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Letters Hardcover – October 8, 1979

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barth's chimerical epistolary 1979 novel includes a new foreword by the author.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"A work of genius." -- New York Times Book Review

"A landmark!... A prodigious and quite remarkable achievement." -- Washington Post Book World

"A testament to Barth's tremendous talent and wit.... A treasure for those who delight in Barth's dazzling and unparalleled ingenuity." -- Publishers Weekly

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 772 pages
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons; 1st edition (October 8, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039912425X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399124259
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #725,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Heavy Theta on February 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
I never heard of any epistelary novels until I read this one. Imagine a book consisting of letters amongst the diverse characters from the author's other novels. Technically, we are advised, it is not essential to have read these other books in advance, but for all intents it would seem a moderately strong expectation.
It helps that the books that one must read, Barth's early masterpieces, are of such genius as to take up a whole corner of the best of modern literature showcase. And if you are lucky enough to have stumbled onto Letters after already working through all the rest, than you can bask in the glow of the misconception that you are amongst some lucky few whose devotion to the writer has earned unexpected reward.
For this is a truely stunning piece of work, more elaborate than Vlad's Pale Fire, and more satisfying than anything this side of Pynchon. At his best, Barth had few peers.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1996
Format: Paperback
I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations.

John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years.
A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty .

Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...).

Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story.
But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on September 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Letter writing is, for the most part, a lost art. In these days of e-mail and text messaging and instant messaging and cell phones, all communication has sped up to the point where we're just dashing off spurts of words to each other, dashing off the thoughts and leaving before we really have any time to ponder over what we wrote. This isn't a new thing, as technology has improved over the years, it's not necessary any more to put pen to paper to share your thoughts with someone. And yet, at the same time, it's fundamentally different than any other form of communication that we have. It's not so much the method as the process, the act of sitting there in front of the blank sheet of paper and organizing yourself, getting down everything you need to say and saying it just so, because you're not going to get an instant response. And then getting the response and poring over it, figuring out how to reply and add and expand. In this fast paced world, we don't really take the time anymore and being born after the heyday of letter writing (whenever that was, I know it's not now), I miss that. There's an intimacy to it that other forms don't have, that's different somehow.

John Barth, being a writer, understands that, and in this novel he brings back that art for a brief time, with fictional characters. Basically, he takes several people from his early novels and has them all starting to write to each other, and to him, their letters and experiences directing the plot. And what starts out as what could be a too-cute literary trick winds up being extremely revealing, as the characters pour themselves into the letters, regardless of whom they're writing to, as the plot skips and slips through time.
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