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A Fan's Notes

(A Fan's Notes #1)

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  4,023 ratings  ·  440 reviews
This fictional memoir, the first of an autobiographical trilogy, traces a self professed failure's nightmarish decent into the underside of American life and his resurrection to the wisdom that emerges from despair. ...more
Paperback, 385 pages
Published September 1988 by Vintage Contemporaries (first published 1968)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  4,023 ratings  ·  440 reviews

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Glenn Russell
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Fredrick Exley (1929-1992) – Photo of the writer as a vulnerable, sensitive young man. In many ways, much too vulnerable and sensitive for mid-20th century American society, a society where a man’s prime virtue is being tough.

A Fan's Notes is the odyssey of one man’s unending heartbreak and retreat into an inner world of fantasy and dreams, a retreat, by his own account and language, punctuated by alcoholism and trips to the madhouse; or, put another way, an autobiographical novel about Fredric
Aug 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Reasons I should have liked this book:

»   It’s meant to be open, soul-searching and literary while at the same time appealing to my gender – the coarse one, that is.

»   It’s a somewhat fictionalized memoir by a die-hard NY Giants fan. Though they’re not my team, it was written at the time I was first gaining sports consciousness, learning that a skinny kid could somehow connect to the world of uncles if he knew how many yards Jim Brown gained against the Rams.

»   It supposedly set the stage for
Vit Babenco
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Frederick Exley belongs among those champions who after ruining one’s life spends years trying to climb out of shit and for this strenuous endeavour is considered to be a valiant and sagacious hero…
He was an incorrigible dreamer, romantic visionary. He believed the world couldn’t wait to throw its arms around him…
I was willfully acting in such a way as to alienate myself. But I doubt the validity of this. I had large faith—the faith of youth—in the city’s capacity to absorb me, hair-do and all;
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is about sports like Macbeth is about witches. Which is to say, it's just a vehicle for the real action, which is all internal. A gorgeous, eloquent song to despair and alcoholism and redemption. Its ravishing language will rip your heart out. ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-english
This is not a book about sports. If you don't know who Frederick Exley is -- and I didn't till I found it among Thomas' books (or was it a recommendation from him...? - well, either way...) -- then don't not read it because you think it's about sports. It has nothing to do with sports, except that that is one of the author's obsessions -- but he could just as well be obsessed about anything else (and he is)... there is very little discussion about sports in it.

Frederick Exley, as his friend Jon
Trevor Jones
Jun 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Another reviewer writes, "Exley is basically an east coast Bukowski with the expected enhanced neuroses and over educated self obsession." If that sentence excites you, or if it turns you off, that just about does it in a sense for this one-hit sixties wonder (his other books truly are mediocre). On a personal level however, this book was so much more, as it struck a distinct chord in my brain and sent me spiralling into a season-length depression (aided by Richard Ford's terrible-yet-somehow-si ...more
Jan 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: u-s-lit, top-10-2010
It is not fear of self-scrutiny which typically causes me to dislike books about a character's dissolution. It's the ennui. So, Hamsun's Hunger and Celine's Journey to the End of the Night wear me down. Don't laugh, but I prefer my nihilism more chipper.

Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes transports the dissolute soul. True, there are moments where the book sags and other times where it seems that Exley is writing what I should have said in some confrontation. But this book is sheer brilliance. Firs
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it
So what’s A Fan’s Notes about? It’s about football, Frank Gifford, and the trials and tribulations of the tortured artist who looks around him and feels contempt and revulsion for the society he’s alienated from. It’s the howl of the misanthropic misfit who doesn’t fit in and rages against the drones who do. Is it any good? Parts of it are. There are plenty of passages that are brilliantly written, with rich language and a spot on critique of modern society. In some ways, this book reminds me a ...more
Mar 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Serious readers and writers
Recommended to Bart by: Michael FitzGerald
What makes this book so marvelous - and so much better than the others in the genre it launched - is how apparently unconscious it is of itself. It tells a story with self-deprecation, eloquence and wit, without any of the snide and self-consumed irony that clutters most memoirs.

The writing is marvelous. Not till about the 300th page does Frederick Exley reuse any of his other phrases, and only then does he forgivably recycle in all of Christendom. Page after page, a reader approaches the end of
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible. A superhuman achievement on many levels. Exley turns an uncomfortably unflinching gaze on the abyss of depression & madness he passed thru & transforms it into the most breathtakingly beautiful art imaginable in the form of this book, a triumphant testament to one man's resilience and relentless pursuit of the writing craft. A fictionalized memoir, A Fan's Notes takes us from Exley's childhood in the shadow of a father who was a local hero to his misadventures in advertisi ...more
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What's going on with me lately?

Usually I'm all: "Kafka this, kafka that, dalkey book, Stacey Levine, something french, kafka kafka kafka" ad nauseam. But so far this year it's been mostly cultural criticism and history, even a twinkle-dinkle of poetry (and I don't even know how to READ poetry). I could say I'm having a jolly cross-disciplinary time, but let's be honest: I'm having a literary meltdown.

Part of that meltdown is reflected in the only two works of fiction I've been able to finish lat
Hannah Garden
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Holy moly you guys this is hell of bananas good. I accidentally started being in love with my neighbor and so it took me forever to finish but given more normal circumstances I'd've zipped through it like a regular greased kitten. A real roast beef hoagie of a book, slaaaam bangin. ...more
Nov 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
During the course of reading this book, I discovered that my father, one of my best friends, and my mother all thought it was one of the best books of all time. If I hadn't discovered this, I probably would have put it down after a hundred pages. But what a great first hundred pages! As long as Exley talks about being insane/the New York Giants, this book is a piece of demented genius. Exley is really sharp about American culture and how sports culture fits into it, and he puts down the details ...more
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sergei Grinkov
Shelves: own, fiction

Jonathan Yardley's introduction explains that Frederick Exley had intended to publish A Fan's Notes as a memoir, but was asked to novelize it by Harper & Row, who feared libel actions. We have this amazing book, Yardley writes, a caustic masterpiece by a man who was essentially an alcoholic bum - he never held one job for more than a few months, he spent months or years crashing on other people's "davenports," including his parents' and various alumni of the mental hospital he had received treat
Re-reading it now after thinking about it unbiddenly recently and seeing a funky, weird old 60's mass-marketpaperback in a used bookstore in Amherst this weekend. I love those old covers, they're so gauche and semi-psychedelic. I saw one for a 60's edition of "The Critique Of Pure Reason" with hallucinogenic spirals all over the place, with the implicit allure to get in on a really heavy, groovy time, maaan.....

But I'm rereading it not for camp but for penance. I read this during a markedly fall
I am uber glad to have found these two books pretty close together @ the bookstore, for the name "Exley", a somewhat rare name caught in my eye and I ended up getting both. As I began to read one of them, I felt the need to scan the other and immediately saw how obvious it was that they should be read together. The hunch was one hundred percent accurate. Brock Clarke's "Exley" complimented Fredrick Exley's "Fictional Memoir" by providing a reference for crucial references to specific quotes, con ...more
Jan 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Exley is an interesting cult figure whose debut book, this one, is his real legacy. (The other two, PAGES FROM A COLD ISLAND and LAST NOTES FROM HOME are very flawed). A FAN'S NOTES is a very readable coming-of-age novel about hero worship. The difficulty most contemporary readers have is the object of his hero's worship: Frank Gifford. That's right---THE Frank Gifford, Mrs. Kathy Lee. For those of us too young to remember that FG was a gridiron hero---he retired the year I was born---that's a h ...more
Nov 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Could’ve been sub-titled, “Scattered stories about every person I’ve ever found to be even slightly interesting or totally repulsive. Most especially, Me. By Frederick Exley.”

I wanted to like this book. One of my favorite authors wrote a book based off it – “Exley” by Brock Clarke – and in order to get the full experience of that book I figured I needed to read this one first. And I kind of sort of regret it.

First and foremost, the protagonist is pretty vile and pathetic. He’s a textbook narciss
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Kudera
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm past the Mr. Blue section, on about page 300. At least one critic has considered that the Mr. Blue section doesn't fit within the novel, that it could be deleted, but I think it belongs because it contrasts Exley's largely passive life with Mr. Blue's active one as an outside salesman and a guy who will do push-ups if you shout, "Mr. Blue, give me fifty." The life of the salesman is also an archetypal American life, work to provide for family, etc., and Exley means to show us how this life i ...more
Joe Cleaver
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: favorites
exley the narrator (though narrated in the first person by a "character" named fred exley, we learn in the foreward that this isn't entirely autobiographical) tells us early on that even in america, failure is a part of life. here, the narrator's life is nothing but a series of failures, but his trenchant accounting of them is nothing but a triumph. though despicable on multiple fronts, exley is redeemed by the extent to which he is despised by the cretinous (a word he loves) people who surround ...more
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
The first 100 pages = some of the best writing in history. Or at least some of the best writing about Frank Gifford and what it's like to be a teacher in history.

The last 200 pages = what it must have been like to have to sit next to him at a bar. Exhilirating at first, depressing in the end.
Samuel Moss
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
I got into books because I cannot stand watching sports or listening to people talk about sports. This book pulls everything I cannot stand about contemporary US culture INTO a book.

If you can get past the casual, rampant misogyny, homophobia and racism you get an unfunny book about a drunk watching football and lying on a couch, written in an endless, cloying 'high' register.

Peter Landau
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Of course I wanted to read A FAN’S NOTES for years. Look at all the great blurbs, the Vintage Contemporary cover, the booze. But when I finally cracked the brittle spin last week, I felt I might have made a mistake. The self-absorbed male voice has lost a lot of its charm, and the prospect of digging through hundreds of pages of its dense prose for those golden nuggets felt like bleak work. But what else am I going to do? Exley won me over. His factious memoir is of its time, but ahead and behin ...more
Oct 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: fiction
William Gaddis taught “Literature of Failure” at Bard College and the first book listed on the course’s syllabus was Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. Gaddis considered this “fictional memoir” a particular kind of masterpiece.

A Fan’s Notes follows the character, Frederick Exley, from bar to psychiatric hospital to relative’s davenport to football field stands to classroom to bar. Exley (the character, mind you) struggled to find a way to live outside of the enormity of his father’s shadow while
john brydges
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the greatest book ever conceived by a human being. Perhaps a baboon or a hippo has written something better, I have no idea. It would be pretentious, foolish and extremely sentimental of me to try and write a review of this book. I'm pretty sure in Dante's Inferno the deepest depths of hell were reserved for those who've tried such a feat. To avoid any more eternal suffering (if that's even possible) that I'm already due, I will, in a very vague way explain to you why you should ...more
Allison Floyd
I read two chapters and GUPTG, but I don't regret those two chapters. I think I'm at the exact right time of life to fully appreciate and identify with this book, and I think that's the problem. It's a little bit too much like being in my own head, the avoidance thereof being one of my primary motivations to read in the first place. Which isn't to say that it's not wonderful and affirming, etc., to be presented with physical evidence that you're not the only Bad News Bear in the world, or that t ...more
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A towering work, punches higher than its weight ... Exley is brilliant in A Fan's Notes. A great American novel in its own way, for all its anti-American bile -- both in spite of and because of. By turns harrowing, penetrating, uproarious, erudite, desolate, triumphant. A speedy, headlong thing upon which the reader floats and flies. Exley -- demented Exley, vicious Exley, bastard Exley, honest Exley -- aimed for a kind of perfection. He hit the mark. The closest thing to literary salvation. ...more
TC Jones
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"For my heart will always be with the drunk, the poet, the prophet, the criminal, the painter, the lunatic, with all whose aims are insulated from the humdrum business of life." ...more
Alex Graham
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A stark, accurate glimpse into the depths of insanity, and an everyman's confrontation with mediocrity. A portrayal of a grimy artist (writer), subconsciously if not outrightly obsessed with living up to his father's achievements / stature. Living in his father's shadow and barely measuring up to the shins.

This book was at times so shocking in its raw, grotesque portrayal of reality that I felt like putting it down, or, if it were a movie, turning away -- but as with life I could not. It was som
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Frederick "Fred" Exley was a critically lauded, if not bestselling, author. He was nominated for a National Book Award for A Fan's Notes, and received the William Faulkner Award for best first novel, as well as the Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters

He was a guest lecturer at the Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1972 and won a Playboy Silver medal award in 1974 for best non-fi

Other books in the series

A Fan's Notes (3 books)
  • Pages from a Cold Island
  • Last Notes from Home

Articles featuring this book

Here in the United States, it's football season. It's time of great rivalry, wearing of team colors, and obsessing over the...
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“Unlike some men, I had never drunk for boldness or charm or wit; I had used alcohol for precisely what it was, a depressant to check the mental exhilaration produced by extended sobriety.” 20 likes
“I certainly didn't want to fight with him. I did, however, want to shout, "Listen, you son of a bitch, life isn't all a goddam football game! You won't always get the girl! Life is rejection and pain and loss" -- all those things I so cherishly cuddled in my slef-pitying bosom. I didn't, of course, say any such thing” 16 likes
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