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Reader’s Block

(Notecard Quartet)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,349 ratings  ·  175 reviews
In this spellbinding, utterly unconventional fiction, an aging author who is identified only as Reader contemplates the writing of a novel. As he does, other matters insistently crowd his mind - literary and cultural anecdotes, endless quotations attributed and not, scholarly curiosities - the residue of a lifetime's reading which is apparently all he has to show for his d ...more
Paperback, 194 pages
Published November 1st 1996 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published January 1st 1996)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  1,349 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: american
Hard Slogging

Reader’s Block, like its successor, The Last Novel, reads like a collection of author’s notes, random ideas that come his way which might be useful in a future narrative to be written by the subsequent Novelist Who pulls things together.

In Reader’s Block, Reader appears as a magpie collecting fragments of mostly literary opinion and gossip. Reader is rapacious and has no clear filter for what is relevant - a sort of literary omnivore - tittle-tattle, biographical detail, prejudices
I have a narrative. But you will be put to it to find it.

Markson’s short work of experimental fiction weaves together strings of historical facts (Frederick Delius was paralyzed and blinded by syphilis.), quotations (Pouring out liquor is like burning books. Said Faulkner.) and endless references to the horrors of humanity and human suffering (Two of Thomas Mann’s sons committed suicide. As did two of Marx’s daughters.), with the patches of a novel the Reader is trying to write.

Sometimes a
Vit Babenco
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Magic Theatre, for Madmen Only, Price of Admission Your Mind
Reader’s Block is exactly like this magic theatre of Steppenwolf.
Reader’s Block reads literally as a baedeker to misfortunes and calamities lying in ambush for a creative mind on its way to the fulfillment of its pursuits.
Like a perfect thing-in-itself Reader’s Block contains its own perfect self-definition:
A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel.

I’ve spent hours and hours in this literary
MJ Nicholls
Dec 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
A novel of literary trivia. Markson's knowledge of biographical curios is far and wide, far beyond his desire to tell his own stories, so he uses this richness of detail to weave an unconventional narrative. The trivia is interrupted by an attempt by Reader to create his Protagonist, who gets swallowed up in a bog of anti-semitic and suicidal writers. The story is never told: the idea is the anecdotes tell the story. (Though precisely what that is is beyond me. The tone is one of oppression and ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Because my first was not enough, and any good thing must be driven into the ground until dead and decomposing from the blunt-thwack of transparency's shovel.

Then again: What is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care, per Blake.

Adolf Hitler was an anti-Semite.

Though, it can be argued, that this self-referentialism, no matter how poorly executed, is the point entire—imitation being the sincerest of forms.

So they say.

This hyper
Jim Elkins
Jul 22, 2016 added it
Shelves: american
Representing Ruined Minds, And a Note About How Google Spoils Reading

[Note: this is the first of Markson's books I read. After the masterpiece, "Wittgenstein's Mistress," I read "The Last Novel," a book so poor that it made me uninterested in reading any more Markson. See the reviews of those two for balance with this.]

This book is a series of short paragraphs, some a single word, few more than five lines. The paragraphs are separated by double spaces, so the book looks like poetry, or Wittgenst
Nick Craske
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
David Markson achieves a pure distillation of form in these works and has created his own genre - a lucid, incantatory and trance inducing prose style, in which a person's entire self can be discerned through a stream of fragments. Fragments concerning the lives of writers, philosophers artists and their subjects. The greatest, and peculiar reward in reading these four novels, is experiencing the incredible heft of sadness while simultaneously grinning form ear-to-ear. These books deliver an awe ...more
A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel?

Or is he in some peculiar way thinking of an autobiography?

Obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax in any case.

Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.


Vanishing point.

—So, why hasn’t someone transformed this book into a hyper doc yet? If they did, I would likely grumble. But I guess, if I have a point, it’s something like, I constantly feel the tension that
Riku Sayuj
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: extra-creative
You have to read all of Markson to get Markson. Challenge Accepted. I feel Markson is pushing me over the brink as far as my own ambitions are concerned, redefining definitions. This is a fascinating journey and it is compulsive to say the least. I shudder to think that when I reach The Last Novel, it will really feel like exactly that.

A review titled Reviewer's Block is ready but will be up only after completing the tetralogy(?). I am sure I am missing all the really good twists.
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Got Narrative If You Want It

The Reader, now elderly, broke, broken and sick, walked, directionless, and unremarkably into the sea.

He did not remember his daughter's name, nor her brother's, or whether she had one.

William H. Gass was an anti-Semite.

He wrote what and how his father spoke.

The Reader committed suicide.

The Reader was buried in a cemetery close to the beach, next to the grave of the Protagonist, who predeceased him, if in fact they did not die simultaneously.

Did it ever, once, enter e
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2017
This is not your father's Oldsmobile, as they say of novels. All it is, then, is unusual. A series of facts being written down under the conceit of an old man/reader who wants to write a novel but suffers "Reader's Block." That is, he can't stop himself from reviewing all the literary trivia swimming in his head.

So how is it a novel, you ask? Well, embedded in this 193-page "list" are snippets from Reader (would-be author) and Protagonist (would-be author's would-be main character). All well and
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
I was rather harsh on David Markson on reading his last book Springer’s Progress, but this time I was engrossed in yet another experimental novel of his: Reader’s Block. Reader, in this case, is the writer, suffering from the dreaded “Block”. We get glimpses of him as someone who has suffered losses of friends and family, of health and livelihood, and is all alone trying to write this novel.

Reader is distracted from developing his plot and characters by the random thoughts and trivia of all the
Jun 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Markson’s book in a brief description sounds like a post-Calvino or Borges exercise in cute metafiction. A character named Reader has difficulty composing a novel about a character named Protagonist. The actually book Markson delivers is very different. The narrator intersperses his notes on his novel with anecdotes about a literary and artistic personalities. These start out gossipy and chatty and then lists of how someone committed suicide or died appear, and then lists of who was an anti-Semi ...more
I was reluctant to say anything much about this book, as I prefer to keep it my own selfish secret. This is pretty much a literary and historical trivia book with a very thin strand of plot to it. The book would (almost) have survived without it. What appealed to me was the readerly devotion, the obsessiveness, how the 'Reader' character returned to various themes over and over, such as who was an anti-semite, and who died how. I thought it was marvelous and affirmative. My first Markson. ...more
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, 5-stars
A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel.

Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.

I have a narrative but you will be put to it to find it.

What is a novel in any case?

Let’s start with that final question, which is a quote lifted directly from the book (as are the three other quotes above it). I think there’s a fairly well-accepted convention that novels are at least partly fictional. Also, not always true, but mostly, novels have some kind o
Apr 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
A kind of elegant, twisted mystery with no conclusion for the reader to solve--it's not a story or even a narrative per se as much as the straightforward listing of the "notes" of an otherwise nameless Reader, which consist of countless factoids and anecdotes and quotes as well as jottings of what is presumably to be an outline of a novel Reader is working on. But what initially seems to be completely disparate musings (which I found interesting enough simply on that level) slowly begin to form ...more
Jeff Jackson
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club-2
"Markson's panorama is that of the world of books and of tiny mosaics of historical fact. Though poignantly hinting at deep personal anguish as the organizing principal behind this miniaturist encyclopedia of bits and pieces, this amazing novel evokes all books and all lists and the powerful human lust for inclusiveness. It's as if he's saying, "read this book and know everything worth knowing." But the only thing left out is ... everything else -- which howls at the center of this book like the ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Another masterpiece. Every bone in my body wanted to revolt against it but I was simply unable...powerful and moving. Review to follow once I have some time. Markson shall be Completed, it has been decided.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Putting this into my favourites provisionally, being as I was somewhat disappointed by Wittgenstein's Mistress, though it will likely stay there, being the first of this tetralogy that I will have read, unless I get a nice, hard knock to the head. ...more
T Fool
Sep 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Reader’s Block, thematically, stylistically, twins Vanishing Point, though it precedes that other Markson book by eight years. An older sibling, really, with many family traits. Rather than accusing it of executing by formula, we have to praise it. So referential are the fragments, they set up an intrigue – what is a reader to do in piecing it all together?

We enjoyed doing it in VP, and once again the action wobbles around a book project in-the-making. Instead of VPs Writer, here we have a dua
Jun 07, 2010 rated it liked it
Ha ha! You didn't expect Wikipedia to happen, did you, Markson? ...more
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Gray's Elegy is 128 lines long. Gray spent seven years writing it.

If forced to choose, Giacometti once said, he would rescue a cat from a burning building before a Rembrandt.

I am growing older. I have been in hospitals. Do I wish to put certain things down?

David Markson, author of Wittgenstein's Mistress, presents us here with a state of inspirational struggle familiar to writers everywhere. Through a collection of seemingly arcane factoids and trivia, interspersed with the questing voices resid

Is this melancholic collection of anecdotes and quotes (some attributed, many not) about/from writers, painters, composers, and philosophers, with a studied focus on death and antisemitism, interspersed with bits and pieces of raw material for a novel, in itself a novel? That is for the Reader to decide. After the first few pages I wasn't sure I cared to find out but then the cadence drew me in and carried me along. Not quite a five-star read for me, but quite close.
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've read several David Marksons now but this is my favorite. Formally interesting--it works on a musical principle, told in discrete single sentences or two or three, and gradually, you gain a picture of what is going on, like motivic musical work a la Beethoven. Love this book. ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Markson is a writer's writer. This should make his writing irrelevant for me. Nonetheless, this experimental collage called Reader's Block was a fascinating read for a non-writer as well.

The basic concept goes like this: There's a writer called reader. Because that's what he's mostly doing. He's thinking about his next book and its protagonist. Basically an alter ego of reader, being an alter ego of Markson. Very meta. There's no plot, just an accumulation of snippets taken from reader's readin
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-fiction
In a very rough sense, this reminds me a lot of Wittgenstein's mistress. Markson weaves a dazzling array of historical facts, trivia and direct transpositions from other works into an almost skeletal narrative frame. But unlike Wittgenstein's Mistress, there isn't a be-witching central character here, more like a skeletal, self-reflexive combination of a narrator, a reader, and possibly some biographical slivers from Markson's own life. The weird array of historical facts, direct quotations and ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just read Reader's Block and I'm soaking in it
typed Goodreader

Jan Miner was married 4 times and died in a convalescent home in Bethel, Connecticut.

Lenny Bruce died of an acute overdose of morphine poisoning.


His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac...It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people
said Frank Sinatra of Elvis

King George II was pronounced dead in 1760 from “over-exertions on the privy."

Goodreader glances out the
Roy Kesey
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterful weave of quotations/"quotations" and facts/"facts" [(mostly) about writers and their ridiculous lives] that ends up being a novel about how hard it can be to write a novel. Themes coalesce slowly-–a contemplation of death, anti-Semitism, writers caught in their own brains. An unlikely, terrifically powerful ending. I've since seen half a dozen serious attempts to mimic what this book does either thematically or structurally, and all of them feel feeble by comparison. ...more
Ryan Allen
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Might've even liked this more than WG, but I'll definitely give that one a second read one day. Great book. Can't wait to start 'This Is Not A Novel'. ...more
Michael Dworaczyk
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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David Markson was an American novelist, born David Merrill Markson in Albany, New York. He is the author of several postmodern novels, including This is Not a Novel, Springer's Progress, and Wittgenstein's Mistress. His most recent work, The Last Novel, was published in 2007 and received a positive review in the New York Times, which called it "a real tour de force."

Markson's work is characterized

Other books in the series

Notecard Quartet (4 books)
  • This Is Not a Novel
  • Vanishing Point
  • The Last Novel

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