to meWith salted humor, on bended kneeImploring 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!
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