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A Sport and a Pastime: A Novel Paperback – August 22, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (August 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530501
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Salter is the contemporary writer most admired and envied by other writers...he can, when he wants, break your heart with a sentence." Michael Dirda, Washington Post --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

"A Sport and a Pastime is as nearly perfect as any American fiction
I know," Reynolds Price wrote of James Salter's 1967 novel that tells of the mismatched love affair between Phillip Dean, a Yale dropout adrift in Europe, and Anne-Marie Costallat, a young French shopgirl. An erotic tour de force, licentious yet pure, it is also a hymn to provincial France and has been admired and quoted from since its first publication. Its stunning knowledge and insight have the power to change lives.
        It brings a kind of splendor to the life that refuses to bow to conven-
tion or mores, and, like Cavafy's poems, evokes the illicit in a way that endows it with an astonishing beauty. Brilliantly written and overwhelming in its effect, it remains a triumph on every level. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

All in all I found the book tedious to read.
This is simultaneously the most erotic and beautiful and melancholy writing in the entire book.
Paige Turner
James Salter is one of our most interesting writers and it's good to read this early novel.
Charlotte Darwin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Glenn McLeod on November 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. North Point Press San Fransisco 1985
On the surface this is a love story. Phillip Dean, an American dropout from Yale, and Anne-Mari Costallat, a French shop girl, live and love, love, love... for several months in France. As the observer/narrator tells the story, one is never quite certain whether the narrative is an objective account of the life of Phillip and Anne-Mari or a fabricated wish fulfillment of a frustrated stymied paramour of the beautiful Claude Picquet. In the end it doesn't matter as the story ebbs and flows inexorably and smoothly through the shimmering French countryside to its tragic conclusion.
The writing is astounding. I stopped time and again to read and reread passages as the combinations of words and phrases evoked emotions and feelings that I thought not possible given the simplicity and directness of the words. There is a conciseness to both the story and the language. So much is said with so few words that one sometimes regrets that this parsimony of words brings the end too soon. I wanted the novel to continue so I might continue to savor this beautiful writing.
A wonderful novel that I will continue to read for years to come.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Like Salter's other novels, this book is a study in hero worship. Here the hero is not a fighter pilot ("The Hunters") or an alpine mountain climber ("Solo Faces") but a lover, whose intensely erotic affair with a young French woman is imagined by the novel's narrator, a casual friend who scarcely knows him. Phillip Dean (like a real-life counterpart James Dean) is in his twenties, good looking, intelligent, and with a fatal attraction to fast cars. (Dean Moriarty of Kerouac's "On the Road" also comes to mind.)

As a movie, this would be NC-17 material. Far from romance, it's a graphic portrayal of the unpredictable interplay of desires and emotions between two people physically attracted to each other. And in its fascination with the shifting moods of lovers consumed by their passions, it is "very French."

Though published, and apparently set, in the 1960s, the book captures the look and feel of post-war France. The provincial towns where it takes place are lifeless and silent, seemingly exhausted. Salter's gift for seizing sharply drawn impressions from fleeting images makes the settings almost jump from the page. Written in present tense, his sentences are short and often fragmentary. While evoking the great weight of history, his images have the immediacy of the present. An American reader who has traveled in Europe will recognize the emotions Salter describes.

Meanwhile, the story is layered with ironies. The narrator himself seems to have a life that is almost empty of eros, and he reminds us that for all its graphic detail, he has imagined all the intimacies of Dean and Anne-Marie's affair. Maybe the lesson in this has to do with our own perceived inadequacies and voyeuristic curiosity about the private lives of others, especially celebrities and public figures. Almost 40 years later, Salter's novel stands up very well today, its vision and its ambiguities more pointed than ever.
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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on August 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
In the opening pages an unnamed narrator describes the French countryside and small towns he is traveling through by train. The writing is flawless, sharply observant and evocative of a locale and country that is traditionally linked with romance. As the narrator settles into a rented villa and begins to explore the night life of the small village he has decided to spend some time in we become aware of a peculiar habit of mind he has. The narrator likes to imagine the inner and private lives of strangers he meets. This is woven into the narrative in a way that makes it exciting to read as you don't always know just how much of what he relates is observation and how much created out of an imagination fueled by some personal need to embellish. The narrator is dedicated to a life of inaction so much so that he is relieved to find the woman he admires from a distance is no longer available. The books title is taken from the Koran and as Salter says in his autobiography is meant to be ironic as in its context it is meant to refer to the insignificance of this life in comparison to the life to come. But the narrator is no follower of traditional thought or beliefs and his only pastime is that habit of mind. Entering into his world is his exact opposite Dean. Outwardly handsome, exuding a sense of adventure, recently arrived from Spain, and immediately gaining the attention of women he also gainds the attention of our narrator. The two become friends....apparently. For here the clues as to what is observed and what is imagined becomes grey. Nevertheless this is not a distraction, rather it makes for an intriguing complexity to the narrative. Dean is soon involved in an affair which is highly charged, almost purely physical in its nature.Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By TheLonelyArtistClub on September 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
I read this book a few years ago as a young, wide-eyed college student. Recently, with more experience (both literary and in life) I've come to it again and I'm still amazed by Salter's ability to put me into a trance. I can see a little bit of the Hemingway influence that people have pointed out (and I believe Salter himself has listed E.H. as an influence), but more than anything else, I see this novel as owing a debt to "The Great Gatsby," with it's unreliabilty and dazzling lights.

Salter's language is not perfect throughout, his style falters for brief moments, but for most of the novel it is nearly impeccable. The unnammed narrator is one of the greatest (and maybe the most) unreliable narrator of all time, starting in the second chapter with the words "None of this is true. I've said Autun, but it could easily have been Auxerre. I'm sure you'll come to realize that. I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. It's a story of things that never existed although even the faintest doubt of that, the smallest possibility, plunges everything into darkness. I only want whoever reads this to be as resigned as I am. There's enough passion in the world already. Everything trembles with it. Not that I believe it shouldn't exist, no, no, but this is only a thin, relfecting sliver which somehow keeps catching the light."

One of the most common criticisms of the book is its erotic, nearly pornographic, content. To some I would say that it's worth the possiblity of being offended (or merely shocked or even aroused) just to experience the pure beauty of Salter's prose. To others I would point out the historical context of the novel. After Grove Press won the right to import and sell D.H.
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