cover image Final Fridays: Essays, Lectures, Tributes & Other Non-Fiction, 1995-2012

Final Fridays: Essays, Lectures, Tributes & Other Non-Fiction, 1995-2012

John Barth. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $25 (256p) ISBN 978-1-58243-756-9

In what the octogenarian Barth (Lost in the Funhouse) warns may be his last collection of nonfiction (and perhaps even his last book), the seminal postmodern novelist engages issues as diverse as colonial American history, Christian exegesis, and the rise of electronic literature. Though Barth's writing is as ebullient and welcoming as ever, his forays into history, science, and religion can seem scattered and amateurish at times (which Barth, to his credit, readily acknowledges). This collection truly shines, however, when Barth focuses on his true passions: the craft of literature and the authors he has spent a lifetime reading, rereading, and admiring. Whether writing about Calvino, Borges, Scheherazade, and Heller, Barth manages to capture the innovation and immediacy of his subject, offering perspectives that give just as much insight into Barth's own work as they do to his subject's. Barth's essays on writing are equally commanding, unsurprising given his long tenure as an instructor at the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Reading his thoughts on the essence of story or the importance of dramaturgy, one feels the comforting authority of a master teacher. Whatever legacy Barth may leave as a novelist, this collection confirms his position as one of the most enthusiastic readers and most important novelist-teachers of 20th-century letters. (May)