Autobiography of Red
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Autobiography of Red (Cape Poetry)

4.39 of 5 stars 4.39  ·  rating details  ·  4,969 ratings  ·  547 reviews
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
National book Critics Circle Award Finalist

"Anne Carson is, for me, the most exciting poet writing in English today."--Michael Ondaatje

"This book is amazing--I haven't discovered any writing in years so marvelously disturbing." --Alice Munro


The award-winning poet Anne Carson reinvents a genre in Autobiography of Red, a stunning wo...more
Paperback, 149 pages
Published July 27th 1999 by Vintage (first published March 31st 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mariel
Jan 31, 2013 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: gaiety transfiguring all that dread
Recommended to Mariel by: Miriam
What do they think about? Floating in there. All night.
Nothing.
That's impossible.
Why?
You can't be alive and think about nothing. You can't but you're not a whale.
Why would it be different?
Why should it be the same? But I look in their eyes and I see them thinking.
Nonsense. It is yourself you see- it's guilt.
Guilt? Why would I be guilty about whales? Not my fault they're in a tank.
Exactly. So why are you guilty- whose tank are you in?


Australian goodreader Sean (account since nuked, sadly) wrote...more
Jessica
I read this book when I was about twenty, and it was the greatest thing that I'd ever read. Then I purposely avoided rereading it for over a decade after that, terrified that it couldn't be as incredible as I remembered.

So recently I did have to reread it, for school. And no, it didn't do to me what it did the first time that I read it, and it no longer seems light years greater than any other book in human history. HOWEVER, it is still really great and one of my all-time favorites, and I'd reco...more
Laurie Neighbors
Oh, you should read this book. It's smart and sweet and tender and original. It's erotic, but just under your skin. It's a novel in verse, but don't let that deter you. You can pick it up off the shelf and settle into a big armchair in the bookstore and read the whole thing for free in an hour (even relishing and re-reading parts). But then you'll probably want to buy it anyway so that you can take it home and sleep with it under your pillow for the rest of your life.
Andrew Tibbetts
Jul 12, 2007 Andrew Tibbetts rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Any fan of creative literature
Shelves: canadian
This novel was written for me, it feels. It has the perfect blend of funny and sad, raw and elegant, intellectual and sensual. It blew my mind when I read it. And it's the one of only two books I've re-read several times (Great Expectations being the other.)

There are some clever metafictional framing sections which come at the material from historical and literary angles, but the central section, the heart of the book, is the story, the novel in verse.

"Verse" in Anne Carson isn't strident metri...more
Miriam
Jun 09, 2010 Miriam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: synesthetes
Recommended to Miriam by: Ceridwen Christensen
Shelves: poetry, mythology
Seldom have I seen a writer so maximize the balance between raw, grated, difficult, emotional pain and beautiful words that make me want to clutch them to my bosom and squeeze them with delight while making burbling noises of pleasure.
Pewterbreath
Not in a long time have I obsessively read anything, just to want to obsessively re-read it all in one fell swoop. There's two parts to this book: first is the meta-writing bit--poem fragments and the like from the original Hercules myth, a writer who goes blind for insulting Helen, and then regains his sight again for rescinding his comment (how very political) and the like. This part is good (not great--just good).

It's the story itself that is absolutely wonderful. Anne Carson is good at many...more
Jeff Jackson
This was surprisingly engaging, emotional, and compulsively plot-driven. I've found other Carson texts occasionally too knotty and the first 20 pages made it seem like this was more of the same. But the importance of the set-up soon becomes clear and gives way to a poetically charged and compelling coming-of-age story that seamlessly mixes modern life with Greek legend. There are lots of wonderful reviews for this, so the only thing I'll add is that if you've been hesitating DON'T BE DAUNTED. Ta...more
Kathryn
I liked this very much. The entire work is perfection, with the exception of the evasive ending. The awe I felt while reading was lessened due to this, which makes me very sad as this is a beautiful and heartwrenching book. I really wish it had ended with a stronger conclusion.

This book managed to smack against my ick wall pretty early. Umm, yeah, I am so not qualified to write a review or anything resembling a review about this book.

I found the book accessible yet distant, dreamy but familiar...more
Msmurphybylaw
Most people who know me through work or socially find my cynicism biting yet funny. I get compliments often on my wit, though it is dark and sharp. I'm surprised when people tell me that I'm quite entertaining, because I tend withdrawal and am generally introverted. I have psychological test to back this up. I am forever the INTJ. Sometimes bordering on the J, but never the I.
This review contains, what may seem an infinite narcissistic hall of mirrors, reflecting Fibonacci images of big ol' Al,...more
Aidan Watson-Morris
this is one of the wider books i've read. i mean that literally. this book, as a physical object, is very wide (not thick). it is almost a square, really. literary analysis!

on the inside, this book is astounding, both in its vivid evocation - carson's ability to do so much with so little - & its propulsive narrative. i wanted a little more from the ending, but it has a pretty obvious influence on everything that came after it.

Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not just keep yellin...more
Patty
It's not often that a book of poems makes my heart pound.
I started reading it before bed on Sunday night. I was EXCITED TO WAKE UP ON MONDAY MORNING because I couldn't wait to get on the subway and continue reading it. On a Monday. Morning. Enough said?
Eric
Jan 06, 2011 Eric rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Eric by: Ceridwen Sparkle Princess
Shelves: poetry, bagatelle
Formally very beautiful, delivers all the pleasures (celerity, compression, wit) I associate with "A Novel in Verse." But I found the story (assuming it can be considered apart from form) wan and Geryon vaguely annoying. Looking forward to Plainwater.
brian
if you no like this book, i no like you
Beth
This book is the perfect combination of story and philosophy. It conveys the immediacy of sensory and emotional experience while simultaneously asking serious intellectual questions about that experience. The main character, Geryon, is a version of a monster from Greek mythology. Carson turns his monstrosity into all that is both beautiful and difficult about being a creative and desiring person.

The main part of the book is the story of a romance between Geryon and Herakles (In Greek mythology H...more
Bina
This hybrid novel / epic poem is one of my favorites. It wreaked havoc on my life, mostly in a good way.

Based on the Greek myth of Herakles (Hercules for all you Romans), it recasts Geryon, the slayed, sheepherding red-winged monster, as a protagonist who also takes form as a gay, socially-marginalized school boy. From the monster's perspective, a story unfolds that is at once disturbing, coruscating, and beautiful.

The way Carson shapes verse awes me, you want to touch her craft, know its conto...more
Ruby
Jun 24, 2008 Ruby rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poets, underdogs, people who have fallen in love with a breeze
This book marks, without an ember of doubt, the first time I've ever felt burned by my lack of education in the classics. I approached this book ready to feel cowed and lost, so I was enthralled when that was not the case.

I understand Geryon intimately, for I, too am a red creature.

From a forgotten notebook of mine:

"On my steady diet of nicotine and coffee, my thoughts grind (like bad teeth) into points. I am a sharp-shaped thing. A needle, an arrow, I cut. I can touch rage: rage that was the o...more
August Smith
I'll be honest, my initial reaction as I began "Autobiography of Red" was a rolling of my eyes. The book opens with a short, informal "essay", which functions as a way of contextualizing the main narrative in the mythological/historical framework of Stesichoros' writing. And while reading this essay, I grew worried that the "novel in verse" was going to be another fragmented postmodern reference-fest; the essay evokes a snarky sense of humor, drops a Baudrillard quote, and talks about how "words...more
Leslie
Allison: So is it, like, an autobiography of the color red?

Me: No, it's the autobiography of this red, winged monster guy who--

Allison: Oh my god, is he a metaphor for menstruation?!

Powells.com
Meet Geryon: sensitive, stupid boy and winged, red monster. This is the story, written in verse, of his flight from an abusive brother and cipher-like mother. It's the story of Geryon coming to love a young man named Herakles, and losing him, then finding consolation in art, behind the lens of a camera. It's the portrait of an artist as winged, red monster coming of age into self-knowledge and acceptance. Both novel and poem, comedic and tragic, Autobiography of Red rewrites Greek myth in the pr...more
Amanda
My favorite college professor recommended this book to me because of how much I loved Gertrude Stein. Stein's influence is clear in the book (She is even quoted in the beginning: "I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do."

What I love about Stein and what I loved about this book was that it makes reading like a mental exercise. It forces the reader to really engage and work to understand everything. It makes reading so much more rewarding. This amazing, pleasura...more
Leanna
Well, I finally finished this. I suppose I find the style intriguing (long lines, short lines)) as well as the concept (red-winged monster-person has his heart broken), but ultimately the book didn't do much for me. I know this book is much loved by many friends of mine, so I do kind of have that "what am I missing?" feeling.

I guess here is why I didn't like it that much--what's the point of all that framing stuff in the introduction? And, more importantly, I found the love story very ordinary-...more
Ariel
I had to read this book a few times before I fully understood it, but I mean that in the best way possible. I first read it as I would any other piece of fiction, after which I appreciated it as such. The second time, I examined the poetic elements, and this surprisingly added more depth to my basic understanding of the story. Now, when I read it, I notice different connections woven throughout the book, and I'm still finding new philosophical references. It's wonderful how new details keep appe...more
Mike
A return to life as the semester winds down. This is an incredible book that weaves the ancient and the modern together: a series of poetic fragments and shards strung together to make a novel that is at times humorous and other times poignant. It speaks of volcanoes, the color red, thought, time, sensation (specifically sight and sound) and representation (whether notes, photographs, or recordings). My favorite sentences were:

"We are neighbors of fire."

"I am a philosopher of sandwiches."

"Like t...more
Alan
Whether this book is poetry or not, is of no interest to me. My reactions upon finishing were: slapdash, sloppy, pretentious, and a waste of time. Then I read some reviews and wondered how in the world this book gained such positive reviews, or for that matter even a publisher. Reading an article about the author in New York Times magazine several months ago helped me understand why I reacted so negatively. I suspect the author has spent too much of her life somewhere between her lifelong ancien...more
Alexander
I read this about once a year, mostly because I teach it. But also because I love Geryon, the main character, perhaps the best of any fictional character I can think of.
Eve
Completely non-linear work of genius. Loved the small red winged monster Geryon.
Bre Cregor
This will only make some, albeit sarcastic, sense, if you have actually read the book:

CLEARING UP
THE QUESTION OF
WHETHER The Autobiography of Red
IS WORTH THE PAPER IT
IS PRINTED ON

1. Either THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED is a good story/poem or it is not.

2. If the book/poem was good, either the goodness of it will enlighten the mind of its reader or it will not.

3. If it is not a book/poem which enlightens the mind of its reader, then there is a reason this is so.

4. If the reason is that the "protagonist...more
Troy
Wow, I read this in one setting. While engulfed in the party culture that is Berlin.

Uh... I mean, really, you should go to someone else to read a synopsis. But this book is rough re-telling of one of Stesichoros' poems, which is a re-telling of one of the "labors" of Herakles. In the common myth, Geryon is a fearsome monster with many heads and hands and wings and all red, and Herakles kills his dog, his friend, and then pops his skull with an arrow. And then steals his cows. Stesichoros tells...more
Dont
A strangely sweet and vexing book. This was given to me years ago by a friend who thought it should be translated into an opera. A curious thought. To describe this book is, in a way, to crash into the wall of having read it. There is a story but, like in many postmodern experimental fiction, the point is language and not the story itself. Carson is known for her poetry and the use of language is gorgeous. The poetic devices sometimes border on modernist (follow the trail of "gold") even as it i...more
Anastasia Hobbet
I've long been an Anne Carson addict but had myself under control for years--until a profile of her appeared in The New York Times a couple of months ago and plunged me back into her weird, tangled, miraculous world. I first read this...novel--or maybe novel in verse is more accurate--shortly after it came out, but began anew, experiencing her dark and powerful undertow all over again. Stronger this time.

Autobiography of Red is a retelling of a Stesichorus poem (he lived 640 – 555 BC) about Hera...more
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Endicott Mythic F...: Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse - Discussion 12 55 May 08, 2013 08:26PM  
Review of "Autobiography of Red" 1 18 Apr 16, 2013 07:23PM  
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A professor of the classics, with background in classical languages, comparative literature, anthropology, history, and commercial art, Carson blends ideas and themes from many fields in her writing. She frequently references, modernizes, and translates Ancient Greek literature. She has published fifteen books as of 2010, all of which blend the forms of poetry, essay, prose, criticism, translation...more
More about Anne Carson...
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos Glass, Irony and God Nox Eros the Bittersweet Plainwater: Essays and Poetry

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“Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do.” 75 likes
“Desire is no light thing.” 40 likes
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