The Anthologist by Nicholas Baker

Books for me are like shiny things. I have book-seeking eyes, and if there are books in a room, I must see them. I scrutinize bookshelves, I invade deskspaces, I go the long way around just because I know there might be books about. That’s how I got this book. See, in the same vein, libraries are like candystores, owned by someone so rich and kindhearted that he just wants to spread the joy of dark chocolate, and never makes you pay. You can’t enter a place like that and not sample the goods, you know?

My library has a great big bookshelf facing out right next to the check out desk, which is right inside the door. So when I enter the library, that’s immediately where my eyes go. And there is ALWAYS something there. That’s how I found books like The History of Love and Girl in Translation, which are both on my recommendations list. And it’s where I found this book.

The Anthologist is about a sort of down-and-out, but not completely unknown, poet putting together an anthology of rhyming poetry, and struggling to write the introduction to it. And it’s generating an entire mess of problems for him, and he wants to finish it but at the same time he sort of doesn’t.

This is a novel, but it’s also trying very hard to inform us about poetry, meter, and history. The narrator/poet, Paul, really does live and breathe poetry. He thinks of everything in terms of rhyme, foot, rhythm, line. More than once he’ll be doing something (and telling us he’s doing it, because this is basically composed in stream-of-consciousness style) and it will remind him of something and he’ll go off on a tangent for several pages, oftentimes about certain poems or lines (he despises iambic pentameter but adores the four-beat line) or poets (he loves Roethke, Louis Bogan, and the weekend fling they had way back when, but thinks that “poetry is still recovering from Swinburne”). And regarding all the legitness poetic stuff- I had a vague understanding of it, but you really don’t need to ‘get’ poetry to enjoy this book. I appreciated his enthusiasm, because he seemed to want very genuinely to pass on what he knew, especially about rhyme itself.

One of the reasons I liked it, I think, is because it’s stream-of-consciousness, and his mind works exactly the same way mine does. Except that, if it’s possible, he probably has a greater attention span. I’m having difficulty thinking back and processing exactly how this review should look.

Ah, I remember. So one of the things about the protagonist is that he’s very HONEST, and he doesn’t talk about himself much, but he talks about the people that he knows, and you get a good impression of…. anyway. He doesn’t TRY to be likeable. He IS, but that’s mostly because he’s sad and pathetic and we feel sorry for him. He’s aware that he’s sad and pathetic, but he doesn’t think that he’s as sad or pathetic (or mentally ill) as it takes to become a famous poet, so he has very real expectations as to his own immortality. It reminds me of another book I read, I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak, because that one actually began by convincing you that the main character was nothing special. And then ended by reminding you that he was nothing special. And throughout the novel, it holds true, that his is nothing special. And that’s how this book feels.

In other words, you know how novels are always written by the amazing ones? “History is written by the winners,” as they say? (Not completely applicable, but it sounds similar, so I’m using it.) And it’s because the amazing ones make the interesting stories. Well, these two books- but especially this one, because it’s the one that I’m writing the review about- take that concept and tip it on its head.

It reminded me of one other book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was narrated by an autistic boy who was attempting to solve a crime. It was actually quite a lot like this one; the boy (young adult, whatever) was trying to accomplish something, and he would go off on quite a lot of tangents about math.

That realization led me to wonder if possibly Paul was a bit autistic. Mildly so, like a friend of mine, where you wouldn’t really realize it unless you gave it specific thought. Which I did. It still seems plausible, you know.

Anyway. I can’t give a rating, I’m bad with numbers. And organization. I am not so organized. I will say that I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but not enough to put it on my rec list (which by the way can be found over at the side of the page, it’s fairly self-explanatory). There were several places where I laughed out loud, and I found the SoC narration unusual and refreshing. It seemed like exactly the way a poet would write a novel, if pressed. He spent the entire time testing his limits and questioning the rules of prose. Also, he made up words. A lot. Very descriptive words. The sorts of words I’m tempted to make up on occasion, and on occasion do.

I liked it. I have my next book sitting on the table beside my chair, where it’s been since I got it from the library, which I did at the same time as I got this one (shiny things, I tell you). The really sad part is that I went in to RETURN a book, with no real intention of checking one out, and it only took me about two minutes to choose these two books. Roughly the amount of time it took my brother to park the car. At least he wasn’t impatient.

Also, a wonderful amazing friend of mine has hit upon the way to my heart and mailed me a copy of her favorite book, and that one will definitely be on here within a few weeks. I’m looking forward to it greatly. She was fairly cruel with the excerpts.

And I’ve got a book on hold at my school’s library. Yes, I like to have a nice lineup prepared, and always something to move onto if one fails me (which happens on occasion, it’s tragic but true).

Okay, closing this. I have work to do. You should go look at my rec list and read your way down.

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Published in: on October 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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