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The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. Hardcover – November 8, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


National Book Critics Circle Award finalists
A New York Times Notable Book of 2011

"Hefty and remarkable .....These byways, all of which make room for eccentric flights as well as proper essays, augment the charm and impact of what Lethem prefers to call an 'autobiographical collage,' a phrase he lifts from Vonnegut. This influence seems only natural, for dominating all is Lethem's prime concern always: the novel....generous....exciting....openhearted, unconventional."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Did I say I love this book? Well, OK then, I love this book....bring[s] a novelist's sensibility to these essays, to find a through line, to approximate a narrative. It offers a way, in other words, to rethink the collection as a book in its own right — and not just that, but a book about a big idea."
--The Los Angeles Times

“He’s a novelist who has spent a lifetime creating his own subversive pantheon, a jumpy CBGB’s of the literary soul….Several of the essays here marinate in the fish sauce that is literary gossip…..feisty, freewheeling….funny”—The New York Times

"Emotionally engaging and intellectually nimble....curated selection of essays which thematically add up to more than the sum of its parts....Progressive....Eyebrow-raising...Impassioned....Disarming"--The Guardian 
“The Ecstasy of Influence
is, more than anything, a record of Mr. Lethem’s life as a public novelist, a role for which he is obviously well suited…..Mr. Lethem has such a gift, and The Ecstasy of Influence is evidence of it.”—The New York Observer

"The writer I most wish was my best friend....impressively omnivorous new collection of mostly non-fiction....reveal a lively, even manic mind at play across a wide and wonderful series of subjects that are threaded together, mostly, as a kind of autobiography of a would-be writer becoming a struggling writer and then a successful writer while all the while remaining a voracious reader.....This book is its own kind of dense and dreamy zoo, and even if you don’t listen to Echo Echo in your basement apartment, you’ll still find much in here to enjoy and know you’re enjoying and know that Lethem knows you’re enjoying as much as he does." --The National Post

"Conceptual ambition, sense of purpose and a fan’s evangelical devotion distinguish this collection from the typical novelist’s gathering of nonfiction miscellany.....impressively rich....In addition to being a writer who blurs the distinction between genre fiction (sci-fi, detective, western) and postmodern literature (a term he questions), Lethem writes with a commitment to sharing his enthusiasm for whatever obsesses him....While the results illuminate his formative influences and artistic development, they also cast considerable light on the culture at large, which is both reflected in Lethem’s work and has profoundly shaped it.....Intensifying that intimacy, he shares his complicated relationships.... high ambitions and a strong sense of purpose."-
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Peppery nonfiction....provocative tour de force....thoughtful and rambunctious....dynamically juxtaposed and connected....to create a jazzy, patchwork memoir....hilarious....fresh, erudite, zestful, funny frolic in the great fields of creativity."

About the Author

JONATHAN LETHEM is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including Chronic City, The Fortress of Solitude, and Motherless Brooklyn.

More to Explore
Read an excerpt from The Ecstacy of Influence. [PDF]

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (November 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534956
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was beguiled and a bit haunted by some of the pieces in "The Disappointment Artist," Lethem's first essay collection, so I looked forward to this new one. It's a catch-all compendium like authors used to be allowed once they'd written a bunch of novels and established their right to be heard in all their personal idiosyncrasy: fat, rich and bulging, a prose scrapbook with edges hanging out, addenda and random thoughts filling the cracks between solidly set, brilliantly prosed pieces. Mailer's "Advertisements" is modestly invoked (like Nawmin, Lethem scatters brief and costly comments on "the talent in the room," that is, other novelists of his generation), but I think as well of Vonnegut's "Wampeters," King's "Danse Macabre," and Woollcott's "While Rome Burns." I don't always share Lethem's enthusiasms (Dick, Cassavetes), but I'm willing to roll with his gentle voice and unbullying advocacy; and when we do match on people (Shirley Jackson, Manny Farber) he makes me feel them anew. Of course the title piece is a great literary monkeyshines, no less entertaining or thoughtful for being the sort of stunt any writer wishes he or she'd thought of pulling first.
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Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: long-time fan of both Lethem's fiction and non-fiction. (Loved Motherless Brooklyn; loved Gun, With Occasional Music even more; his little book on They Live is a miniature masterpiece.) This is a superb collection of essays that reveal Lethem's influences and obsessions, including science fiction and gift economies. The title essay alone is an inventive tour de force worth reading again and again. He puts Franzen in the shade, is easily on par with the latest critical darling (mostly deserved) John Jeremiah Sullivan, and invites comparison with the best of DFW. Buy, and enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
I often find "collected works" irritating, because they feel warmed over: they're full of things I've already read. In this case, no. While I'd read a good amount of what was collected here, the notes on each piece in combination with the pieces I hadn't read made it well worthwhile. The assemblage also made sense, with each piece shedding new light on the others. Worth the price of admission!
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Format: Hardcover
Early on in this gigantic compilation of Lethem's under-the-radar writings, he tells us that he spent 10 years saying yes to almost every invitation to write something for somebody. Thank god that he did say yes, and thank god that he's not too narcissistic to censor the results, but that he is instead proud enough of them to prevent their permanent disappearance. I'll confess at the outset that I love Lethem's sentences so much that I don't really care what he's writing about. If you like his novels, these divergent, highly creative essays will not disappoint.

Lethem generally chooses to write about subjects (authors, novels, genres, cultural margins) that resonate with a 40-something product of the United States, like me. "Tradition and the individual talent" has moved on and dissolved since T.S. Eliot posited it, and Lethem's compendium may be the ultimate update to and rebuttal of that premise, a cultural archaeology and mashup for the present day that doesn't pretend to be eternal. James Brown and Phillip K. Dick finally get to rub elbows and get their due at the cocktail party at the end of the universe, but it's up to the reader to imagine how the party will develop by 2 a.m., when discussion turns to which 24-hour breakfast joint is the best option for a collective relocation, requiring a designated driver. (That driver would be you.)

When I read "The Fortress of Solitude," I was ill-equipped to distinguish between its fiction and Lethem's autobiographical reality. I've spent enough time since digging more deeply to understand that difference now, but to some extent, "The Ecstasy of Influence" can be read as as an episodic treatise written by that novel's partially self-aware narrator.
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Format: Kindle Edition
From Johnathan Lethem, a collection of essays, short fiction, musings, and, apparently, blog posts with a functioning kerygma of the importance of influence. No, not like your uncle with connections in the police, but how stuff - life, art, quasi-art, science, history, politics, and personalities - influences other stuff. Or how those things have influenced Lethem and how, if we follow his lead, that stuff should be influencing us.

I got the book chiefly for the eponymous, and ingenious, essay where Lethem takes a unique (if not entirely original, hoping I don't spoil the surprise) hack at the topic of artistic influence, examining a number of celebrated (and again, not entirely original) works by Nabokov, T.S. Eliot, Bill Shakespeare, and Disney. They're not all as clever as you'd long supposed them to be. Or maybe they are, but clever in way you might not have expected.

There's so much packed into a few pages that it's difficult to choose, but his musings on gift economy vs market economy, inalienability, the bloated American copyright law, and the viability of contemporary culture plate just a slice of what is so wonderful, so resonant, so refreshing, in the essay. He, Lethem, the artist, writes with passion here.

A sample: "...artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust, and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world larger.
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