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Halls of Fame: Essays

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  426 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
"John D'Agata is an alchemist who changes trash into purest gold." —Guy Davenport, Harper's

John D'Agata journeys the endless corridors of America's myriad halls of fame and faithfully reports on what he finds there. In a voice all his own, he brilliantly maps his terrain in lists, collage, and ludic narratives. With topics ranging from Martha Graham to the Flat Earth Socie
Paperback, 252 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Graywolf Press (first published December 1st 2000)
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Betsy Wheeler
Oct 14, 2007 Betsy Wheeler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want to know
i loved these essays -- probably my first introduction to the "lyric essay." one in particular i remember liking initially -- and would in the future teach to my writing students -- was the essay on Henry Darger (title slips my mind). brilliant in terms of its attempt to get into the daily life of the artist while conjuring the somewhat disturbing (but also beautiful) space of his paintings.
Dec 20, 2010 Priscilla rated it liked it
I went into this with the impression that D'Agata is, well..that he's kind of a dink. Initially, through the first few essays, I thought that perhaps I'd been too harsh, misjudged, etc. etc. But, ultimately, I came out at the end of "Halls of Fame" certain of my original opinion. (At least the book is a fast read [I think it took me four evenings to get through it], so at least I didn't have to spend too much time with him.) D'Agata is a good writer, though his form choices and language/voice ch ...more
Jul 31, 2007 Amy rated it it was amazing
oh. em. gee. this book made me want to scream and punch things and then over and over again it made me swoon. big, swooping swoons. sure it's a little pretentious, but it is also ambitious, challenging, and rather wonderful. i loved the essay on martha graham. the essays are annoying because i wish i wrote them first. yup, this book put pure envy through my veins.
Alex Hubbard
Jun 18, 2017 Alex Hubbard rated it really liked it
Essays are curious things, and D'Agata's book revels in that curiosity. Though some of the pieces seemed to put form over content, Halls of Fame was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Mar 24, 2011 Kathrina rated it liked it
I've procrastinated in writing this review for almost a week, and I'm still not sure what I'm going to write here. D'Agata is the victim of my latest author stalking, and I want to gush, but I have to hold myself back a bit, as I didn't feel this title backed up his claim to master of the lyrical essay as well as About a Mountain. Of course about 8 years covers the distance between their publications, and I read them backwards, so I think the latest display of style is his best. I guess what it ...more
John Vanderslice
Jan 27, 2016 John Vanderslice rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. Now, I can say with confidence that it is not for anyone. Some people might even hate it. Most of the essays are collage in nature, and several read more like poetry than nonfiction--no surprise that D'Agata earned MFAs in both poetry and nonfiction at the University of Iowa--but I was blown away. I can't think of any other writer who so seamlessly combines personal history and opinion with book research with investigative journalism with a commitment to collage as a for ...more
Patrick Gaughan
Dec 12, 2013 Patrick Gaughan rated it it was amazing
In Halls of Fame, John D'Agata blends prose, poetry, reportage, and conceptual writing into meditations on and around large ideas, such as art, wonder, and light. He is a master of scope: making quotations from cultural outliers (such as a man who still believes the world is flat) feel like universal truths by surrounding their far-out theses with historical context, D'Agata's own autobiographical experience, and citations.

This book is also a textbook for the notion of having subject matter dic
Lisa Roney
Oct 04, 2012 Lisa Roney rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-essays, poetry
John D'Agata is clever, very clever. In some ways, that's all I want to say. I liked these essays much more once I started considering them as poetry instead. Although I enjoyed reading them, however, I feel certain they will not stick in my mind. They are perhaps an important experiment, and most of the glowing comments I have read about this book are probably mostly true. It expands horizons, it entertains, it has things to say about language and our current cultural moment. I am sure that D'A ...more
Jan 08, 2011 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: own
3.5 stars
4 stars second reading March 2007

Personal essays that stretched the boundary between prose and poetry. Sometimes self-indulgent seeming, but his experiments paid off, and there is not doubt he is a good writer. Essays" Round Trip (wonders of the world/ Hoover Dam), Martha Graham, Audio Description Of, Flat Earth Map: an Essay, Hall of Fame: an Essay About the Ways in Which We Matter, Notes toward the Making of A Whole Human Being (Deep Springs creepo cult school), College History of Art
Sep 12, 2010 Kent rated it really liked it
The true masterpiece of this book is the essay on Henry Darger. The nature of the situation, and D'Agata's own approach to recording it seems best suited to a lyric essay. Admittedly, the conventions of this form are still being defined. But I take issue with the exigency of the book's central essay. It doesn't really seem to exhibit much consequence. As I mention in my review of D'Agata's second book, I'm interested in his mind, and the ideas he chooses to pursuit. I'm just not sure that the wr ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Sep 24, 2010 Charles Dee Mitchell rated it liked it
Shelves: essays-memoir
If the "lyric essay" is a new or newish form, I guess it is all right that at times D'Agata.s pieces seem determined to look as unlike an essay as possible, or to be essays only because he has naming rights to his own work.

Occasionally tedious, but overall enjoyable whether they are in his more traditional mode or dissected into fragmentary statements, lists, or presented as an instructional manual.

(I think I am going to take back that part about the lists. They're more tedious than enjoyable.)
Dec 04, 2009 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, nonfiction
I had a lot of fun reading this and definitely understand how important D'Agata is to the essay today, even to my own work without my having known it until now. My favorite is the one about Martha Graham. I do get a little bogged down with the footnotes in the one about the Flat Earth guy, and in general the consciousness of form can get a little claustrophobic, but hey, if I write essays as good as these, I'll consider myself a success.
Feb 10, 2008 Tarynroch rated it liked it
I was intrigued by the review I read of this book. The author, D'Agata, has MFAs in poetry and nonfiction writing (interesting combination) and combines these skills in Halls of Fame. The book is divided into chapters that tackle different subject matter inspired by the different Halls of Fames that D'Agata visited. Parts are great: beautiful, provocative. Other parts, not so much. The book comes off being confused. Worth looking into though if you are looking for something different.
Nov 18, 2009 Rachel rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2009
Began with a bang and kind of dropped me off along the way - D'Agata's tendency to list and cite and reference made me feel like I was reading a sourcebook rather than a book at time, especially in the title piece and "Flat Earth Map." Granted, this is probably the most openly experimental book I've ever read for fun, but the final piece, save for the page-long lists of quotations of "light" and "dark," was wonderful. When he decides to stick to it, D'Agata's prose is tremendous.
Mar 13, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing
from "Collage History of Art, by Henry Darger" (Halls of Fame) by John D'Agata:

When you're all alone everything belongs to you. All the good and bad. Every yes and no. Whether to kill that little girl, or not. It was sometime in his late twenties, Henry tells us in his journal, when he lost the newspaper clipping of the girl from the Daily News. He prayed to God to return it, but God never did.
Jan 25, 2011 flannery rated it really liked it
New to the lyric essay, still biased to the "regular-ass" essay, but totally smitten by John D'Agata's writing, his attention to detail, the ease with which he finds meaning and metaphor in his subjects. As in "About a Mountain" I feel like his treatment of regular folk is sometimes smug so I deducted a star. That will teach him. I made the mistake of trying to read this on the elliptical machine.
Oct 17, 2010 Cole rated it it was ok
I read these essays out of order for a class on experimental writing styles. I alternate back and forth between finding D'Agata one of the most unbearably pretentious writers ever ("Notes Toward the Making of a Whole Human Being") and one of the most beautifully observant ("Round Trip").

The Joan Didion influence here is obvious in every line, and the artistry is evident. I would have an easier time loving D'Agata if he wasn't so clearly in love with himself.
Jun 08, 2010 Jill rated it it was amazing
The worst thing about this book is that there is not enough of it. MORE, MORE, JOHN D'AGATA. One of the most brilliant, beautiful, and intelligent things I have read in a very long time. All writers should be embarrassed that they are not him. I know I am. Off to the library to read everything this man has ever written...
Aug 07, 2007 Steel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, Kim Johnson recommended this book to me. I think it was by a buddy of hers from the Iowa Writer's Program. It's a killer bit of collage/creative nonfiction/poetry that I think D'Agata calls the lyric essay. He's editing a lit mag called the Seneca Review that publishes a lot of them, apparently. In any case, there were parts of this book that I thought were tremendous.
Joel Pelanne
Jan 11, 2015 Joel Pelanne rated it it was amazing
Really loved this. A lot of heartfelt and gorgeous formal variations on the personal essay. The Darger piece was a favorite, but they all stand out in their own way. Dug the Didion love in the notes, too.
C.S. Carrier
Sep 20, 2008 C.S. Carrier rated it it was amazing
Thanks heavens for John D'Agata and his work. He's rescued the essay from ickiness. His essays are so beautiful words and lyricism. The sequence of essays entitled "Halls of Fame" kill. And the essay on Henry Darger kills.
Sep 14, 2014 Kamilah rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-again
I'm sure there's some creativity here, but I just couldn't deal with so much experimental. However, I can't knock for his creativity with collages, lists, mapping out everything. I think it deserves another chance, so I'll probably read it again when it's not a required class assignment.
Deonne Kahler
Sep 07, 2012 Deonne Kahler rated it really liked it
It's obvious that D'Agata is not only an essayist but a poet, since these essays stretch form in a really interesting way. Some of the essays are easier to follow than others, but I'm sure I'll reference the collection again and again for my own writing. Recommended.
Matt Buchholz
Jul 01, 2007 Matt Buchholz rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: DFW, if dead people could read.
Recommended to Matt by: After D'Agata's amazing job curating 'The Next American Essay", this sort of recommended itself.
Shelves: book-club
Creative non-fiction that sometimes veers too far into the intellectually insular world of poetry for my liking, but the formalist ambition throughout makes most of what I consider flaws, excusable. When someone is clearly this excited about writing, it's infectious even when it's not always great.
Nov 14, 2008 robert rated it liked it
This book, by one of the pioneers of the lyric essay, is commendable for using innovative formal techniques in the service of non-fiction, but I found the book lacking in terms of incisiveness or passion.
NB: most of my colleagues really liked this book, so maybe it's just that I have lame tastes.
Jul 12, 2007 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: goodbooks
Really enjoyable. Beautiful essays. Loved the essay about Deep Springs - back when I was a soon to be high school graduate I remember being fiercely agitated that they wouldn't accept women. When will Mr. D'Agata write something else?
Oct 06, 2008 Kathy rated it really liked it
Favorite essays: "Flat-Earth Map" & "And There Was Evening and There Was Morning."
Aug 30, 2015 Tyler rated it really liked it
More like four and a half.
Feb 22, 2007 Jed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Experimentalists
Experimental essays done good.
Jan 05, 2015 Andrew rated it really liked it
Excellent and provoking way of presenting essays.
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John D’Agata is the author of Halls of Fame: Essays, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact, as well as the editor of the 3-volume series A New History of the Essay,, which includes the anthologies The Next American Essay, The Making of the American Essay, and The Lost Origins of the Essay. His work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an NEA Litera ...more
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