Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Name of the World” as Want to Read:
The Name of the World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Name of the World

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  1,754 Ratings  ·  163 Reviews
The acclaimed author of Jesus' Son and Already Dead returns with a beautiful, haunting, and darkly comic novel. The Name of the World is a mesmerizing portrait of a professor at a Midwestern university who has been patient in his grief after an accident takes the lives of his wife and child and has permitted that grief to enlarge him.

Michael Reed is living a posthumous lif
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 14th 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Name of the World, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Name of the World

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
The protagonist of this slim novel, Michael Reed, is currently a history professor in a Midwestern college. His wife and young daughter have died in an auto wreck. He’s somewhat numb. He meets a young (20ish) woman who is, well, exotic. Her ‘name’ is Flower Cannon. He’s drawn to her but not sure exactly why; maybe sexually but not exactly. The plot gets a little dreamy. He winds up with her ‘at her place’ which is like an abandoned school away from anywhere else. She asks him, unexpectedly, “Wou ...more
Alex V.
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Denis Johnson took the flattest of dull, male fantasies - the flailing, lonley professor gets in a spell-casting match with the wild, arty, enigmatic co-ed - and managed to fold it into mental origami, sense and even time folding back on itself into a flower. It is about a girl named Flower, in fact, and he makes that work, too. The creases in his folding of reality don't exactly line up at the end and the resulting flower of a story is shimmeringly and organically imperfect for it. And its just ...more
Nicholas Montemarano
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Second time reading this novella, and: even better. It's a strange, wonderful book. Strange in that the narrative wanders, Johnson seems merely to be following his narrator, Mike Reed, wherever whim takes him; but where it takes him tends to be interesting (this is Johnson, after all). The novella contains several amazing set pieces: a scene in which Reed follows a much-younger woman he knows only slightly but is fixated on (her name, wait for it, is Flower Cannon) to a religious sing-along that ...more
Dec 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This novella reads like an extension to Jesus' Son, Johnson's volume of short stories. It is a return to the spiritual geography of the Middle West. The characters are off kilter and damaged--strangers even to themselves. The plot turns more and more unhinged (without feeling too causation dependent). And still, this book made me laugh several times.

One of Johnson's genius strengths is to make very dissimilar themes seem suddenly inseparable. He has a poet's sense of movement, and a child's del
Erinn Batykefer
Okay, so The Name of the World is basically a classic hero's journey -- call to action, resistance to call, aid from the supernatural (in this case Flower Cannon), resurrection and rebirth. It's set in an unnamed Midwestern town, at an unnamed Midwestern university, and the protagonist, Mike Reed, is one of those do-nothing professors at the end of his appointment: a white, middle-class man of privilege with the luxury of wallowing in his own grief over his family's death. Flower Cannon is an ar ...more
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reto-2016
El nombre del mundo recoge tanto algunos de los pasajes más ridículamente absurdos que he leído en lo que va de año como interesantes y profundas reflexiones sobre el proceso de duelo y la pérdida de propósito vital. Dicho en otras palabras, en este libro Denis Johnson es capaz de lo mejor y de lo peor. Lo mejor: la premisa, que nos mete en la piel de un profesor universitario que trata de superar el fallecimiento de su mujer y su hija en un accidente de tráfico; el estilo, acoplado casi siempre ...more
May 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 09, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quick-reads
i really liked johnson's description of college life, especially since it is from an outsiders POV. it has been a long time since I had read something that just keep me going on the writing alone w/out the story pulling me along.

that said, the final flower cannon scene in the book is a total mistake and letdown. in fact, the whole character of flower is a cliche and doesn't fit in here in this spare book that is only vulgar and obvious when she is around. otherwise, it's fresh and exact and wor
Jason Lewis
Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: old men, young girls
Oblique in that great Denis Johnson way, but not hipster prophetic like Jesus' Son. Older, sheltered man who's experienced a loss has a moment in time in a college town. Interesting turn in the narrative focus 2/3s of the way through, great, compelling, engrossing scenes, but the ending falters a little and doesn't pay off the way that the book wanted it to. Love it though, warts and all. Made me want to keep reading and I was involved with the characters.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Denis Johnson staat bekend als een kameleon omdat elk boek weer totaal anders is dan al zijn andere, en als een beestachtig goede stilist die helaas veel te weinig wordt gelezen. Ik ken zelf ook lang niet al zijn boeken, maar wel zijn overweldigend-groteske Vietnamboek "The tree of smoke", ruim 600 geniale en ongehoord spectaculaire bladzijden dik, en de prachtige novelle "Traindreams", krap 90 verstilde bladzijden die rijker zijn dan menige roman. Sterker nog, er staan zinnen in die beter zijn ...more
Boring and artful. I am as interested in a good character piece as anyone else, but this was just not even a character piece. It was a dreamy-landscape of semi-sensical ramblings by a hard to like main character. It was pretty, but it was also pretty dull.

However, Johnson does have some great insight and wonderful ramblings (such as his description of his deep relationship with the security guard at the art museum...with whom he has never actually spoken): "Exile, detachment, paralysis, fear--al
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
it wouldn't be claiming too much to say that as i sat there holding in my fingers mr. hicks's list of head-injury victims i felt the stirring even of parts of me that had been dead since childhood, that sense of the child as a sort of antenna stuck in the middle of an infinite expanse of possibilities. and childhood's low-grade astonishments, its intimations of a perpetual circus... meeting, at random, kids with small remarkable talents or traits, with double-jointed thumbs, a third or even a fo ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are two decent short stories buried in "The Name of the World" - one about an amateur stripper contest at a low-rent casino in the Midwest, and one about a middle-aged man's erotic encounter with a mesmerizing (but in reality utterly impossible) art student half his age. Both are the kind of vivid, gritty, vaguely stoned narratives at which Johnson excels. Unfortunately, he ties them together with an indifferently written novella about an emotionally detached adjunct teacher in an unnamed ...more
Feb 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: treadmill-reads
The only reason this book is not on my Abandoned book shelf is that it was only 120 pages long and easy to hold when I read it while on the treadmill. Reading "The Name of the World" made me realize how dependent I have become on PLOT. The faint plot here is: what is to become of a bereaved widower as he completes his four-year teaching assignment at a non-descript (of course) Midwestern college. Even the book's black humor is only a very pale grey. When the main character, Michael Reed, stumble ...more
Stacey Falls
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a lovely book where nothing really happens. full of poetry and overflowing with love for the world. our narrator begins to pull himself out of his lowest lows. still in the throes of desperate sadness, he comes to the point where he begins to feel again. in that way the pain is healing.

pain can be your salvation. suffering is a reminder of all the joys available to experience. that feels like a good lesson for me right now.

one question i have for anyone who has read the book: why is flower's st
Jun 01, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Denis Johnson novel -- I thought I'd start with a short one before diving into something like "Tree of Smoke."

It's the story of a burned-out, middle-aged professor at an unnamed Midwestern university still dealing with the loss of his wife and child several years earlier in a car accident. It's not an academic satire, though there are some funny/scathing observations. I was afraid it was going to turn into the cliche of nubile young student banishes demons of schlubby older ma
Danny Lindsay
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first hundred pages of this novel are hypnotic and darkly funny. It's a lot of fun to read about a guy who doesn't care what happens to him. The final twenty-five pages, however, disintegrate into bizarre magic realism and gonzo reportage. I have no idea what the hell happened. It's as if Johnson wrote the last bit ten years after the first bit and couldn't remember what happened. The voice changes entirely. Also, I bought this book because I thought the title was really beautiful and evocat ...more
Sandy Jiang
I was actually disappointed. I felt like this author is one of those hit or miss and for me it was a huge miss. Not only did it lack a plot but I disliked the characters. it had a very Farewell to Arms feeling- 2 people who get together but it's like just conversations and them just hanging out but no driving thing that makes each character grow and change and then conclusion, and maybe it's I hate stories where there are no developments but these characters really had no development as the book ...more
David Schwan
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written book. The main character is overcoming the death of his wife and daughter four years earlier. He is a faculty member at a college hoping to be employed for another year. His career has been mostly ordinary except a period as a staff member for a notorious US Senator. He meets a much younger women--a lady with a unique personal story. The two are like ships passing in the night.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story of a college professor's last year at college in the midwest,while trying to get over the death of his wife and daughter, finds himself lusting hard over a hot and pertentiuos redhead art student . I have a thing for redheads but found myself liking Flower but not loveing her, like it be fun to have a fling with her but she would bring too much drama to the table, I tend to date women like Flower,if it weren't for pertenious baristas I'd never get laid.
Jen Shipon
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Constantly gobsmacked by the beautiful, delicate language. Denis is a master of articulating the tiniest feelings and sensations in ways that make the reader feel them intimately, even if s/he has never experienced that particular emotion before. This is why I don't even care where his books go - although they always do end up somewhere.
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Started off a bit slower than Jesus' Son and at first I didn't think I liked this book as much, but, then in came some of Johnson's amazingly beautiful prose and all was good in the world. This guy is magic!!
David Koh
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vivid, jarring, perhaps a bit overly introspective for my taste. Ranging from near-poetic to utterly frank. Reads almost as a conversation with a very distant, very thoughtful person.
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decent. Cleverly avoids all the cliches you expect. Has a very nice line on page 47 that gives the most accurate description of rap music I've ever read.
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Though perhaps not quite as great as the epic-in-miniature Train Dreams, this wonderful book, written about ten years before Train Dreams, along with Jesus' Son, further proves Johnson as a master of brevity, whose words take on life in ways most writers only fantasize about. I have now read his three shortest works of prose; time to read some of the big ones.

This book also reminded me in more than a passing way of Robert Bolano's By Night in Chile: the first person, chapterless, dreamlike style
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novella follows a middle-age professor coming to the end of a temporary faculty position several years after the loss of his wife and daughter. He begins to reconnect with the world. Sort of turns into a turning-on-its-head of the professor-lusts-for-student novel, and it's interesting enough insofar as that goes. This isn't Johnson's best work; it's kind of slow getting going, the narrator's a bit flat, and the narrative thread that holds it all together is pretty loose. Buried inside it i ...more
Ann Holland
At 129 pages this is more novella than novel. Paralyzed by grief after the death of his wife and child in a car accident, a middle-aged professor at a Midwestern university finds his way back to reality with the aid of a cast of improbable characters. Some funny satire of academia.
Joe Solomon
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up in a DC hostel and fell for the political consultant turned professor who lives on the edge of deep sadness, on the lookout for salvation. Want to read Angels next and re-read Jesus' Son.
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The inconsequential wanderings of a well-spoken mind. No one without previous notoriety could have got a book published with such lack of plot
Jun 24, 2017 rated it liked it
(no. 30.5 of 2017)
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Off Keck Road
  • Mickelsson's Ghosts
  • Loot and Other Stories
  • Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith
  • Kentucky Straight: Stories
  • Yonder Stands Your Orphan
  • Red Ant House: Stories
  • A Distant Shore
  • Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories
  • A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris (Mercy of a Rude Stream, #1)
  • Things that Fall from the Sky
  • Greasy Lake & Other Stories
  • The Interloper
  • In the Penny Arcade
  • A Box of Matches
  • The Ghost Soldiers
  • The Ice at the Bottom of the World: Stories
  • A Tenured Professor
Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He earned a masters' degree from the University of Iowa and received many awards for his work, including a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction (1993), a Whiting Writer's Award (1986), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review for Train Dreams, and most recently, th ...more
More about Denis Johnson...

Share This Book

“When I reached the street I didn't know whether to go right or left. Soon I'd have to start acting like a person who cared about what happened to him.” 10 likes
“...I felt the stirring even of parts of me that had been dead since childhood, that sense of the child as a sort of antenna stuck in the middle of an infinite expanse of possibilities. ” 6 likes
More quotes…