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The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – October 2, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“I love this book. . . . Less of a collection than a collage, a cut-and-paste self-portrait in which we see Lethem as he sees himself. . . . A book about a big idea.” —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Begins with this idea of writer-as-magpie and takes it on a communitarian-artistic romp. . . . It’s a grand performance. . . . And delivered with a wink.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Like almost everything Lethem has written, The Ecstasy of Influence is a reflection of, and a pixilated homage to, those whose work he fetishizes. If this book has a thesis, it’s this: For an artist, influence is everything.” —The New York Times
“[An] exuberant whiz-bang of an essay collection.” —The Daily Beast
“Hefty and remarkable. . . . Dominating all is Lethem’s prime concern always: the novel. . . . More exciting than any of his interesting-to-terrific fiction.” —Robert Christgau, The New York Times Book Review

“[Lethem is] as sharp a critic as he is a novelist. This collection shows you why.” —Austin American-Statesman
“Lethem takes a boldly different tack on the matter of mentors, gurus, fathers, shapers and sources. . . . He not only acknowledges his literary and psychological progenitors; he insists upon them, celebrates them, and invites the reader to join in an exhilarating if sometimes baffling deconstruction of the very idea of influence.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Lethem’s inspired miscellany is ardent and charming. . . . His essays are zippy and freewheeling.”—Chicago Tribune
“Sharp and funny.” —The Plain Dealer
“Frank and boisterous. . . . 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
“This impassioned, voluble book is illuminating about much more than its author.”—The Independent (London)
The Ecstasy of Influence is in part an attempt to discuss the things artists and writers rarely talk about—how much of their work is borrowed from other artists and how much they care about their critical reputations, among other things.” —Salon
“Smart and rollicking. . . . Brilliantly dissect[s] the various sulks, funks, and paranoias of being a writer who moans about doing writerly things—not least among them writing itself.” —The Millions
“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.” —National Post (Canada)
“The author invites us into the ecstasy of intertextuality, to the intertwining of thousands of words with ourselves.”—PopMatters
"The arguments implicit in his novels are not merely explicit here, but deliriously so, ecstatically so, as if the author is shaking you by the shoulders to show you what he loves, why he loves it and why you should love it, too.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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.. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Lethem has also published his stories and essays in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and The New York Times, among others.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307744507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307744500
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #702,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger.

He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine.

His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's and many other periodicals.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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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