From Out of Nowhere: 8.2

Author Empathy: 10
Characterization: 6
Didacticism: 8
Catharsis: 8
Sophistication: 9

David Orr? Who is this guy? He’s a staff writer at the NYT and I’ve never heard of him, even by the type of proxy wherein my friends mention NYT writers and I pretend to know them. Based on this first article I came upon by him, however, he is an excellent reviewer!
Ohh, now I see why I haven’t heard of him. David Orr is the poetry columnist for the NYT Book Review. (I dare you to tell me an image involving corduroy, flannel, and dark rimmed glasses didn’t just pop into your head.) Talk about wee readership. It is because Orr scored access to the Novel review section that more folks than average were able to glimpse him in the first week of September, 09. Here he reviews “The Anthologist” by Nicholson Baker.

In my case I found the review via a Google news timeline search for “Meghan Fox” (still work to be done, Google). I was at first disappointed and utterly baffled that Angelina Jolie’s twenties, redux, was mentioned nowhere in this review of a novel about a frustrated poet working on the introduction to a poetry anthology. I quickly found fuel to propel further reading: The best case scenario for a novel about poetry, Orr offers after some playful chops-displaying, focuses on “on the perilous effects of buried alien spacecraft.” I agree David, boy howdy do I agree.

After offering us a dutiful summary of the book’s plot-that-nobody-would-read-it-for, Orr both speaks for the work and lets it speak for itself. This reviewer does a flawless job of defying common expectations of highly literate writers writing on high literature and presents samples that are 100% what he says they are.

As the review wraps up, Orr levies criticism that I think not many people could. He attacks Baker’s superficial rendering of poetic culture as lacking breadth and idiosyncrasy. It’s classily done though, because it comes after heaps of praise and is backed up with specific reasons why Baker is off the mark. We are reminded that Orr knows the poetry world to an extent that would horrify normal minds yet his mind still seems pretty cool. By this point, because of Orr’s deft pen, I believe him for better reason than his extended byline.

But what’s the number one reason to be impressed with David Orr’s review? It actually makes me want to read a novel about a man’s efforts to type an introduction to an anthology of poetry. David Orr is capable of the impossible!

[The Novel’s narrator] can be amiably whimsical (“God I wish I was a canoe”) and then amiably bizarre (“Either that or some kind of tree tumor that could be made into a zebra bowl but isn’t because I’m still on the tree”).
Note my added bolding! A lesser writer would have sought a new word (e.g. cordially, genially, or in the worst case scenario: affably).

While it’s true that Baker charges directly at technical aspects of verse, it’s also the case that these rambling semi-lessons are delivered much in the spirit in which a mildly drunken Penn Jillette might discuss David Blaine’s latest attempt to bury/burn/defenestrate himself.
BECAUSE: I know exactly what he means AND I want to hear that conversation!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Luke!

    I read the article and knowing nothing about poetry (I avoid poetry) Orr's article still made me chuckle (in my head) at certain points. Now I have an image of a dorky, bespectacled man with suede patches on his corduroy jacket being "besieged" by similarly-looking people wearing trekkie ears.