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on 29 December 2011
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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on 18 August 2009
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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on 21 October 2013
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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on 17 May 2015
I have always avoided Nicholson Baker: reviews just made him sound too damn prissily clever clever for my liking. But I picked up the sequel to the Anthologist, in, aptly, Switzerland, and on discovering it was a sequel had to then order the first book in the Chowder saga. And it turned out to be great fun, especially if you are around the same age as the writer - some of the references made me laugh out loud just by themselves - and love poetry. Chowder is great company, a little bit irritating in the way some people you're fond of can be, and the writing is deliciously comic, skating along with blithe brilliance, its clever-cleverness cleverly deflected on to the character of the narrator. I loved it, and can now immediately leap into its sequel.
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on 17 November 2015
We ordered this as it was mentioned as very funny in a review of the Author's books in the Saturday paper… and the reviews on Amazon seemed intriguing. Sadly, it is not, in my husband's opinion (and he has a degree in English, for what that's worth..) funny at all….
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on 14 October 2013
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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on 12 January 2010
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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on 26 September 2010
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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on 30 December 2010
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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VINE VOICEon 9 January 2010
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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