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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Anthologist
This is a mischievous piece of work: a non-fictional discourse that is posing as a novel. To have it described as such would perhaps please its author, because Nicholson Baker is known to be a whimsical, self-indulgent person. The Anthologist has a story line, of sorts. It is about Paul Chowder, a minor American poet, who has been contracted by a publisher to compile an...
Published on 18 Aug 2009 by Paul Grainger

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Climbing the molehill
Paul Chowder is a published poet but not famous. He's putting together an anthology of poetry that rhymes - "Only Rhymes" - and he's having trouble writing the 40 page introduction. He's also coming to terms with the fact that he will be known as an anthologist rather than a poet, and his relationship with his girlfriend is breaking down. He might also be having a...
Published on 29 Dec 2011 by Sam Quixote


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Climbing the molehill, 29 Dec 2011
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anthologist (Hardcover)
Paul Chowder is a published poet but not famous. He's putting together an anthology of poetry that rhymes - "Only Rhymes" - and he's having trouble writing the 40 page introduction. He's also coming to terms with the fact that he will be known as an anthologist rather than a poet, and his relationship with his girlfriend is breaking down. He might also be having a breakdown. But he's going to let us readers into his world of poetry where he will tell us about poetry and the lives of the poets while he tries to reach his goals.

This is not a dramatic book. It doesn't have a plot or strong characters, and nothing much really happens. It sounds academic and in a way it is - you will learn things about poetry as you read - but it's written in a very chatty way so it's easy to read. That said, the only thing the book really hooked me on was the way the narrator spoke about the famous poets. We get insights into the lives of Poe, Longfellow, and a whole host of poets, as the well-read Chowder pontificates on their lives and work.

What's not so great to read is everything else. Chowder's home life is very ordinary and his "crisis" with his relationship is very ordinary - she's asking for a break, some time away, but in the end they get back together. His "crisis" over the poetry introduction is ongoing until the end when he writes it. So in effect, there are a lot of mountainous molehills that make up the bulk of the book.

I like Nicholson Baker's attempts at poetry - "Today the clouds have been sprayed on the sky with a number 63 narrow-gauge titanium sprayer tip" (p.138) - and overall Chowder is a genial, amiable narrator whom you want to succeed. It's just that when you finish you wonder what it was all about - a poet struggling to write an introduction to a poetry anthology: this counts? Strange what gets published and what gets read, isn't it? Baker's latest "House of Holes" is a much more interesting book I'd point readers to. If, like me, there's limited choice in reading material, "The Anthologist" is your choice in a "that'll do, pig" kind of way.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Anthologist, 18 Aug 2009
By 
Paul Grainger (Lincoln, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
This is a mischievous piece of work: a non-fictional discourse that is posing as a novel. To have it described as such would perhaps please its author, because Nicholson Baker is known to be a whimsical, self-indulgent person. The Anthologist has a story line, of sorts. It is about Paul Chowder, a minor American poet, who has been contracted by a publisher to compile an anthology of rhymed verse. But Paul has a couple of problems: One, he is also required to write an introduction of some forty pages and finds he has writer's block; two, his long term girl friend Roz, frustrated with his lack of progress with the assignment, decides to leave him. He believes that only when he completes the job will she return to him. What follows is a poetry workshop in fictional form, in which Baker ruminates on what makes a poem, and a narrative comprised of vignettes of characters around him. These include his editor, a couple of fellow-writers (who may be merely a figment of his imagination) and a neighbour for whom he does odd jobs. The combination of these aspects makes for a fascinating read. Baker's views on the English Romantics and American modernist poets are both informative and entertaining. As the novel draws to its end the reader will realise that Paul Chowder has delivered his introduction, though rather being the intended forty pages it is virtually the length of the novel being read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars He had me from the very first line, 21 Oct 2013
By 
S. Shamma "Suad" (Abu Dhabi, UAE) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
Before I begin reviewing this book I will say this, there is no doubt about it, Nicholson Baker is a brilliant writer.

The book pulled me in from the very first line, I was hooked. I even got my pencil out and started underlining parts that I enjoyed reading or lines that I found memorable. I am not usually a huge fan of poetry, and to be completely honest, the last time I engaged myself this deeply in the study of poetry was back when I was doing my IGCSE's.

As far as the plot and story goes, it's quite ordinary. Paul Chowder is a published poet, but he is not famous. He has been asked to compile an anthology of poetry that rhymes, and to write a 40 page introduction. But Paul has a problem, he can't seem to write this introduction. Paul has writer's block. Scratch that, Paul has two problems. Paul's girlfriend Roz left him, mainly due to his inadequacy in writing this introduction.

So we spend this time intimately getting to know Paul and his many eccentricities, while he educates us on poets and the art of poetry.

There is absolutely nothing exciting happening, in fact, it comes off as very academic but written in a very personable way. I enjoyed reading this book until about three-quarters of the way through, where I felt it began to drag. My favourite parts however were when he would go on about a certain poet, and when he would create scenarios that involved him and several dead poets - such as Poe.

Overall, what this book is, is a really good, well-written study in poetry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best 'essay' on poetry I've ever read., 14 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
If you're a novel junkie who has more or less neglected poetry since University, this book will get you back in the groove. The narrator, Paul Chowder, is intimately engaged in poetry and poetics and peppers his rambling soliloquay with very entertaining facts and observations about poems and the folk who write them.

Otherwise, Paul is a hilariously infuriating, self-effacing ditherer, whose inability to get stuff done and knack of undermining himself at every turn is genuinely laugh out loud funny (I made a complete fool of myself in a café the other day reading this book).

On the strength of this book, Nicholson Baker is one hell of a writer. His language is beautifully precise, both rich and sparing, and the subtle structuring of links between Paul's day-to-day inadequacies and observations and his thoughts on poetry, language and rhyme are quite marvellously executed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, 30 Dec 2010
By 
Ransen Owen (Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
This inoffensive book grabbed me strangely as I went further into it.

I learned some things about poetry,

The love story is in the style of Mr. Baker, sad and quiet.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars if you teach poetry, this'll help, 26 Sep 2010
This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
I'm going to keep this short:
if you have any interest in poetry at all, this is a beautiful book.

I teach poetry to GCSE students on a daily basis, and this book made me think more deeply about poetic technique than any number of academic tracts. As thinly-disguised poetry lectures go, it's a beaut, and I'll certainly never trot out my own 'certainties' about iambic pentameter with quite such naive abandon again!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 12 Jan 2010
By 
J. Perkins - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anthologist (Hardcover)
Both my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure whether it was 'for me' for the first two or three pages (my husband loved it from the start) but soon found myself hooked. The narrator is an endearing mix of the erudite and mundane. His description of avoiding settling down actually to write those first lines is very funny and will ring true with anyone who has ever had to write anything, even a simple school essay. It is one of the few books which I wish to read again and it has rekindled my passion for poetry.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why does this novel irritate me so much?, 10 Oct 2010
By 
M. READ (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
Since I've given it three stars, I don't think it's that bad: it's amusing, thought-provoking, and it's about poetry. But it's so smug. Yes, I know it's fiction, and the narrator isn't Baker; I played with the notion that Paul Chowder was a Nabokovian self-deluder. Unfortunately, I don't think so; we are meant to find his cluelessness charming.

And really, it is this desire to charm the reader that for me is the novel's undoing: I think his girlfriend had the right idea! Baker is a very seductive writer--'Vox' and 'U and I' I find among the most purely pleasurable contemporary books I've read. Here he's just trying a bit too hard to be liked.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A funny and surprisingly insightful read, 30 Sep 2010
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
Last week, Nicholson Baker's new book The Anthologist came my way and has managed to get me interested in poetry again - and one or two poetry books are back on my bedside table. I'm not alone in finding that The Anthologist has this effect - The Guardian books blog had a similar experience and described this book as "an elegant and surprisingly emotional book; one of the finest of the year"

Nicholson Baker is a interesting author. He writes slightly quirky novels like The Anthologist, or A Box of Matches, but was also responsible for the substantial pacifist tract against World War II, Human Smoke. He is a keen evangelist for Wikipedia and has recently published just about the most useful article I have read about the Kindle e-reader, in The New Yorker magazine.

The Anthologist is a strange book. On the one hand its a first person account by the fictional poet Paul Chowder of a period of his life in which he was charged with writing the introduction to a new poetry anthology. Paul describes his approach to poetry and spends quite a bit of time discussing poetic forms, great poets of the past and their lives and why some poems "work" and others don't. But mixed in with this is a personal story of how Paul has lost his girlfriend Roz. She seems to have given up on him, finally finding his chaotic and disorganised approach to life just too difficult to deal with. Paul misses her greatly and throughout the book launches various half-baked schemes to win her back.

The remarkable thing from the reader's perspective is how Paul's personal difficulties impact on what he says about poetry, and in a way, almost form a new poem about the inner life of a middle aged man going through a difficult time. The book is very funny, for we get highly involved with the minutiae of Paul's life - we hear about the de-fleaing of a dog, the making of a bead necklace as a gift to Roz, the practical difficulties of laying a wooden floor and the best way to pick blueberries while on a walk.

I found this a beguiling read. There was something about it which showed that in the midst of immense difficulties, the small details of life can carry you through. The buying of a loaf of good bread with some olives and taking time to savour them can do you good. Going to bed surrounded by books - "I never make the bed - its like a stew of books. The bed is the liquid medium. Its a Campbells Chunky Soup of books". Or going out to the garden at midnight to sit in a chair and listen to the night. Baker's writing has the Zen-like quality which brings you to a halt in your hurried life and says "take your time" - a quality which must be essential if you're going to make any sense out of a new poem.

I understand that its worth getting hold of the audio book of The Anthologist because the author reads it himself.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Educational and enjoyable, 9 Jan 2010
By 
Mingo Bingo "Mingobingo" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Anthologist (Paperback)
Nicholson Baker has an admirable ability to take complex ideas and universal themes and present them in a very simple and honest manner, so that as a reader you acknowledge them, as if you already knew them. It is only later, looking back at the book, that you become aware of what he has done.

He infuses everything he writes with a genuine warmth, a real sense of humanity. He can take something personal and intimate and allow the reader to look into situations and he imbues them with such delicacy and truth that it stops you feeling voyeristic. It is a very particular gift and one that he uses with great effect.

He normally employs this skill in looking into the seedier side of human nature; phone sex in Vox or sexual voyerism in The Fermata, but The Anthologist is an altogether softer subject matter.

Paul Chowder is a down and out poet. His work occasionally gets published but he is worried that he is destined to be remembered only as a compiler of and commentator on other people's work.

He is struggling to put together an introduction to an anthology of poetry that he has been commissioned to write by his editor and his writer's block has spilled out into his life. His girlfriend Roz has left him due to his inability to work, and has moved out of the house until he sorts himself out; which seems unlikely in the near future because of his crippling fear that he is unworthy of commenting on the great poets that came before him. He labours under the suspicion that the trivial concerns of the twenty-first century are incapable of creating enough passion in him to allow him to produce something of real timeless importance.

Instead he mows the lawn, plays badminton with his neighbours, paints a friend's house and riffs on the place of poetry in society. These musings, which jump back and forth from Victorian poetry to the modern greats like Roethke, and in doing so present poetry as something accidentally fundamental to our lives, form the basis of a really succinct definition of poetry. That it is something that we all innately understand and accept without really questioning why.

The book has some amazing observations and gave me some real moments of clarity on a subject on which I knew little.

I love this, "What is poetry? Poetry is prose in slow motion."

In a similar way to Jostein Gaarder's `Sophie's World' educated you on philosophy whilst still providing a solid and totally readable narrative, The Anthologist teaches you about poetry without preaching or lecturing and the fact that I suspect that Paul Chowder's views are Nicholoson Baker's makes it even more charming.
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The Anthologist
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (Paperback - 5 Aug 2010)
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