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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Anthologist Discussion

The Anthologist

by Nicholson Baker

genre: literary fiction

If singing in the loft of his barn to the lines of poetry he loves doesn't get his introduction to an anthology written, then Paul Chowder will do anything short of doing anything to get it done. A presentation board, a white plastic chair by a river, a game of badminton, a gift of beads, these are the tools of procrastination which not only keep him from finishing his work, his one hope of income, but which drive his girlfriend away. As Paul rambles through his random thoughts on poetry, he reveals his absolute love affair with it and makes some self-discoveries along the way.

How many books of this kind are out there. The self-deprecating, unmotivated, down on his luck guy or girl who walks through a little fire and finds a bit of himself on the other side? Probably enough to fill a semi trailer, no, many many semi trailers. And yet, I truly enjoyed this one. Of course, he appeals to the poet in me with his constant adoration of poets and poetry and words. His knowledge and total gaga attitude completely endeared his character to me. But I liked the oscillation between ecstatic displays of wordy love and the utter mundane of cutting his finger or walking his dog.

Given the character's love of words, the author has required he use that kind of language which should live up to literary prowess. I think he succeeds where very many have failed. Phrases such as "kicked in the spleen by the mediocrity of my own short sentence" or "Their eyelids, which droop and have skin tags on them, like tiny pennants age has hoisted". In the grand scheme of things, the novel mostly rambles like a free association exercise. Which I thought was rather ironic given that writers, poets perhaps more so, take their word choice very seriously. Every word or phrase is vetted carefully and edited and edited to a polished gem. Paul on the other hand, just wanders aimlessly. But it works. It is the scattered thoughts of someone trying to accomplish something they haven't got the will to do.

In the end, the idea of happy endings comes in an altered state, wherein the hero may not get exactly what he wants, but in the words of two other poets, "you might find, you get what you need". The book itself, though skimming a line of near plotlessness, shines through shedding natural light on a world often shrouded in pretentiousness. And that is what I love best about it.