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Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,680 ratings  ·  223 reviews
What Hemingway's A Moveable Feast did for Paris in the 1920s, this charming yet undeceivable memoir does for Greenwich Village in the late 1940s. In 1946, Anatole Broyard was a dapper, earnest, fledgling avant-gardist, intoxicated by books, sex, and the neighborhood that offered both in such abundance. Stylish written, mercurially witty, imbued with insights that are both ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published June 24th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1993)
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Apr 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
Maybe it's because I just finished reading Incognegro, a thin graphic novel that leverages the idea of "passing" into a lot of interesting narrative turns, that I found Kafka was the Rage frustrating. I often was drifting to the story that Broyard does not tell, the one where he is a black man passing as white in an environment that prides itself on being open minded and bohemian.

It does not help that he essentially dares us to think about this untold story when he writes passages like "To use
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Everyone simply must -- okay, well should -- read the last chapter of this memoir, at the very least. It is thick with insight and knowledge about the potential alienation and disabling awkwardness of sex. Here's just one excerpt that really caught my eye:

"In Portnoy's Complaint, Portnoy says that underneath their skirts girls all have cunts. What he didn't say -- and this was his trouble, his real complaint -- was that underneath their skirts they also had souls. When they were undressed, I
Josh Marcus
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I finished this 2 days ago and have since returned to Henry Miller's Sexus. There is a perfect contrast between the two authors.
Broyard: the pretentious intellectual, who wants to be part of the literary crowd, lives in angst, not knowing what he's doing, where he's going, and what his life is for, and experiences extreme loneliness.
Miller: happy-go-lucky, carefree, living for the sake of existence, not trying to be anything and hanging out with whoever he pleases.
Broyard brought up a lot of
Oct 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
i am willing to concede that my dislike for this book is maybe just really subjective. it was recommended to me by a former writing teacher who absolutely RAVED about it & went into fits of ecstasy describing the way all of her writing friends soaked up the descriptive torrents of prose & felt that they were transported back to post-war greenwich village, etc etc. me...not so much. the book tops out at right around 120 pages & the only thing with a bigger font is "highlights magazine ...more
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
A fabulously novelistic memoir.

Broyard's writing is, in a word, whimsical. He writes stuff like "To open a bookshop is one of the persistent romances, like living off the land or sailing around the world." He writes of literature in a way that is reverent, dumbstruck and honest.

Reverent, dumbstruck and honest could describe the book as a whole. It's full of too-cool characters, but Anatole never presents himself as especially intelligent or hip. He's the G.I. with the crew cut going out with the
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Memoirs would not have such a bad reputation if they were all this spare, this precise. Plus, it doesn't hurt that he's writing about life in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, what it was like to own a bookstore before the paperback revolution, when "people would rush in wild-eyed, almost foaming at the mouth, willing to pay anything for Kafka," having sex when "sex was like one of those complicated toys that comes disassembled, in one hundred pieces, and without instructions," when painters like ...more
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-story
At first, I was enthralled. The writing was full of lovely but apt similes and lots of talk about New York in its bohemian heyday. I could read that kind of thing all day long, and I was prepared to do so. But soon I started to notice that he relies on similes a little too much (in fact, I should say way too much, to the point of parody) because he doesnt really know how to write an actual scene with movement and dialogue. He mostly likes to capture an image. This memoir is like a bunch of ...more
James Murphy
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When I recently read Joseph Tabbi's biography/critical study of William Gaddis I learned that in postwar New York City Gaddis had been intensely attracted to a young abstract artist named Sheri Martinelli. Tabbi used the word muse in describing Gaddis's regard for her. And he directed me to the Anatole Broyard memoir of that time in Greenwich Village, Kafka Was the Rage. I'd read it when it was 1st published in paper--over 20 years ago--but didn't remember Gaddis or Sheri. So I pulled it down ...more
Josh Friedlander
Greenwich Village in the 1940s, the East Village in the 1960s, Bed-Stuy today: the scene may have drifted, but the mannerisms of artsy, precocious (and pretentious) lit-bros and -chicks have changed but little. Gaddis skewered them perfectly in The Recognitions; Broyard has no intention of that. Everything he says is autobiographical, including meetings with Anaïs Nin, Maya Deren, Dylan Thomas, Delmore Schwartz, and many other avant-garde superstars. But more importantly, it's completely ...more
It's an unfinished fragment, so there's that.

But it was easy to read, very epigrammatic, subtle, and suffused with unique and complex insights.

Interesting how it does seem to carry you into that world of 50's era Greenwich Village without even necessarily going into epic detail about it. Broyard was there, he lived it, he makes some slightly oracular observations from time to time, but if you have always had the kind of smoky, hazy, nostalgia for the personal histories you never actually
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Anatole knows what it is to be a reader, someone trying on different literary personas. While some read to temporarily replace and escape their own thoughts with those of others, he writes more for the young man who wants to dress his own thoughts, to learn how to name the world around him, landscapes, people, sexual encounters, comparing them all to whatever he read last night. Described by Anatole reading has never sounded so like an action, it is a harpoon thrown to tether him to whatever it ...more
Jan C
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
This book started as a 4 and I think finally ended up as a 2 1/2. His widow has a note at the end of the book, that Anatole had intended the final chapter to be about being brought down to earth by his father's death. She actually thinks that he was brought down to earth by becoming a father.

I guess I thought this book would be more about living in Greenwich Village, and some of it was. But it seemed to be far more about his sexual conquests. It may have meant a lot to him in looking back on his
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Not a Greenwich Village Memoir. More like a memoir of the author's early sex life, with a few people and streets from the Village circa late 1940s thrown in. For a lover of all things New York history, this book was a HUGE disappointment. Broyard spends the majority of it writing about his discovery that sex is good, and spends very little time on the city, the music, the art, even the apartments, of NYC that guarantee an interesting read.

And for some excellent writing in the area of
Roman Kurys
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Well, the good news is I managed to finish it. Mainly because it is so short.

To be fair, memoirs arent my thing, but every now and then I like to venture out of my normal reading comfort zone just to see what is out there.

I saw the time frame and that its about NYC and though this could be interesting, and it was at times. I expected some more literary forays, like the part where he was scavenging around a local bookstore. I loved that part. Ive read it twice.

That was just about the only part
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own
A slim memoir of one man's experience of one of my top 5 "If I had a time machine..." eras, namely Greenwich Village immediately after World War II. It's hard to count the number of ways I seethe with jealousy as I read this -- the inexpensive five-floor walkups, the long talks at the bar with Delmore Schwarz, awkward sex with bohemians coming into their own. But mostly, I boggle at the fact that Broyard could come back from the war, use the GI Bill to enlist at the New School during its heyday, ...more
Oct 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
"It was the talkers who gave me the most trouble. Like the people who had sold me books, the talkers wanted to sell me their lives, their fictions about themselves, their philosophies. Following the example of the authors on the shelves, infected perhaps by them, they told me of their families, their love affairs, their illusions and disillusionments. I was indignant. I wanted to say, Wait a minute! I've already got stories here! Take a look at those shelves!" Anatole Broyard "Kafka was the ...more
Matthew Marcus
Apr 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
#5 on the list of David Bowie's 100 favourite books, a sometimes gratingly self-regarding memoir of a pretentious hipster in New York after the war. Broyard does occasionally have a nice turn of phrase, and as a snapshot of a magical time when possibility had only recently returned to the world it's charming, but I had limited tolerance for the author repeatedly bragging about all the women who wanted to sleep with him and all the male friends who were desperate to get the benefit of his ...more
Sep 06, 2007 rated it liked it
In this memoir, literary critic Broyard tells the story of his life in Greenwich Village in post-WWII 1946. It's a free-thinking time, where eveyone appears obsessed with books, ideas, and art. This reminded me so much of the beat writers in San Francisco, but as Broyard points out, minus the drugs. In some ways it seems like a frustrating pointless life and time, with people moving in and out of each other's lives, discussing philosophy, but finding no answers. In other ways, it gave me this ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From the prologue/epilogue notes, it seems Anatole Broyard passed away before he was able to finish putting this thing together, and I'll admit, it shows. BUT, even though he didn't get to keep writing and/or edit this slender collection of essays with an eye towards shaping it into a more consciously-formed narrative arc, they're still well-written and there are impressive little tidy turns throughout the prose that makes this book worth reading. If you are interested at all in the ...more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book about Greenwich Village in 1946, when Broyard was 23, returning from war, and could buy a storefront to start a used book store for under $300. Sex was a great mystery, abstract art was worshiped and despised, you could take a class at the New School with Erich Fromm or Karen Horney, or you could end up at a party with Dylan Thomas. An incredible time.

Broyard's chapter about a Jewish friend who is ill is one of the most gorgeous depictions of friendship with someone you both
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Don't remember when I started reading Anatole's reviews in The Times, but I know that by the early seventies I looked forward to them every week. I felt he was like me, in his sensibility; his likes and dislikes. He was not on any Modernist, or Liberal bandwagon. He questioned the conventional wisdom, that is the New York Intellectual conventional Wisdom. Somehow, he never fell out of the good graces of the taste makers. I'd like to know how he did it. Maybe his wife will write a book.
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
A co-worker recommended something else by him. Then I remembered that I have this one: i picked up at a sale, just to trade it in for an extra dollar, but no one wanted it, so i still had it when today i needed something light to read.
It is a pleasant read, with some neat anecdotes, some astute observations, some genuine lyricism. But also some trifles.
I might pick up Human Stain now.
Jan 15, 2008 rated it liked it
If only Bellow could have novelized Broyard like he did Delmore Schwartz and Allan Bloom! What a book that've been!
Elly Sands
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a quote on the back cover," Some writing is so rich that commentary is superfluous, even presumptuous. That's the case with Anatole Broyard". I confess I've never heard of him but my fascination with the New York bohemian period steered me to his book in the library. He doesn't hold back either and the reader should not be shy about the explicit sexuality he writes about because it's an important aspect of that time period and he really gets into it. Also books were at a shortage after ...more
Jason Robinson
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars. An account of longtime New York Times book critic and editor Anatole Broyard in the immediate post WWII years in Greenwich Village NYC. A very short, quick read.
Jazzy Lemon
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: beatpoets
A intimate look at literature, love, sex, life and death through the memoirs of Anatole Broyard in the years immediately following the second World War.
Karla Huebner
Dec 31, 2014 added it
Shelves: memoir
This brief (unfinished) memoir about life in 1946 Greenwich Village was a delight to read. Nostalgic, quirky, rich with simile, a reflection on what it's like to be twenty-something and in a big city, obsessed with literature and sex. Broyard imagined that the vibe in Greenwich Village was different then than in other times and places, and of course that's necessarily true, but it's also not true; San Francisco in the 1980s (as I experienced it) had much in common with his Greenwich Village and ...more
Maria Said
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really beautiful memoir. So much said, and then I discovered after reading about his life, so much left unsaid.
Richard Jespers
Some poor or average writers sometimes make better critics than authors. They can (or cant) see whats wrong with another persons writing but not their own. This guy may have been a book critic for the New York Times, but this effort, at least, is a sad attempt to memorialize his youth in the late 1940s in New Yorks West Village. Even the title, which may be what drew me to the book, is but a flashy bauble, for he hardly says anything about Kafka and why he might have been all the rage at that ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, about-books
This is a book that carries you away to another time and place written by a near perfect writer. It was a joy to read and imagine the feeling of excitement experienced by the denizens of Greenwich Village in 1946. Broyard's memoir is full of life, yet the undercurrent of mortality seems to be there as well.
The memoir reads like a story, one that is full of unique moments -- literary bon mots -- whether chatting with Delmore Schwartz at the San Remo Bar, running into Auden on the street or
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Anatole Paul Broyard was an American writer, literary critic and editor for The New York Times. In addition to his many reviews and columns, he published short stories, essays and two books during his lifetime. His autobiographical works, Intoxicated by My Illness (1992) and Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir (1993), were published after his death.

After his death, Broyard became the

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“I realize that people still read books now and some people actually love them, but in 1946 in the Village our feelings about books--I’m talking about my friends and myself--went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. While it would be easy to say that we escaped into books, it might be truer to say that books escaped into us. Books were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.

They showed us what was possible. We had been living with whatever was close at hand, whatever was given, and books took us great distances. We had known only domestic emotions and they showed us what happens to emotions when they are homeless. Books gave us balance--the young are so unbalanced that anything can make them fall. Books steadied us; it was as if we carried a heavy bag of them in each hand and they kept us level. They gave us gravity.”
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