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The Neon Bible

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  6,178 ratings  ·  487 reviews
The Neon Bible tells the story of David, a young boy growing up in a small Southern town in the 1940s. David's voice is perfectly calibrated, disarmingly funny, sad, shrewd, gathering force from page to page with an emotional directness that never lapses into sentimentality. Through it we share his awkward, painful, universally recognizable encounter with first love, we pa ...more
Paperback, 162 pages
Published January 12th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1989)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,178 ratings  ·  487 reviews

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Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Yeah, I've placed this on the back-burner a several times before. Why? Since "Confederacy" takes up such a large portion of my heart, my soul, I absolutely knew in my bones that this, Toole's first effort into novel-writing (& the only other one-- he wrote solely two), would suck. Of course it would. And the beginning trembles, and the plot is thin, and the observations somewhat... pedestrian? But it is nonetheless exactly what John Kennedy Toole fans like myself would die for: testament of earl ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers who enjoyed "Stoner"
Bittersweet Sixteen

It would be a significant literary achievement to write a convincing novel from the perspective of a sixteen year old narrator. It would be an even greater achievement, as here, if the author too was sixteen years old.

This novel is relatively straightforward in the way it unravels the plot. It's conventional and linear, until at the end you discover that it's actually circular. However, like "Stoner", one thing it does well is create pathos, although in this case there is
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Just ok. I struggled to get interested in this book, found myself grinding through it just to finish. Disappointed, because Dunces is one of my favorite of all time.
L.S. Popovich
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
It can't compare to CoD but it was a fun read, best enjoyed as an appetizer to Toole's masterpiece. He might have been a great writer in an alternate universe. Instead he gave us 2 posthumous and quirky works. This youthful effort is both nostalgic and generic. One must always wonder how much editorial rewriting went on behind the scenes when so many years intervened between the author's death and the publisher's efforts.

The self-doubt is more heavy-handed in this one than in Confederacy, which
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: lit
I really wanted to like this, I really don't want to criticise the writing of the teenage John Kennedy Toole, but the fact is that this is a book that was only published because of greed. It could have used an editor but mostly it could have used not being written by a 16 year old. He was clearly a very talented young man, his writing is beyond anything I can imagine a 16 year old writing today lololololjkjkjkjkjk but still this reads as though written by a naive boy.

Neon Bible has been compared
Hákon Gunnarsson
John Kennedy Toole was 16 years old when he wrote this novel. It’s one of only two novels he completed in his lifetime, the other being the better known A Confederacy of Dunces.

I remember a young girl in one of the writers groups I belong to, who asked once if we could take a young writer seriously. As I recall most of the people told the girl they would, if the writing was good. This is the novel I think I would recommend to anyone that can’t take a young writers seriously because of their age
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Toole committed suicide at the age of 32, leaving behind two unpublished novels and an impressively determined mother who succeeded – after much badgering – in gaining the novelist Walker Percy’s interest and support in the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces. As we know, this was then published to instant and great acclaim and has been continuously in print ever since, and translated into numerous languages.

While The Neon Bible was in fact written before A Confederacy of Dunces, it only came
Noran Miss Pumkin
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adults only
Recommended to Noran by: JEF
The first lines of this book were so vivid for be, I could see exactly what the author wrote. I just kept re-reading them.
It is such a powerful book, I often recommend highly to others. It was made into a film in the last decade, but got little play and lesser reviews. If you like "Ironweed", this is your cup of joe.
Jul 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I want to give this four stars, but the writing is choppy I think. You can tell he wrote this as a teenager. At times I feel like the editor could have touched it up and other times I feel like he didn't fully write this book. The plot reads like Toole's other book, but the writing doesn't. It's sad he died so young and didn't write anything else. ...more
Evan Leach
This was a solid to good coming-of-age story written by John Kennedy Toole at the age of 16. Toole is better known for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, his only other published work. Neon Bible is a piece of juvenilia that only saw the light of day due to the smashing success of Dunces, and was written by a raw and developing talent. There is room for Toole to grow as a writer across the board (plotting, characterization, prose, etc.). That said, this is an extremely imp ...more
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Win Butler swears that Arcade Fire's album and title track of the same name are of no relation, but they are so close in subject matter and tone that I am skeptical of the claim.

The Neon Bible is an immensely sad book and, having also read The Confederacy of Dunces, leads me to believe that there are whispers of autobiographical confession in its pages. The understated emotion of a young boy trying to make sense of the absurdities and hypocrisy that surround him.

Chad Bearden
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
"The Neon Bible" is a remarkable work in many respects, most notably because it is the early work of an author still in the embryonic stages of becoming a writer, and while it bears almost no tonal or stylistic resemblence to the work that would make Toole famous, it is still a quite solid read.

Whereas "A Confederacy of Dunces" seemed almost hyper-obnoxious with its lead character, Ignatius Reilly, as its figurehead, "The Neon Bible" is a marathon of calm observation. In the former, Toole channe
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
For those of you who were fans of A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole's other posthumously published work is a very different, but equally brilliant, work. Where Confederacy really shines through as a comic masterpiece with larger than life characters, The Neon Bible is a serious story told in some of the most emotional language I've ever seen come across a printed page. Where Confederacy is all about the farcical nature of human being, in The Neon Bible, Toole captures human emotion in an almost pur ...more
Ashley Bradley
Apr 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most surprising books I have ever read. Though I was already aware of Toole's genius, because of Confederacy of Dunces, I went into it wondering just how great it could be. He wrote this story when he was 16, and I thought the only reason it was published was because of his Mother's struggle to get it published. They say you aren't fully appreciated until your gone. In the introduction of this book, a family friend of Toole's mother discusses how the two found the story shorty ...more
Ovi Oprea
Dec 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
I found the book very easy to read and each page seemed to promise something new and appealing. I intended to specify that it's easy to read because I was thinking of all the vampire novels people are reading because they want something easy, that flows and all that, and of this article about the issue:

This is a novel that you can finish reading pretty quickly. Yet, I suspect that people that go for Dan Brown and co. do it not for the unsophisticated phr
Jun 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was honestly hard for me to read at times. I abandoned it the first time I tried to read it, about 6 years ago. It just oozes sadness and it can get to be a bit unbearable at times, but after I got into the heart of the book this second time I started reading it, I also found it to be really compelling and it really drew me into this world. The young boy telling the story uses perfectly believable language to describe his world in clear detail. I've found that books with a young narrator ca ...more
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Canadian indie rock bands
Shelves: 2008
Clean. Concise. Haunting. This book stays with you. A fantastic novel, made all the more so taking into account the age of the writer. Written with more honesty and emotion than many writers twice his age are capable of. Even discounting Conspiracy of Dunces, this book alone makes Toole's eventual suicide all the more tragic. One of the biggest losses of potential in modern American literature. ...more
Long before A Confederacy of Dunces, a young John Kennedy Toole wrote an at-times quite lovely, chilly novel about sub-Mason-Dixon desperation in the O'Connor/Porter/McCullers mode. It doesn't go much of anywhere -- after all, Toole was a teenager when he wrote it -- but it's not awful. It reminds me, rather, of how I used to think and write as an adolescent, which is to say that I wanted to write frigid, minimalist stories about my own regional turf that acted as panegyrics against the hypocris ...more
Oct 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
How could one ever expect such a book from the author of A Confederacy of Dunces???

I’m too numb.
Jerome Berglund
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
They should teach this in school, it should especially be required reading for any child growing up in a small town!

Every bit on par with To Kill a Mockingbird or his other better known masterpiece Confederacy of Dunces as a Great American Novel.

A short and engaging read, yet a curiously absorbing page turner for what one might initially expect to be a rather sedate slice of life style glimpse into conservative rural hillbilly youth in a bygone era.

Also makes some significant comments upon clas
Gregory Baird
Apr 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Lovers of "A Confederacy of Dunces"
“Thinking people feel sorry for you is something I guess you should appreciate, but I didn’t and never have."

First of all, for anyone to have written a novel like this at age sixteen is nothing short of amazing. Granted, some of the description does not entirely ring true, but for a teenager to possess such acuity when it comes to people and society is remarkable. John Kennedy Toole was such a gifted observer of humanity’s foibles despite his young age that “The Neon Bible” contains truths and
Michael Scott
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This was a strange read: on the one hand, a story that does not move until the very end, on the other, glimpses of fine writing and intense feeling. In the end, the glimpses were too few and far between, so I can't say I enjoyed (much) this book; the difference between the writing of the sixteen year-old John Kennedy Toole and the mature and wonderful A Confederacy of Dunces (a five-star) was just too big. ...more
May 19, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adele by: I borrowed it from the library.
The narrative was interesting, albeit fast-paced, with several formative years of a life packed into less than 200 pages. The characterization was good and the town and its people fleshed out. The ending was uncharacteristic and abrupt and the book ended just when the story seemed like it was about to begin. The biggest flaws were the simplistic writing and the fact that the narrator's tone never changed, whether he was 9 years old or 19 years old. ...more
Jacqueline Perez
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
"A Confederacy of Dunces" is a masterpiece by John Kennedy Toole, which masterpiece should have been published before his death. The fact that it wasn't published is a testament to the tone deafness of the publishers in his day. According to Kenneth Holditch's introduction to "The Neon Bible" ((1989 W. Kenneth Holditch, Marion Toole Hosli, Sharon H. Muniz, Althea Toole Farley, and Mary Toole McGuire) Published by Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.), Toole's second posthumously published work, Toole's hopes ...more
Benjamin Rubenstein
"The Neon Bible" was published in 1989, but Toole wrote it in 1954 when he was SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I find it almost impossible to believe that someone that young could write so cleanly. Here are my favorite blurbs from the book:
The clicking on the rails is getting faster, and I can see the trees crossing the moon quick now. The years before I went to school passed by just about as quick as those trees are passing by the moon.

You’d never think in a few more years someone almost left his house over
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read a number of books written from the perspective of teenagers and most of the were cringy. It took a lot of suspension of disbelief from my part to actually read the words as thought and delivered by teens. Teens have a certain interior world which we tend to forget pretty fast once we grow up. And I think this is why I liked this book so much. It was believe-able, it was raw, it was authentic. It was probably not easy at all to write, since, apart from being narrated from a 16-year-old's p ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it liked it
I was feeling pretty ambivalent about this book for the majority. The last 15 pages or so really got me. It's a coming of age (or loss of innocence?) story set in Mississippi that explores poverty, religion, the effects of WWII, and the difficulties of being an outsider in a town that enforces homgeneity. Very serious and solemn, it's completely different from Toole's most famous work. You can see some of the sociological aspects that pop up in Confederacy, but they're underdeveloped.

An excellen
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
John Kennedy Toole wrote this when he was sixteen years old. He later dismissed it as adolescent, however, I think it shows promise. That promise was fulfilled in his novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which was published posthumously. He committed suicide in 1969 at the age of 31 after his novel was rejected. Such a loss.
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Toole's Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books of all time...but for some reason I'd never read this one. I LOVED IT. You won't get the rollicking, satirical, character-stuffed experience of COD--The Neon Bible is a much quieter book, spacious and spare and cruel and tender, a Southern Gothic masterpiece. If you like Carson McCullers and Kaye Gibbons (and I do, so much!) then you'll love this book. ...more
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John Kennedy Toole was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, best known for his novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

Toole's novels remained unpublished during his lifetime. Some years after his death by suicide, Toole's mother brought the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces to the attention of the novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981 Toole was posthumously awarde

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“But I knew the way the people in the town thought about things. They always had some time left over from their life to bother about other people and what they did. They thought they had to get together to help other people out, like the time they got together about the woman who let a colored man borrow her car and told her the best place for her was up north with all the other nigger lovers, and the time they got the veterans with overseas wives out. If you were different from anybody in town, you had to get out. That's why everybody was so much alike. The way they talked, what they did, what they liked, what they hated. If somebody got to hate something and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too, or people began to hate the ones who didn't hate it. They used to tell us in school to think for yourself, but you couldn't do that in the town. You had to think what your father thought all his life, and that was what everybody thought.” 18 likes
“I was getting tired about what the preacher called Christian. Anything he did was Christian, and the people in his church believed it, too. If he stole some book he didn't like from the library, or made the radio station play only part of the day on Sunday, or took somebody off to the state poor home, he called it Christian. I never had much religious training, and I never went to Sunday school because we didn't belong to the church when I was old enough to go, but I thought I knew what believing in Christ meant, and it wasn't half the things the preacher did.” 14 likes
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