Halls of Fame: Essays
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Halls of Fame: Essays

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  334 ratings  ·  32 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...more
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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
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.
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
Patrick Gaughan
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...more
Jan 09, 2011 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
Lisa Roney
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
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
Matt Buchholz
Sep 17, 2010 Matt Buchholz rated it 4 of 5 stars
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.
Deonne Kahler
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.
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?
C. Carrier
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.
Jamie Iredell
This book was the shit. Completely original. Poetry in prose. Call it nonfiction if you want to, and I guess it is--but much of it's like found nonfiction. You just have to read it and experience it.
Araminta Matthews
I suppose it helps that John was my favoritest professor of all time. His writing is refreshing, constantly evolving into new takes on old images. This book truly has something for each of us.
Not because this book is perfect, but because every section brought delight. Hooray for poem-essays!
Favorite essays: "Flat-Earth Map" & "And There Was Evening and There Was Morning."
When my MFA class told me, "you can't do that!"--I showed them John D'Agata.
Without question, this is one of the very best things I've ever read.
A lot of hype about this one...blended genre. OK.
m. soria
john's account of henry darger is heart breaking
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John D'Agata is the author of About a Mountain and the editor of The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa.
More about John D'Agata...
About a Mountain The Lifespan of a Fact The Next American Essay The Lost Origins of the Essay On Knowing & Not

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