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Halls of Fame: Essays Paperback – April 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An exemplar of the literary movement toward linking the genres of poetry and the essay, D'Agata, a recent University of Iowa nonfiction and poetry MFA graduate, blends both to create an inviting, elliptical puzzle of American life. In seven pieces (which have appeared previously in such journals as Paris Review and Ploughshares), D'Agata examines disparate American subjects that include the revered (Hoover Dam), the unknown (outsider artist Henry Darger) and the merely spectacular (the beam of light at Las Vegas's Luxor Hotel). Most of the lyric essays are structured as journeys, in which the melancholy narrator searches for meaning through others, like the founder of the Flat Earth Society and the Luxor light guide. But he finds their offerings limited and unsatisfactory: they explain different ways the world works but provide little solace. Similarly, "an essay about the ways in which we matter" surveys America's approximately 3,000 Halls of Fame, including the Billiards Hall of Fame and the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame, revealing longing and family discord. Although D'Agata's Hoover Dam essay pays homage to Joan Didion's "At the Dam," and his "Collage History of Art, by Henry Darger" spurs thoughts of Joseph Mitchell's "Joe Gould's Secret," D'Agata eschews the structure of the traditional essay, in which meaning accrues from paragraphs of prose. Instead, he offers a work that can and should be reentered several times from various points to generate effect, whether unsettledness about the world or pleasure at D'Agata's artistry. Like poetry, all of what D'Agata offers takes a while to sink in. (Jan.) Forecast: Blurbed by writers as diverse as Annie Dillard and John Grisham, this book may gain an MFA-school following, in which case mounds of imitators will be leaving lots of white space in their essays attempting to achieve what D'Agata does seemingly without effort. An author reading tour and national advertising will help bring this title to the attention of readers who like to keep up with the cutting edge of literature.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The essay is an endlessly malleable form, and D'Agata, a young writer with stellar credentials, stretches and tweaks it until it is more poetry than prose. Playful and bright, he riffs on the theme of fame with what sounds like irony but which is actually camouflage for a poignancy born of D'Agata's openness to all that he sees and eagerness to decode it. He alternates between quirky lists of wonders of the world, gentle personal musings, and accounts of cross-country jaunts to visit various curiosities, including obscure halls of fame (ventriloquists, drag races), a Nevada town obsessed with aliens, and such odd individuals as the president of the Flat Earth Society. Greek myths engage him deeply, and his cubist word-portrait of Martha Graham is fresh and surprisingly tender. D'Agata also ponders the bizarre creations of Chicago outsider artist Henry Darger and turns a visit to Las Vegas' Luxor Hotel into a meandering inquiry into our animal needs for light and sleep. D'Agata's poetic essays reveal a keen sensibility and promise even finer writings in the future. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555973779
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555973773
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John D'Agata is the author of "Halls of Fame," "About a Mountain," and editor of "The Next American Essay" and "The Lost Origins of the Essay." He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By sam l white on December 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The silly label next to John D'Agata's name on the cover is dead wrong. There's not a lick of "essay" in here!
But you'll be relieved to read in his biography that this extremely young author was trained as a poet at the Iowa Writers Workshop, because no average writer of "creative nonfiction" could manage what D'Agata does with subjects that range from a story about the brightest light in the world to a sperm bank (where he apparently worked as a donor) to a luscious history of how lists of the wonders of the world are made. His appetite for "stuff" seems unquenchable, and his love of language is obvious.
Really this is a 250 page book of poetry. Read it and you'll change your mind about that old fart genre called the essay. Read it aloud and you'll set the next few days of your life to music!
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Philip Taschen on December 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You'll spend some time scratching your head as you read this book, wondering whether it's nonfiction, poetry, journalism, memoir, fantasy or some amalgam of them all.
Then, at about half way through, you'll stop caring, because at this point you'll have reached the book's title section, "Hall of Fame: An Essay About the Ways in Which We Matter," a not entirely unironic meditation on the 3000 some-odd halls of fame in the United States which acts as both investigative journalism into some particular places the author has visited (there's a hall of fame of "Suffleboard" and a "Burlesque" hall of fame, for example) and personal meditation on the author's own family discord that is never quite clearly expressed but instead lingers overhead making all of these journeys into the halls of fame of America a very desperate, lonely, heartbreaking act.
I have no idea if these "halls" are poems (they look like poetry at least) nor what in the book is real and what imagined (there's an interview with the so-called president of the Flat Earth Society, for example) but I think the ambiguity of the book's forms is intentional, and meant to mask--or maybe even illustrate--an uncertainty in the world that this very mournful but simultaneously witty author feels deep in his bones. This is a tremendous book that is going to change the way essays are made from now on.
Or, if these in fact aren't "essays," it will at least change something in American literature.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By margaret love on December 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Warning: This book is not an easy read!
But then again groundbreaking literature never has been...
This is not for those who think that the personal essay is the only kind of essay there is or who think The Liars Club is an exemplar of great nonfiction or that last year's outrageously hyped Dave Eggers is what an experimental nonfiction writer might look like.
This is for those readers who want to be challenged on every level of the reading, whether about the subjects the book treats or the styles it employs or the huge disarming issues it raises about the very nature of genre.
In general, for anyone who wants a glimpse at what essayists a decade from now will be writing, you must definitely read this amazing first book!
And if you get a chance to hear him in person read from this do it! I just heard this dude perform at my friend's school in Massacusetts and it was completely transportaive!
Read it!
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Willy Michaels on January 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There's an essay in this book about an artist whose work I started following a few years ago after I saw an exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum. His name is Henry Darger, a brilliant, reclusive painter who created an entire alternative universe for himself populated by young, blondhaired, nude girls with penises. Yes, Darger was disturbed! So disturbed that when he died he left behind hundreds of paintings each over twelve feet long and a novel of approximately 15,000 typed pages that detailed the lives of the girls featured in his paintings--a body of work he never shared with anyone and which no one ever saw until they entered his one room rented apartment after his death.
Suffice it to say, Henry Darger is now a very popular artist. You can't even get your hands on one of his paintings, let alone afford one! I've even heard that Hollywood has purchased the film rights to Darger's life, and that Leonardo di Caprio, god help us, has been considering playing the artist in the upcoming film!
In this crude rush to cash in on the popularity of Darger, only one telling of his life comes anywhere close to the reality (and absurdity) that best characterizes this artist. John D'Agata's long fragmented essay "Collage History of Art" is not only the best story of this artist's life I've ever read, it's one the greatest art biographies I think that's ever been written about an American painter.
The essay begins: "Pack: something with which to see." And with that we're off on what becomes a guided tour through both the fantastic, dangerous world of Darger's girls--complete with giant plants, winged dragons, and a moon called "Earth"!--as well as through Darger's own life and psyche.
Read more ›
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Nate Kummerow on December 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
...ok, so that's a little over the top, but I'm so in awe of this book that my roommate just got me for x-mas, that I'm already reading for the second time. In a COMPLETELY new voice, D'agata presents a way of writing nonfiction that is so fresh it could be said we haven't seen the likes of it since Anne Carson first appeared in American journals--also seemingly out of nowehere like this John D'agata. He performs literary flips that make you wonder if he's even allowed to do what you're sitting there reading, and yet he pulls it off with grace and aplomb. Mesmerizering!
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