The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

The Anthologist
256 pages; Simon & Schuster
Paul Chowder, the title character of Nicholson Baker's comic novel The Anthologist, is a poet who's lost his confidence, his èlan, and his girlfriend. Roz just can't handle any more of Chowder's ennui. He's stalled, trying to write an introduction to the anthology he's edited; the project has somehow come to represent all that's wrong with his life and career, and he can't seem to begin. Instead he rearranges his study, drags his chair out onto the lawn, worries about how to get Roz to come back, and—lucky for us!—thinks about what he'd write if he could just find the heart. The Anthologist is a slyly intelligent rant about the crazy paradoxes of artistic careerism, and a casual and hilarious series of lessons on poetry. Here's Chowder on the rhythm of birds: "Chirtle—chirtle, chirtle. It's like some kind of wigged-out aimless Gregorian chant.... And then: Chirtle chirtle chirt? Questioning... It's a primitive meter. But we obviously respond to it. When I hear that chirping, I know the world is starting up. And that I better get something done that day, or I will have failed once again. As I have failed today." Chowder struggles his way toward restoring art and love in his life, and Baker's comic brio and high-energy pace make his lurching progress a winning pleasure.
— Mark Doty