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The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,011 Ratings  ·  129 Reviews
What’s a novelist supposed to do with contemporary culture? And what’s contemporary culture supposed to do with novelists? In The Ecstasy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem, tangling with what he calls the “white elephant” role of the writer as public intellectual, arrives at an astonishing range of answers.

A constellation of previously published pieces and new essays as prov
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Doubleday
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Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book sparked a few different emotions in me. Some of them good, like a reminder about why I love books so much, and some not so 'nice', like the recharging of the 'punk' part of me that used to write zines and point accusatory fingers at things that annoy me. Many of the essays in this book mix the borders between the personal and the real subject at hand. This is sort of like what DFW does so well (but in a more introspective manner, DFW might have laid bare an image of his psyche, but he ...more
Lethem's boundless self-obsession and whiningly persistent neediness make this collection impossible to get through, despite the presence of an occasionally decent essay. But the guy's total narcissism just creeps you out after a while. Doesn't he have any friends? Or a decent literary agent? Someone to point out to him that the world might not have been thirsting for his pompously self-important post 9/11 musings, or his pathetic extended whine in response to a negative review by James Woods? O ...more
MJ Nicholls
Sumptuous streams of intellectual rattle ‘n’ roll topped off with the ecstatic influence of Lethem’s non-fic idols (notable: David FW and Lester B and Geoff D). The title piece is alas the most ecstatic in the collection alongside the long(u)e(u)rs on James Brown and SF conventions and the opening shizzle on self-consciousness in autobrifographie. Once fangirling mode is activated (like L Bangs) Lethem gets in a lather and is less convincing (the several novel introductions or music pieces are b ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Uneven, but worthwhile. Some of this is excellent, and there are some marvelous phrases. When he's talking about books, bookstores, movies...he's great. The prose gets a bit dense in places, but it's rewarding.

But some pieces really don't work. The music writing is as tedious as most music writing; I confess I started skipping, and I rarely do that. All I could think was the Billy Joel line, "You can't get the sound/from the story in a magazine"--and when Billy Joel's lyrics are more insightful
Lethem divides his collection into ten sections: My Plan To Begin With; Dick, Calvino, Ballard: SF and Postmodernism; Plagiarisms; Film and Comics; Wall Art; 9/11 and Book Tour; Dylan, Brown, and Others; Working the Room; The Mad Brooklynite; and What Remains of My Plan. In addition to the usual sources or original publication--Salon, the New Yorker, various literary magazines--some of the pieces here were written for artists' catalogs, CD liner notes, and blogs.

The best known essay here might b
Kristina Aziz
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There aren't many authors that can hook me on the first page, much less the preface, much less by writing the truth. It seems to be that I only read nonfiction books if I need information or examples for something I'm writing. This is the exception.

"The Ecstasy of Influence" is one of those books that may be a turning point in life for the reader. I don't know if this is so yet; get back to me in a month.

But Jon Lethem seems to understand that readers first want to be entertained, then told the
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: intellectual intellectuals
"I'm talking about artists with the willpower not to conform to anybody's reality but their own. Patsy Cline and Billy Lee Riley. Plato and Socrates, Whitman and Emerson. Slim Harpo and Donald Trump." --Bob Dylan, in 2006

I'll get to that quote in a moment. I want to begin by saying that there was never a time in my life when it didn't seem like Philip K. Dick was a huge and well-regarded figure, not merely as a science-fiction writer but as a writer in general. I mention that because Jonathan Le
Carla Remy
I was truly not too fond of this book. I give it three stars because my admiration of Lethem and (less than real) feeling of connection to him won't let me give it less. It's a hodge podge of essays, most from magazines. Did he have to put them all in this book? It's overlong and uncentered. It's great for him, as a novelist, that he can get paid to write nonfiction too, but it's not all great for me to read. And for the first time I felt that he writes too much about himself. Can't he stick to ...more
I devoured this fairly long collection in two days of doing little other than restlessly reading these essays and rereading select passages, armed with a leaky ballpoint pen to underline the many fascinating sections, the names I sort of knew but hadn't gotten around to exploring, the many endearingly awkward sentences.

The experience of reading The Ecstasy of Influence was pretty much the Platonic ideal of reading an essay collection. It's not that the book is perfect, and it's certainly not th
Paul Dinger
Mar 31, 2013 rated it liked it
I do like these types of books which preport to be more than just a collection of writings by an author in between his novels. I would like to think they are more than just a jaded way of cashing in on a writer's reputation to sell books. My favorite and standard is Jonathon Franzen's How to Be Alone which I truly loved. This book however isn't of that quality. I don't know why I turned to it, his last book Chronic City I did find disappointing, it never really took off in my opinion. I did feel ...more
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
Lethem states in the beginning that often readers get irritated by the self awareness of modern writing. The endless MFA analysing and theorizing about literature is why I didn't major in English lit. While a little navel gazing isn't out of place when reading, the whole "postmodernism" - analysis of analysis of analysis of uber self awareness - the insertion of the author's narcissistic tendencies into the book, if you will - makes me want to spork myself in the eye. Anyway, a couple of good th ...more
Oct 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I think that he is an excellent writer and have enjoyed all of his fiction that I have read to date. It is A LOT of JL to read in one shot. I think that as he suggested you pick and choose. By the end I felt that I was too much in his brain! As well, some of the pieces are a bit esoteric if you are not familiar with the author/musician that he is writing about.
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I savored the pieces in this collection, my first exposure to Lethem's non-fiction. There are treasures here, especially the title essay, his profile of James Brown, and his interview with Bob Dylan. Good reads for sure!
Jul 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
I couldn't even make it through the preface of this audiobook. This was way too left-brained and analytical for me. It sounded like a robot reading a textbook. Snore.
Oct 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Enjoyable, but some parts are much more interesting than others. 400+ pages was maybe more than needed to be included here. Only for big Lethem fans, otherwise I'd start elsewhere among his oeuvre.
Mary Jo
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
As a teacher, I’m not sure that I’d discuss Lethem’s title essay with any students of my own below the graduate level, since some might see it as an invitation to plagiarize. At the high school and undergraduate level, it’s so important to draw a clear distinction between what’s ok to do and what’s not ok, especially knowing you’ll have to stand by exactly what you said about that distinction if you have to fail someone because he or she plagiarized. But once we get beyond the necessity for that ...more
John Addiego
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lethem is an amazing writer, and it was fun to get a sense of his background and some ideas he has about literature. He explores that broad area where influence, inspiration, borrowing, alluding to and plagiarism mingle. I liked his youthful tales of working in bookstores in Berkeley because I frequented them, and he may have kicked me out at closing time using the first lyric of Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.
James Roberts
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous collections of essays ranging from pop cultural observations to literary analysis to personal. A wonderful display of Lethem’s range and a near perfect collection of thoughts and writings.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
What I'm finding is that I'm way more into the themes of Lethem's non-fiction, and how he articulates them, way more than in his fiction. Might finally be time to take Fortress of Solitude off the shelf...
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
God I love Lethem's writing. Though the pieces included in this collection vary in quality (from "eh, pretty good" to "damn that was good"), the effect as a whole is overwhelming. Lethem is thoughtful - not pondering, but chock-full of thoughts, and they come spilling onto the page in a torrent.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A book of essays by author and critic Jonathan Lethem. Some of the pieces go back into the 1990's. Some were written for Harper's, or Rolling Stone. Some are memories of college days or being a young author. A nicely put together collection.
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Essentially this confirms that Donna Tartt wrote about Lethem and B.E.Ellis at college cause they attended a program together.

Also the James Brown bit is grand
Rebecca Treiman
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I skimmed this, mostly to find out more about Jonathan Lethem's childhood and how similar it was to that of the boy in Fortress of Solitude. A few interesting things, but not that much that I liked
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This collection is fantastic. Lethem's writing is, as always, razor sharp and highly intelligent. Both his music writing and his literary criticism were personal highlights for me.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
Greg Zimmerman
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Jonathan Lethem is a fantastically engrossing writer! I'm not just saying that because he took David Foster Wallace's coveted teaching spot at Pomona College. Nor am I saying it because I loved Motherless Brooklyn. I'm saying it because, as I learned by traversing his NBCC nominated (for criticism) The Ecstasy of Influence, Lethem succeeds in getting you to read and care about topics about which you had no previous interest. And that's the mark of a truly great writer!

I'm actually plagiarizing m
I am a huge fan of Jonathan Lethem's writing. I wrote my master's thesis on The Fortress of Solitude and plan to dedicate a sizable portion of a dissertation chapter to it as well.

That being said, while Lethem's writing here is generally as strong and thoughtfully self-conscious as I like, I think the very format of the book—a bunch of essays and short pieces from a variety of sources—makes for a very uneven collection.

Full disclosure: While I read about 80% of what is in here, I did not read ev
Oct 31, 2011 rated it liked it
"For if we consent that what appears natural in art is actually constructed from a series of hidden postures, decisions, and influences, etc., we make ourselves eligible to weigh the notion that what's taken as natural in our experience of everyday life could actually be a construction as well." (xv)

"Our language has no choice but to be self-conscious if it is to be conscious in the first place." (xix)

"That's how I regard this fate of ours, drowning in a cultural sea: reasons to be cheerful." (x
Mike Schwartz
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lethem calls this “an autobiographical montage”, The title comes from an ingenious and infamous essay he wrote in defense of plagiarism in Harpers, consisting entirely of appropriated text and stories. This book is a massive compendium of Lethem’s fanboy obsessions, critical reviews, book introductions, recommendations, and opinions, combined with his memoirs and autobiographical writings, as well as stories that he keeps coming back to throughout his career. He pays tribute to his favorite essa ...more
M.L. Rudolph
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
2011. Non-faction, essays, liner notes, book intros, stories, segues. Jonathem Lethem all the way. Post-modernism is the word. An essayist tiptoes into memoir via (mainly) previously published pieces.

I see below that reviews are mixed for this work in book form. I bought it because the professional(?) reviews on-air and in print rhapsodized over Lethem the novelist, the post-modern essayist, and one reviewer in particular seemed to catch a glimpse of heaven because Lethem apparently swore off no
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t
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“We writers aren't sculpting in DNA, or even clay or mud, but words, sentences, paragraphs, syntax, voice; materials issued by tongue or fingertips but which upon release dissolve into the atmosphere, into cloud, confection, specter. Language, as a vehicle, is a lemon, a hot rod painted with thrilling flames but crazily erratic to drive, riddled with bugs like innate self-consciousness, embedded metaphors and symbols, helpless intertextuality, and so forth. Despite being regularly driven on prosaic errands (interoffice memos, supermarket receipts, etc.), it tends to veer on its misaligned chassis into the ditch of abstraction, of dream.” 4 likes
“In the sea of words, the in print is foam, surf bubbles riding the top. And it's a dark sea, and deep, where divers need lights on their helmets and would perish at the lower depths.” 3 likes
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