Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Novel About Poetry: The Anthologist

I certainly haven't been doing much reading these last few weeks--the return of the school year has certainly slowed me down. However, I am still trying and this week I finished a novel about poetry. I know, who would've thought such a thing could exist? I certainly haven't encountered anything like it before. It turned out to be a really good read and a novel that works on so many levels that I'm sure I missed a lot. I might even have to re-read it to examine the nuances more closely. Either way, I highly recommend it. It's called The Anthologist and it's written by Nicholson Baker.

I'm always amazed when an author uses a premise that's completely unique and new. Baker seems to do that over and over, whether in his novel about a man who's able to press a magical pause button at various points during the day, The Fermata, or his novel about phone sex, Vox (yeah, I read it. I'll leave it at that). And just like in those books, the story of The Anthologist is about more than just the obvious. Like these others, it's about life, love and the human condition. And, also like the others, once you start reading, it's difficult to stop.

In The Anthologist, Tom Chowder, a slightly-less-than-successful poet, is charged with writing an introduction to a poetry anthology he has put together. Told from Chowder's point of view, we get to follow along as he struggles to write the introduction, as he laments about the demise of rhyme in poetry, and as he struggles with the loss of his true love (who left, in part, over her frustration with his inability to complete the introduction). Interwoven in the story are Chowder's analyses of poems, background information about poets well-known and not-so-well-known, and lots of name dropping...even poetry scholar Helen Vendler's name is mentioned!

I definitely recommend this novel and I'd love to hear what you think of it. And if you know of any other poetry-themed novels, please share. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm 150 pages into The Passage, Justin Cronin's exquisitely well-written vampire novel and I can't tear myself away.


  1. Well, I just put two more books in my virtual shopping cart (The Anthologist and The Passage). Thanks for the tips!

  2. Just finished The Passage tonight. Twas brilliant.