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Pym

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  3,563 ratings  ·  594 reviews
Recently canned professor of American literature Chris Jaynes has just made a startling discovery: the manuscript of a crude slave narrative that confirms the reality of Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Determined to seek out Tsalal, the remote island of pure and utter blackness that Poe describes, Jaynes convenes a ...more
Kindle Edition, 338 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Spiegel & Grau
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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 seriou…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)
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Mistinguette Smith
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
...more
Maureen
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Monica
I stumbled upon Mat Johnson a few years ago when I read his novel Loving Day. I few years later, I read his graphic novel Incognegro. Both were enjoyable, intriguing and mesmerizing. Pym is an earlier novel with an intriguing premise. Johnson takes on Edgar Allen Poe's only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and Related Tales. A novel which ends abruptly with the protagonist and his friend arrived at the South Pole. Here Johnson extrapolates to amusing and poignant ends. Poe h ...more
Linda
Jan 06, 2015 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
Maurice Ruffin
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jessica
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
lark benobi
How can any novel manage to be so smart and so ridiculous at the same time? In this novel, Johnson tells a story even more incoherent and open-ended than his source of inspiration, Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. But within his chosen framework of comedic satire, Johnson also makes intellectually exuberant arguments, a cascade of them, about literature, race, identity, feminism, love, and the historical inheritance of slavery. He even manages to explore the conditions unde ...more
Nancy Oakes
Apr 08, 2011 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
Heather
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
...more
Roger Brunyate
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: race, fantasy-surreal
Whiteness

[Review from 2011]

Chris Jaynes has just been fired from his position as the token black professor at a prestigious liberal arts college. A few pages later, he has a barroom encounter with the suspiciously-named man brought in to replace him, "Mosaic Johnson, Hip-Hop Theorist," who shakes a black power fist in the air (to the delight of the self-proclaimed white-liberal patrons) and exclaims "I'm down for the fight, know what I'm saying?" The tone of satire is set, but not yet the likabi
...more
Alex
Mar 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Mocha Girl
Dec 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
J.I.
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
Roy
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book that made for a quick read. It is filled with Mat Johson's trademark humor regardless of the seriousness of topic at hand. The plot revolves around a recently fired African American Literature professor. Why was he fired? Because his primary focus was on examining a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, the only full length novel written by the brilliant but definitely not African American author. The name of the book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I had never heard of ...more
Holly
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
Dov Zeller
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
Jenny Roth
Sep 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Arinn Dembo
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
John Pappas
Sep 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Maxine
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kara
Mat Johnson's Pym is nothing less than an absolute masterpiece. It is easily among the top 5 books I have ever read in my life. Johnson continually shows a razor sharp wit in crafting his protagonist's consciousness -- at different moments, his observations had me heartily laughing out loud at his incisive or absurd insights, giggling at the silliness of the fantastical realm he finds himself in, and chuckling bittersweetly at the comically framed horrors that are sometimes described. A lot of t ...more
TinHouseBooks
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-we-love
ichelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): One of my favorite reads this month was Mat Johnson’s Pym, in which a recently fired professor gathers an all-black crew to head to Antarctica in search of Edgar Allan Poe’s maybe-not-so-fictional island. You know, that old story. There were several major shifts in this novel that made my jaw drop–it makes you realize the pleasures of a writer willing to really do plot, not solely plot on, say, an emotional level. (I say this as a writer of ...more
Nostalgia Reader
An amazing, surreal, well-written story that flips and reverses the symbols of Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket , addressing the racial issues of both Narrative and of society in general. Highly recommended, especially if you're like me and enjoyed the novella but were concerned with the ending. ...more
Craig Laurance
Hilarious meditation/re-envisioning of Poe's sole novel PYM. It's a satirical novel that takes jabs at academia, racial politics, Little Debbie and the paintings of Thomas Kinkeade. Imagine Invisible Man and Mumbo Jumbo were written by Moliere and edited by Richard Pryor and you have this fast moving, exciting laugh-out-loud work. Highly recommended for both literary and genre (fantasy/horror) lovers. ...more
C
Apr 17, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have been waiting to get to this book since it was published!  Now is the time!   'Pym' is the last book in the four book project that covers almost 200 years.  I first had to read the inspiration of the other three books- Edgar Allan Poe's 'Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym' and then Jules Verne's 'Antarctic Mystery'.  If I hadn't already read H.P. Lovecraft's 'At the Mountains of Madness', I would have read that before reading Mat Johnson's book.  But I had already read the Lovecraft and loved ...more
Sharyl
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-reads, chuckles
This is satire, aimed squarely at Edgar Alan Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket." I enjoyed "Pym" more than Poe's novel.

I loved how Mat Johnson's lead character, Chris Jaynes, critiques Poe's novel in the beginning of this novel. Chris is a literature professor at a liberal college, where as the only African-American, he is expected to limit himself in a way he finds objectionable. Chris's refusal to play the narrow role the college is offering means the end of his career. W
...more
Maggie
3.5 stars rounded up. This book was not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it overall! I'm reading it for a book club I'm leading next week, and will be very interested to see who actually shows up to discuss it. I have never read "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym", but I didn't find that a detriment to the overall enjoyment of the book, the summary in chapter 2 and the excerpts in the back of the book for sufficient (for me at least) to understand the parallels and allusions Johnson was draw ...more
Cat Champney
May 05, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you’re interested in new literature that (literally) speaks to older literature, this is in your ballpark!

I found Pym to be clever and humorous - but the humor is definitely a specific strain. And, you kinda need to approach this book with a solid grip on the rampant whiteness of the American literary canon. Not just in a “american lit is so white so we shouldn’t bother reading it” way, but in a “I’ve read Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison” way. Reading Morrison’s text is actually perfect
...more
Rana
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At times confusing because I know nothing about Poe or the book in question. Most other times, a brilliant satire on racism, slavery, and lots of shit. As I'm mostly a commute-reader, I found myself having to actively control my facial expressions so I didn't startle fellow train riders with my snorts and giggles. ...more
Abby
This year, I have read books about cyborgs in a pandemic, uncontrollable time traveling and a woman who can poison another woman just by braiding her hair. This book is weirder than all of these combined.
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2017 Reading Chal...: Pym by Mat Johnson 1 22 Apr 16, 2016 10:14PM  
Other African-American lit? 10 32 Jan 21, 2015 01:36PM  

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Mat Johnson is an American writer of literary fiction who works in both prose and the comics format. In 2007, he was named the first USA James Baldwin Fellow by United States Artists.

Johnson was born and raised in the Germantown and Mount Airy communities in Philadelphia.

His mother is African American and his father is Irish Catholic. He attended Greene Street Friends School, West Chester Univers
...more

Articles featuring this book

Bryan Washington, the acclaimed author of 2019’s short story collection Lot, has returned with his debut novel, Memorial. The story follows...
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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.” 13 likes
“What I discovered during my studies in Poe's and other early Americans' texts was the intellectual source of racial Whiteness. Here, in these pages, was the very fossil record of how this odd and illogical sickness formed. Here was the twisted mythic underpinnings of modern racial thought that could never before be dismantled because we were standing on them.” 4 likes
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