What a great Presidents’ Day! I read a whole book.
“The Anthologist” by Nicholson Baker is my first fiction title from this year’s American Library Association Notable Books list. I had to set aside for the moment that I didn’t think much of Baker’s earlier writing about the practices of libraries as they weed their collections.
This is my first Baker novel, and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s the story of Paul Chowder, a poet and poetry anthologist. As the story opens, Chowder’s experiencing writer’s block regarding an introduction to an anthology he’s chosen of poems that rhyme. The woman he loves has just moved out. He’s in debt. Frankly, he’s pathetic.
In one of my favorite scenes, Chowder joins his neighbors in a game of badminton. He isn’t especially good. His dog (Smacko–an all-time great dog name) keeps running after the shuttlecock and leaving it dripping with saliva. When Chowder bends over to pick it up, he gets a nosebleed. Nobody is especially sad when he decides to go back home. Pathetic. Perfectly pathetic, in that nothing is over the top but he’s just unappealing.
The novel is written largely as stream-of-conscious, Chowder reflecting on the rhyme and rhythm of poetry, of the writing of poetry, of his relationship to other poets, and of the teaching of poetry. Really, not all that much actually happens, but plenty is happening internally.
Yes, Nebraska’s own Ted Kooser is mentioned a few times.
I had to let go of the idea that this book would move quickly and directly in a particular direction. Instead, I just slowed down and enjoyed Chowder. I find language fascinating, and didn’t mind his reflections. I loved his lines of thought about babies finding words, about the ladder of poets, about rests in the poems. I was a little startled at the end to see how things wrapped up, but even so, appreciated the hopeful note. I was sorry to realize that I’d reached the end.
So I’m going to recommend this one to those who enjoy a clever well-written story, and to every word geek I know…and I’m happy to say that know a few!