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The Anthologist: A Novel Hardcover – September 8, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Baker's lovely 10th novel, readers are introduced to Paul Chowder, a study in failure, at a very dark time in his life. He has lost the two things that he values most: his girlfriend, Roz, and his ability to write. The looming introduction to an anthology of poems he owes a friend, credit card debt and frequent finger injuries aren't helping either. Chowder narrates in a professorial and often very funny stream of consciousness as he relates his woes and shares his knowledge of poetry, and though a desire to learn about verse will certainly make the novel more accessible and interesting, it isn't a prerequisite to enjoying it. Chowder's interest in poetry extends beyond meter and enjambment; alongside discussions of craft, he explores the often sordid lives of poets (Poe, Tennyson and Rothke are just some of the poets who figuratively and literally haunt Chowder). And when he isn't missing Roz or waxing on poetics, he busies himself with a slow and strangely compelling attempt at cleaning up his office. Baker pulls off an original and touching story, demonstrating his remarkable writing ability while putting it under a microscope. (Sept.)
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From The New Yorker

Paul Chowder is a free-verse poet of some repute who has compiled an anthology titled “Only Rhyme” but can’t manage to bang out the introduction. His struggle has sent his girlfriend, Roz, packing, and we can see why he’s no fun to live with. On the page, though, he’s an erudite, unpretentious, and often hilarious companion who mentions Ludacris in the same line as Kipling, and who compares anthologists to “that blond bitch-goddess on ‘Project Runway.’ ” While Paul’s peregrinations, which recall Baker’s “U and I” but with poetry on the pedestal instead of Updike, are a textbook case of avoidance, they are also an earnest exploration of poetic rhythm and what it has to do with baby talk, music, crossword puzzles—and his longing for Roz. “Only Rhyme” began with Paul’s impulse to collect, but it ends up meaning “Only connect.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416572449
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416572442
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've written thirteen books, plus an art book that I published with my wife, Margaret Brentano. The most recent one is a comic sex novel called House of Holes, which came out in August 2011. Before that, in 2009, there was The Anthologist, about a poet trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhyming verse, and before that was Human Smoke, a book of nonfiction about the beginning of World War II. My first novel, The Mezzanine, about a man riding an escalator at the end of his lunch hour, came out in 1988. I'm a pacifist. Occasionally I write for magazines. I grew up in Rochester, New York and went to Haverford College, where I majored in English. I live in Maine with my family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Bartolo on September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Baker conducts a tour of English-language poetry that barely overlapped the one course I took in college, defining terms and citing examples heretofore unfamiliar, but sifted through the persona of his rambling, engaging narrator. In a way I was Baker's ideal reader for this novel.

I'd appreciated his gift for minute, vivid (poetic?) observations ever since "The Mezzanine," but I feel less squeamish about his nerdiness when it's presented to me in the guise of a fictional narrator. We can condescend to Paul Chowder, a self-absorbed, isolated middle-aged poet, while enjoying his opinions on rhyme, his observations of the world around him and finally being moved by the pain of his separation from the woman known only as Roz. So having just finished the last chapter, I'm eager to find out more about poets Louise Bogan, Charles Simic and James Fenton without first needing an antidote to Baker's prissiness.

At the same time I was impressed with the subtle cues Baker provides to reflect his protagonist's hurt at Roz's departure, cues the import of which even Chowder is unaware. The breezy narrator is made to betray his state of mind through small acts and thoughts, making especially poignant what might be a merely routine plot device. Thus the character becomes fully dimensional.

Baker is masterly in intertwining his fictional narrative with observations on poetry that may, or may not, be strictly his. In fact I'm sure they're not 100% his own, and that gives them a freedom to be simplistic or warped or limited in a way that I'm sure Baker wouldn't have wanted to fly under his own name.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on September 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Here comes a book for those who exult in word play and delight in the beauty of phrases that trip off the tongue.

Here is a volume that savors and celebrates verse as a many splendored thing. Here is a book that zestfully reminds us of the bond between poetry and music: meter, rhythm, cadence. Here is a book that delves into the fleshy history of poetry, especially the counterbalance between rhyme and free verse.

Here is a novel that bursts with vignettes about Alfred Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Mina Loy, Theodore Roethke, Sara Teasdale, Edgar Allen Poe, James Wright, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and so on. In fact, the title character -- the narrator, the protagonist, the anthologist -- is so caught up in poetry and poets that he occasionally indulges in thinking/imagining he's almost rubbed shoulders with one of these deceased greats.

Happily for us who relish full exercise of the creative mind, Nicholson Baker isn't one of those authors who writes the same book again and again. His questing, restless brain treats his readers to a variety of subjects using both fiction and non-fiction. I still have the paperback copy of The Mezzanine I bought years ago, and it is still one of my favorite reads. Now The Anthologist: A Novel, a book I've been eagerly awaiting, has arrived and I'm happy to report it is everything I'd hoped. Baker, the astute observer and prolific sharer of life's minutiae, sets us squarely into the summer of one Paul Chowder, a poet apparently once on the short list for the post of Poet Laureate of the United States.
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Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) The sly humor of the cover, with its luscious plum, sets the tone for this rich, iconoclastic novel about poetry and the writing life. Paul Chowder, the speaker, has achieved modest success by writing "plums...That's what I call a poem that doesn't rhyme." He has just compiled an anthology of poetry, though choosing the poems for the anthology was, for him, "like [being] that blond bitch-goddess on Project Runway," and he must now write the forty-page introduction. His publisher is desperate for it, and Chowder has writer's block.

Regarding himself as "study in failure," Chowder contemplates his life. Roz, his love for the past eight years, has finally had enough of his dithering and has left him; he is in debt; his house needs repairs; and he cannot focus on anything long enough to act. As he thinks about his unwritten introduction, he skitters from perceptive comments about poetry and the creative life to mundane annoyances, juxtaposing unlikely subjects which keep the reader surprised and entertained. In two successive sentences, for example, he remarks that "You have to suffer to be a human being who can help people understand suffering. I have a mouse in my kitchen."

In a voice so "human" he sounds like an alterego for author Nicholson Baker, Chowder demystifies poetry--and plums--making often hilarious comments about the structure of language, the history of poetry, the lives of famous poets, and his own struggles. His free-flowing, not-quite-stream-of-consciousness style allows him to connect contemporary culture (and the reader) with the most serious academic subjects: "Friends," he thinks is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than ninety-nine percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history ever published.
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