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3.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,201 Ratings  ·  411 Reviews
A comic journey into the ultimate land of whiteness by an unlikely band of African American adventurers

Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes is obsessed with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel. When he discovers the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that seems to confirm the reality of Poe
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2011)
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Brittany Laccetti I thought the beginning was very funny. I think it lost its sense of humor after they meet the ice creatures, then it turns into something more…moreI thought the beginning was very funny. I think it lost its sense of humor after they meet the ice creatures, then it turns into something more serious.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jun 28, 2012 Maureen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
oh god. i am almost ready to give up satire and humour entirely. i adore a good quip. i love a wag, i cheer a wit (and mat johnson fits these categories) but i don't seem to have the patience for the sustained point behind it all these days. happily, there was a lot of other filling in this little debbie cake novel which has a lot going for it in terms of voice, intertextuality, intelligence, and invention: chris jaynes, an african-american professor who wants to teach poe instead of pursuing th ...more
May 17, 2016 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, black-author
I thought that the first 100 pages or so of Pym were fantastic. The satire was imaginative; I felt like I was in on the joke. I, also, appreciated the irreverent, social commentary. Up until (view spoiler) I thought that this would be one of my best books of 2015. Johnson’s use of Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is so creative that I figured that alone would put this book on my favorites list. However, at t ...more
Mistinguette Smith
Jul 01, 2011 Mistinguette Smith rated it it was amazing
Read this book now.

Marvelous satire, and a post modern literary play on the life of words, Pym is the best time I've had between the covers of a book in ages. Taking on everything from Poe to Toni Morrison's Playing the Dark, Johnson writes a tale at once absurd, laugh out loud funny, ironic and broadly satirical.

And yes, it really is about a black professor who has a meltdown when he doesn't get tenure, and ends of travelling to the (literal) ends of the earth and the end of time with his bes
Jan 17, 2016 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: general_fiction
What a strange book. I wasn't sure what to make of Pym when I finished it earlier today, but after thinking it over for a while, I'm pretty sure I like it. I read it for a book club at work, and let's just say it was NOT a popular choice. The general consensus was that Pym was offensive and ridiculous, the protagonist was angry, and the characters were obnoxious. At the beginning of the meeting I was inclined to agree with many of the criticisms, but as the discussion went on, I found myself def ...more
Mar 15, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-novels
I bought this book because it got such rave reviews on Salon and Fresh Air. The concept was great and the passages quoted were hilarious. I love academic satires and fiction about fiction and Poe (and Lovecraft) and critical theory about race ... So I was set to LOVE this book, and for the first 150 pages I did love it. I was snickering and giggling and tipping with laughter at the dry humor and footnotes and gentle mockery of academic language.

Then something happened. I don't know what exactly.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
May 13, 2014 Maurice Carlos Ruffin rated it really liked it
America is afraid to engage with it's great original sin. No surprise. Slavery tarnished the ideals of freedom and rugged individuality enshrined in our Constitution. During the time of slavery, we ignored the irony inherent in this set up. Today, we generally acknowledge the horror of that period in our history, but we're still afraid to engage with the idea of race and our slaveholding past's affect on our present. You want to unsettle people at a dinner party? Mention the Dred Scot revolt. Yo ...more
Dec 17, 2012 Jason added it
Shelves: read-2011, read-2012
Pym is the tale of white and black and no end to the shades of grey that such binaries necessarily imply. It doesn't waste any time in telling us so either. Chris Jaynes, the novel's protagonist is a professor of black literature who isn't concerned with teaching only that anymore, and is trying to get around to understanding the conception of whiteness, specifically through the work of Edgar Allan Poe. This, however, doesn't sit well with the president of the small, white, Midwestern college wh ...more
Nancy Oakes
Apr 12, 2011 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite, fantasy
There are just some books that have the power to take you out of the real world for a while so that all there is is the story in front of you, and Pym is one of those. This book fits the bill of that old phrase "a rollicking good yarn," while simultaneously offering its readers the author's ruminations on the issue of race. Trying to pigeonhole this metafictional novel is not a simple task: it's got it all -- alternative history, fantasy, adventure, satire, and above all, comedy. I think there w ...more
Mike Ingram
Jul 13, 2012 Mike Ingram rated it did not like it
Well, it appears I have to be the contrarian on this one. My Goodreads friends--and the world at large--seem to have nothing but praise for Pym. And I was primed to love it, too. A biting, satirical treatment of whiteness as a social construction? Edgar Allen Poe meets "Fear of a Black Planet"? I'm totally on board with that project.

Unfortunately, I found the satire rather shallow, and the book's characters were mostly one-dimensional caricatures. I realize that's sometimes how satire works, but
Aug 23, 2015 Dov rated it liked it
This novel is more sort of two novels that meet in the middle, one a cutting social satire, and one a strange, eerie, tale of exploration and adventure that tries to squeeze humor and significance out of places where the well has run a bit dry. As many reviewers have said, the first half of the novel promises greatness, with its humor, intertextuality and relationship situations, setting the stage for a powerfully narrative and comic experience. But the second half gets a little too caught up in ...more
John Pappas
Sep 26, 2011 John Pappas rated it really liked it
Falling somewhere between the witty insouciance of Percival Everett and the cool intellectualism of Colson Whitehead's quasi-allegories, Mat Johnson's satirical and metafictional novel Pym takes on American literature, American culture, identity and the construction of "whiteness" and "blackness." Johnson's protagonist, Chris Jaynes, is an American literature professor who is obsessed with white American authors, namely Edgar Allan Poe. Because he doesn't fit the university's idea of diversity, ...more
Mocha Girl
Mar 27, 2011 Mocha Girl rated it it was amazing
Shelves: satire
The social satire within the pages of Mat Johnson’s latest offering, Pym, is nothing short of brilliant and extremely hilarious -- I found it to be a seriously and literally “laugh out loud” funny novel! Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Pym’s protagonist is a recently dismissed, professor Chris Jaynes, who is frustrated with his former employer’s decision to deny him tenure for what he views as insubordination. His act of defiance is refusing to join ...more
Jenny Roth
Jul 09, 2012 Jenny Roth rated it did not like it
Consciously or unconsciously, I'm always rating the books I read as I go along, and this one slowly made its way down the scale.

It started off a five: the preface is reminiscent of Frankenstein and other 19th-century adventure tales, and the early chapters contain laugh-out-loud lines that would feel at home in a smart, race-based stand-up routine. Johnson's observations on the strangeness of everyday American life, particularly in academia, are similarly intelligent and funny. However, when he
Arinn Dembo
Mar 27, 2012 Arinn Dembo rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: weird-fiction
I had great fun with this novel, for a variety of reasons. For one, I was already a fan of Johnson's work--Incognegro was one of the best graphic novels of 2008 and I still recommend it friends who are willing to read anything other than long underwear comics, for example, and I've been spending a lot of time lately tracking down his other writing, both in and out of print.

I'm also a fan of Poe, however, and of his spiritual and literary descendants in the Weird Tales generation, in particular H
Mar 28, 2011 Tony rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Johnson, Mat. PYM. (2011). ***. This novel starts off as a marvelous satirical take-off on Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Chris Jaynes is a recently fired professor of American Literature at a small college. Ostensibly, the reason is that he wouldn’t join the Committee of Deversity. This was especially damning since he was the only black professor on campus. He takes this in stride and continues his study of the origins of blac ...more
Jun 27, 2011 Julai rated it it was amazing

Say you're a black academic, and you find yourself a little disenchanted with a university system that wants you to teach rap lyrics when all you really want to do is explore the many contradictions in Edgar Allan Poe's only (and terrible) novel, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," an esoteric cliffhanger wrapped in mystery and confusion, with a big, racist bow on top.

Mat Johnson's "Pym" starts with a recap of Poe's novel, and this outline serves as the map for the rest of Pym's arc, taking e
And to think I almost didn't read this.

A fabulous and funny (and serious) read about a fired black English professor who, because of a manuscript he finds, mounts an all-black crew to travel to Antartica to look for the places mentioned in Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Yes, it sounds crazy, and what they find sends the story off in the realm of speculative fiction. And I can't tell you why, because that would spoil it.

But the characters!

Chris Jaynes, English
William Thomas
Oct 19, 2012 William Thomas rated it did not like it
I wonder who told Mat Johnson that he'd make a good writer. Maybe they said 'great' instead of good. I don't know. Whoever this person/people were, they lied to his face. Or through email. Or text messages. Whatever medium, they were lying in it. Because this is easily the worst book I've read in 10 years.

Yes, even counting those times I tried to read paranormal romance novels. This is worse. Because those writer of paranormal romance created their books without the pretense or the hope that th
Jun 11, 2012 Maxine rated it really liked it
Chris Jaynes is the only black professor (he considers himself the token black) at a predominantly white liberal arts college where he has been hired to teach Black Studies. But he has a fascination with Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which Jaynes believes exemplifies the "intellectual source of racial Whiteness". Since he is untenured, and since his class size has dwindled due to his refusal to teach anything other than Pym, he soon finds himself out of a job ...more
Jun 29, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
You don't know about this, without you have read a book by the name of the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and it does matter. That book was made by Mr. Edgar Allen Poe, and like Coetzee's Foe to Robinson Crusoe, this one is so thoroughly wrapped up in its source that you won't get half the book otherwise.

That said, this is a very good book. It flips Poe's Pym around: where Poe described a group of white people conflicting with black people - and I use white and black here because P
Dec 29, 2015 Byron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up sight unseen only knowing that it was a fairly well regarded book written by a black guy. I didn't know what it's about, nor was I familiar with the Edgar Allen Poe book that it's supposedly based on.

How in the world the author came up with the idea for this is beyond me. On the one hand, it's a sort of parody version of a 12 Years a Slave style slave narrative, but it's also a book about black people who purposely elect to travel to Antarctica and encounter a group of Yetis or
I have got to read more satire - I haven't had this much fun since James Morrow's Towing Jehovah! The only reason I couldn't give Pym five stars is that it jumped the rails in the second half and got freakin' crazy (I preferred the faux-academic pastiche of the first third). But it's not easy to sustain a satire based on The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym for 300 pages, right? Yet much of the novel is hilarious and incisive and deliciously weird: funny footnotes, a Thomas Kinkaid-like painter wi ...more
May 30, 2011 Akon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
this book is hilarious!
unfortunately, it makes me want to read poe's book too.
would recommend to anyone with a sense of (racial) humour.
Jonathan Rimorin
Apr 08, 2016 Jonathan Rimorin rated it really liked it
Mat Johnson's entertaining comic fantasia on Poe's "Narrative of A. Gordon Pym," taking its place with sequels attempted by Jules Verne ("The Riddle of the Ice Sphinx") and H.P. Lovecraft ("At The Mountains of Madness"), engaging with "Pym"'s (and the United States) almost neurotic obsession with the Manichean dialectic of Whiteness and Blackness, about a recently canned African-American literature professor who gathers an all-Black crew to sojourn to Antarctica to investigate how true Poe's acc ...more
Apr 19, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much, even factoring in the high expectations that I started with.

This is a masterful comic novel, it manages to be cutting, insightful, and wise as it covers the long history of race in America as seen through the lens of Poe's strange work The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Along the way he touches upon being a black academic in a predominantly white institution, the impact of environmental problems on America, particularly it's minority cities, the intersection of geneti
Leigh J.
Mar 18, 2015 Leigh J. rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 29, 2013 Sara rated it liked it
Pym is a mirror and an upending of Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and it subverts the racist narrative that Poe created in this, his only novel. It's also very funny.
I loved the opening—part literary analysis, party racial analysis all mixed in with a quirky and surprising voice. Chris Jaynes is a Black professor at a predominately white college. His obsession, much to the dismay of his fellow faculty, is with Poe and his novel. (They'd rather he fill the tok
May 14, 2011 Ksab rated it it was amazing
What a great ride!! Excellent story- a masterpiece on many levels first being that the footnote commentary is hilarious. As a lover of African-American,American ( same as African-am) history, literature,historical fiction (???!!!) adventure and travel to unknown parts-I was truly engrossed , entertained and - shall I say- mentally challenged(oops=sorry)- I meant mentally stimulated by Pym-a Novel. I read Johnson's Hunting in Harlem several years ago and went looking for Incognegro at my library ...more
Jaclyn Michelle
Nov 01, 2012 Jaclyn Michelle rated it really liked it

First person narration can be tricky, but Mat Johnson has a sense of voice that rivals Junot Diaz. So clear, so compelling. As I read, I wanted to follow Johnson's main character, Chris Jaynes, anywhere he went. Until he decided to leave the States (and reality) far, far behind...

The premise of this book is really quite genius: the self-described token black professor at a small, predominately white liberal arts college finds himself without tenure after f
Aug 07, 2011 Mary-Lynn rated it it was ok
"As spectacular as it sounds, I think it's pretty clear we're dealing with some sort of lost Neanderthals here. Or possibly another line of hominid, a spur of Homo erectus," I offered.

..."Just some ugly, big-headed honky albinos," continued Booker Jaynes, undaunted. "I don't know, maybe some Vikings got lost down here a long time ago, something like that, inbred for a few centuries. Who the hell knows? But these things are white folks...maybe the whitest folks you ever met, but white folks just
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“It is a great moment in every freak's life when he or she finds out that at least they are not the only one.” 9 likes
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