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Noah's Compass

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  11,461 ratings  ·  1,936 reviews
From the incomparable Anne Tyler, a wise, gently humorous, and deeply compassionate novel about a schoolteacher, who has been forced to retire at sixty-one, coming to terms with the final phase of his life.

Liam Pennywell, who set out to be a philosopher and ended up teaching fifth grade, never much liked the job at that run-down private school, so early retirement doesn't
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published January 12th 2010 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published 2009)
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Gail “Where’d he buy gas?” Jonah asked.

“Excuse me?”

“Where’d he buy gas for his boat if he was the only guy in the world?”

“He didn’t need gas,” Liam said. “…more
“Where’d he buy gas?” Jonah asked.

“Excuse me?”

“Where’d he buy gas for his boat if he was the only guy in the world?”

“He didn’t need gas,” Liam said. “It wasn’t that kind of boat.”

“Was it a sailboat, then?”

“Why, yes, I guess it was,” Liam said. Although he had never noticed sails in the pictures, come to think of it. “Actually,” he said, “I guess he didn’t need sails either, because he wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Not going anywhere?”

“There was nowhere to go. He was just trying to stay afloat. He was just bobbing up and down, so he didn’t need a compass, or a rudder, or a sextant . . . ”(less)

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Average rating 3.32  · 
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 ·  11,461 ratings  ·  1,936 reviews

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Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The trouble with discarding bad memories was that evidently the good ones went with them.”

Often while reading “Noah’s Compass” something I read would send me spinning off through my own memories and experiences because Anne Tyler writes in such a simplistic and truthful manner that captures the nuance of everyday life. At times while reading Ms. Tyler it is like reading a story about yourself.
Anne Tyler gets under my skin in all the good ways. Some examples:

This text has a few moments where the
Clif Hostetler
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
Anybody can write an interesting story about interesting people. But how about a good story about uninteresting people? That's a more difficult challenge. This novel meets that challenge.

This is a novel that features a normal person with ordinary abilities and no particular passion for life. Unmotivated readers (aging with nothing in particular to look forward to in life) will be able to identify with this story. It starts out a bit slow, but for the reader who makes it through to the end of the
Feb 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
(Melinda) The most compelling concept to me was actually the title. The story of the biblical Noah refers to a man chosen by God to survive the coming flood because "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Consequently, Noah survived and actually was led on to high and dry ground... And all of this without "steering" the ark! No compass, no map. Liam's grandson actually brings up the idea. Somehow,this theme is threaded into the fabric of this story making me wonder if Liam knew that if he ju ...more
Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I started reading Anne Tyler in 1988. And though I've always loved her, there were times when I thought some of her characters were a bit too quirky. As I've gotten older, I've thought that less and less -- whether because I've met 'quirkier' people through the years, or because I'm now quirkier myself, I don't know. In any case, the characters in this novel are absolutely real. It is amazing how real they are. I don't know when I've seen a more real depiction of a 'normal' 17-year-old girl, for ...more
Barbara H
Jan 13, 2010 rated it liked it
As I read this book, I was often reminded of the television show, Seinfeld , which was purportedly about nothing, but beneath the surface there was usually more. I have read and enjoyed many of Anne Tyler's novels. They all seem to share the trend of family disharmony and often are similar in style, if not content.

Noah's Compass is a low-key, meandering story. While sleeping, Liam Pennywell sustained a head injury as a result of an attack by an assailant who broke into his room. This concus
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
My feelings about this one fall pretty much in line with how I felt about her novel The Beginner's Goodbye. It was alright, enjoyable enough, but not super special. Interestingly, both of these books follow only 1 protagonist, both older men. I think I find her writing most affecting when she writes from multiple perspectives, and usually when it's from the POV of young people or women. But as always Anne Tyler's writing is observant and witty, and reading her books is just super comforting—thi ...more
Dave Peterson
Apr 01, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Connie G
Liam Pennywell, a fifth grade teacher, is out of a job when his school downsizes. He's uncertain about what he wants to do in the next stage of his life. To conserve his savings, the sixty-one year old man moves to a smaller apartment. He goes to sleep in his new bedroom, and wakes up in a hospital after being knocked unconscious by an intruder. He can't remember anything about the incident.

While Liam is trying to recover the memory of the intruder breaking into his apartment, he's making conne
Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*
EXCERPT: In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job.

It wasn't such a good job, anyhow. He'd been teaching fifth-grade in a second-rate private boys' school. Fifth-grade wasn't even what he'd been trained for. Teaching wasn't what he'd been trained for. His degree was in philosophy. Oh, don't ask! Things seemed to have taken a downward turn a long, long time ago, and perhaps it was just as well that he'd seen the last of St Dyfrig's dusty, scuffed corridors and those interm
Dale Harcombe
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is easy to write about larger than life, exciting characters. Not so easy to write about the everyday and ordinary. There is probably not a writer around who can handle small moments and the lives of ordinary people as well as Anne Tyler. Retrenched from his job as a teacher, 60 year old Liam decides he needs a new start and moves into a new and smaller apartment. After going to sleep the first night in his bed in the new place, he wakes up in hospital. He cannot remember what happened. That ...more
Jan 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
Anne Tyler's 18th novel "Noah's Compass" is more twee than Zooey Dechanel wrapped in the orange and brown tones of a home-knit afghan.

It starts in a good place: 60-year-old Liam Pennywise, once widowed, once divorced, a philosopher-turned-elementary-school teacher has been laid off from his job at a mediocre school. He begins downsizing an already modest life by moving into an apartment complex off the highway near the mall. He goes to bed his first night in his new home, and wakes up the next
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
Normally I enjoy Tyler's novels, but with Noah's Compass I failed to see the point. I suppose if you look at it in a simple manner, just your average person living a mediocre life then it makes sense. There were certainly quirky moments, and Eunice started out as an interesting character but I kept expecting to be taken somewhere fun only to be returned home, and early. Kitty fed the novel a little but his other daughters didn't really give much to the storyline. The elder daughters were flat an ...more
Dec 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Tyler’s specialty is the ordinary dramas of family life. Her plots may be thin but her characters are complex. This is Liam’s story, a 61 year old man who seems to have spent his life avoiding conflict or challenge. As the novel opens, Liam is passively moving through several major life transitions which culminates in a night time intruder leaving him unconscious from the attack. Waking up in the hospital, he has no recollection of the home invasion, a memory loss that obsesses him to such an ex ...more
Lori Kelley
Feb 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Some may find Anne Tyler too formulaic.... "quirky character muddles through life and suddenly has epiphany"...however I personally find reading her books as comforting as a warm blanket on a cold night or a nice chat with a good friend. Noah's Compass doesn't disappoint as the main character, Liam, is a retiree who has stripped down his life to the bare bones, moving into a small, gloomy condo with a few books, a couple chairs, and some canned soup. He has almost no friends and is disconnected ...more
Oct 10, 2010 rated it liked it
I think I've read all of Anne Tyler's books and this is probably the weakest. In other books her characters tend to live on the fringes of society, outwardly losers, but through Tyler's eyes we get to like them and understand their often odd behaviour. Liam Pennywell, the main protagonist of Noah's Compass, provokes none of this sympathy. With his grumpy disconnection from the modern world, deliberate obtuseness in conversation and total lack of concern for his family he is a weak, unlikeable an ...more
Jane Long
OMG! What a waste of my time. Would not recommend this book to anyone. God knows why it's called Noah's Compass, I could think of a couple more titles for it! lol. Not even worth one star. Sorry Anne. ...more
This was okay.
I really did not get into it as much as I have on some of Tyler's other books.
Jan 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about my father- and all the people who are always so emotionally distant and nonchalant no matter how much we love them. Liam is a man who floats through life, seemingly non-curious about others, his family and himself but who is lovable even for all that. This is the story in which he wakes up and begins to swim a bit...

The ending is a bit staged but I found this book to be both beautiful and healing. Tyler also has a keen grasp in how idiosyncrasies in others can make us cringe
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The characters were well developed but I never really got to the POINT of the book until Liam's grandson was so ticked off at Noah for letting so many animals die and Liam was telling his grandson about Noah and the ark. These few paragraphs made the book make sense, albeit a little late. Maybe worth a re-read. Not a waste of time, I just didn't get it until the last few chapters. ...more
Jan 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have heard some pretty harsh reviews of this new offering from Anne Tyler, but I liked it. Keep in mind though, I don't need much plot, I am a lover of character studies. ...more
Ron Charles
Sep 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Nobody will raise a Botoxed eyebrow at the claim that men age badly. It's not just our bodies; it's the whining, the self-absorbed fear, the carcinogenic rage. Even the best writers follow the hoary advice to write what they know, and if they live long enough, what they know is old age. Shakespeare closed his last play with Prospero saying, "Every third thought shall be my grave."

Our modern masters have been just as grim. Rabbit Angstrom aged through the second half of the 20th century until Joh
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Noah’s Compass is the eighteenth adult novel by American author, Anne Tyler. When sixty-year-old Liam Pennywell is retrenched from his job as a fifth-grade teacher, he decides to downsize his life, moving to a smaller apartment with less possessions; he even considers retiring altogether. But after going to sleep in his new bedroom, he wakens in a hospital bed with no memory of intervening events.

His capable ex-wife Barbara and his three daughters (the rather bossy Xanthe, the born-again Christ
Jan 16, 2010 rated it liked it
There are certain things you can count on with Ann Tyler - the book will be well written, for one, the characters well sketched with the detail of a perceptive thinker. And I found this to be an easy and enjoyable read just about the whole way through.
Interestingly, Tyler attempted a sort of mysterious beginning which, as far as I know, is unlike her - a sixty year old man goes to sleep one night and wakes up in the hospital. But the noir-ness ends there, which is fine since I don't think it sui
Jul 26, 2011 added it
I liked this book a lot. It is very simply written, about a man who is very ordinary. I liked that. It’s nice to sometimes read about someone who is not a superhuman being, who knows how to parachute out a plane with just an umbrella or some such. The main character, Liam, at age 61, has just lost his job, not that he liked it much anyway, and has moved to a small apartment, and seemingly has no-one in his life and little to do. But suddenly and then in growing numbers, people begin to populate ...more
Dec 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very short novel, really more of a novella - I read the whole thing on a two-hour train journey, and I'm not someone who whizzes through books. But not a word is wasted and I think Anne Tyler still manages to create compelling characters and the sort of moral dilemmas which will leave you going round and round in circles. The central character, a reserved teacher called Liam who has just been made redundant, rather reminds me of the hero of 'The Accidental Tourist', and I think perhaps ...more
Glenda L
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoy Ann Tyler's books, her writing style and her quirky content. This is about a schoolteacher who is forced to retire at age sixty-one, and is trying to come to terms with the final phase of his life. He went to college to be a philosopher, but ended up teaching fifth grade...he never liked it very much so he didn't fight the early retirement. He had to change his life style...moved into a smaller apartment and something happened his first night there causing him to wake up in a hosp ...more
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars
What can you say about a book that pulls you in so completely that you finish it within seven hours? I read Noah's Compass in the space of an evening, and was so engrossed I was surprised to find it eleven o'clock (way past my bedtime) when I stopped reading. Anne Tyler's trademark blend of quirk, bittersweetness, and pathos are in full supply here, eliciting laughs and gasps alike. This is a solid, relatable novel and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. ...more
Davida Chazan
Liam is 61, unexpectedly unemployed, and the victim of a home break-in during his first night in a new apartment, but he can't remember even a moment of that event. What this mix of events has on Liam's life and family is the subject of Anne Tyler's 2009 novel "Noah's Compass." You can read more about this book in my review here. ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Anne Tyler has the extraordinary ability to subtlety observe the quiet moments of seemingly ordinary lives and then describe in understated and beautifully composed prose how they deal with an unforeseen disruption or challenge. In "Noah's Compass" we meet Liam Pennywell, a 60 year old private school history teacher. Forced to take early retirement, he decides to economize and move into a smaller apartment. On his first night in the new place he goes to bed and wakes up in the hospital with no c ...more
M.M. Graham
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
A slow read, focusing more on the main character thoughts rather than events.
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Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She graduated at nineteen from Duke University and went on to do graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. She has published 20 novels, her debut novel being If Morning Ever Comes in (1964). Her eleventh novel, Breathing Lessons , was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a mem ...more

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