The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010

From my TBR pile.  The only other  work I’ve read by Baker is a nonfiction book,  Human Smoke.

Paul Chowder, an  occasionally published poet, is trying to write an introduction to a poetry anthology entitled Only Rhyme.  He’s having trouble.

But every time I actually tried to start writing the introduction, as opposed to just writing notes, I felt straightjacketed.  So I went out and bought a big presentation easel, and a big pad of presentation paper, and a green Sharpie pen, and a red Sharpie pen, and a blue Sharpie pen.  What I thought was that I could practice talking through the introduction as if I were teaching a class.

And in order to be relaxed at the easel, I drank a Newcastle.  Also coffee, so that I would be sharp.  And still I wasn’t sufficiently relaxed, so I drank some Yukon Gold that I found in the liquor cabinet.  No, not Yukon Gold, that’s a potato, Yukon Jack, a kind of Canadian liqueur.  It was delicious.  It added a slight Gaussian blur.  And then some more coffee, so I’d still be sharp.  Blurred, smeared, but sharp.  from page 29.

Paul is adrift, his girlfriend has left him,  at times he is heartsick, at times full of piss and vinegar, and his editor is getting nervous.  Always, his head is filled with poetry, with language, and he talks about it.  A lot.  It made me laugh.  He also talks about the formation of language, stuff I had to spend many hours learning about before working with students with dyslexia.  Just brilliant.

Baby talk, which is full of rhyme, is really the way you learn to figure out what’s like and what’s not like, and what is a discrete word , or an utterence, and what is just a transition between two words.

How does it happen?  Well, it happens gradually, and it happens by matching.  Matching within and matching without.  First you have to learn that a certain feeling in one part of your body, your tongue, matches with a certain feeling in your brain, which is a sound.  A slightly different feeling in your tongue matches with a different sound coming out of your mouth and a different sensation of muscular control registering in your brain.  Each subtle difference of sound feels different.  And this is all very difficult and takes a lot of trial and error and babbling and drooling and lip popping and laughing.  from page 107.

I like poetry.  It is obvious that Nicholson Baker likes poetry.  He has written one of the best books about poetry I have read.  Fiction or nonfiction.  Maybe the best.  He talks about rhythm and meter in ways that are easy to understand, ways that are fun, like a pop song with a great hook.  I don’t think you even have to like poetry to enjoy this novel.  If you don’t, The Anthologist might open up a whole new world for you.

Now I want to go out and read all the fiction the Nicholson Baker has written, maybe even his newest.  His new book is getting lots and lots of press.  I wonder why?

Other reviews:

A Work in Progress

Fizzy Thoughts

Jenny’s Books

Olduvai Reads

Tales from the Reading Room

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13 Comments

Filed under LiteraryFiction, Notable Books, Review

13 responses to “The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

  1. I read this last year and enjoyed it. Not quite as much as the person that recommended it to me, though. I am not a huge poetry fan, so I imagine that was my problem…

  2. I want to read this ,his new book seems very risque ,he is such a varied writer no book follows the previous one which is so different to most modern writers where they hit a style and end up stuck in it ,all the best stu

    • Stu, I think you would like The Anthologist. Baker plays with words, with rhyme and meter. It is great fun. I’m not so sure about reading the new one but I love reading all the different opinions that are out there.

  3. I’ve read three Nicholson Baker books (none of the dirty stuff :p) and liked The Anthologist by far the best. If you read any of his others, I’d be interested to see what you think. I want to love more of his work.

  4. I’ve sort of been curious about Nicholson Baker as he kept turning up in the Book Lover’s Trivial Pursuit game. But the only thing I know of him is that he’s written several saucy books;P So it’s nice to read a different view of his work.

  5. house of holes immediately was added to my tbr list once i read the slate article on it! it sounds like so much fun! i imagine that wasn’t the intent of the review of the anthologist, but it sounds like such a strange new fun book.

    • House of Holes sounds odd and over the top but I too loved the Salon review. I’d love to know Baker’s take on all the different reviews!

  6. I read Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine years ago and just loved it! It cracked me up. It is a short book and the “topic” is one man’s thoughts during his lunch hour. Reading this review makes me want to check out this book … and I’d highly recommend The Mezzanine if you want to keep checking out Baker’s work.

  7. I really enjoyed this book; and I agree that it teaches poetry better than many manuals! I’d recommend it to people studying poetry just for that reason, but I also found it a lot of fun to read. Like Jenny, this is my favourite of any of Baker’s books.

  8. I absolutely adored this book, on the writing level, on a poetic level, just got swept up in his life, in my post on this I said -If you love poetry, you will love this book, no prevarication, You Will Love This Book. If poetry was a joy, a love that you put aside as childish whimsy, this will re-introduce you to that love, will spark a curiosity, that will combust to no mere bonfire in your heart. Have also read Vox a totally different book, yet I still enjoyed. glad to meet another fan of poetry.

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