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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (470 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jonathan Lethem Narrator: Jonathan Lethem Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: November 2011 ISBN: 9780307940865
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What’s a novelist supposed to do with contemporary culture? And what’s contemporary culture sup­posed to do with novelists? In The Ecstasy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem, tangling with what he calls the “white elephant” role of the writer as public intellectual, arrives at an astonishing range of answers. 

A constellation of previously published pieces and new essays as provocative and idiosyncratic as any he’s written, this volume sheds light on an array of topics from sex in cinema to drugs, graffiti, Bob Dylan, cyberculture, 9/11, book touring, and Marlon Brando, as well as on a shelf’s worth of his literary models and contemporaries: Norman Mailer, Paula Fox, Bret Easton Ellis, James Wood, and oth­ers. And, writing about Brooklyn, his father, and his sojourn through two decades of writing, Lethem sheds an equally strong light on himself.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Peppery nonfiction…Provocative tour de force…Thoughtful and rambunctious…Dynamically juxtaposed and connected…to create a jazzy, patchwork memoir…fresh, erudite, zestful, funny frolic in the great fields of creativity.”

    Booklist

  • “Conceptual ambition, sense of purpose and a fan’s evangelical devotion distinguish this collection from the typical novelist’s gathering of nonfiction miscellany…Inevitably a mixed bag, but with high ambitions and a strong sense of purpose.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “The writer I most wish was my best friend…Impressively omnivorous new collection of mostly nonfiction…[It] reveal[s] a lively, even manic mind at play across a wide and wonderful series of subjects that are threaded together, mostly, as a kind of autobiography of a would-be writer becoming a struggling writer and then a successful writer while all the while remaining a voracious reader…This book is its own kind of dense and dreamy zoo, and even if you don’t listen to Echo Echo in your basement apartment, you’ll still find much in here to enjoy and know you’re enjoying and know that Lethem knows you’re enjoying as much as he does.”

    National Post

  • “Emotionally engaging and intellectually nimble…Curated selection of essays which thematically add up to more than the sum of its parts…Progressive…Eyebrow-raising…Impassioned…Disarming.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “Did I say I love this book? Well, OK then, I love this book....[It] bring[s] a novelist’s sensibility to these essays, to find a through line, to approximate a narrative. It offers a way, in other words, to rethink the collection as a book in its own right—and not just that, but a book about a big idea.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Hefty and remarkable…These byways, all of which make room for eccentric flights as well as proper essays, augment the charm and impact of what Lethem prefers to call an ‘autobiographical collage,’ a phrase he lifts from Vonnegut. This influence seems only natural, for dominating all is Lethem’s prime concern always: the novel…Openhearted, unconventional.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • National Book Critics Circle Award finalists
    A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
  • Hefty and remarkable .....These byways, all of which make room for eccentric flights as well as proper essays, augment the charm and impact of what Lethem prefers to call an 'autobiographical collage,' a phrase he lifts from Vonnegut. This influence seems only natural, for dominating all is Lethem's prime concern always: the novel....generous....exciting....openhearted, unconventional. The New York Times Book Review
  • Did I say I love this book? Well, OK then, I love this book....bring[s] a novelist's sensibility to these essays, to find a through line, to approximate a narrative. It offers a way, in other words, to rethink the collection as a book in its own right — and not just that, but a book about a big idea. The Los Angeles Times
  • He’s a novelist who has spent a lifetime creating his own subversive pantheon, a jumpy CBGB’s of the literary soul….Several of the essays here marinate in the fish sauce that is literary gossip…..feisty, freewheeling….funny The New York Times
  • Emotionally engaging and intellectually nimble....curated selection of essays which thematically add up to more than the sum of its parts....Progressive....Eyebrow-raising...Impassioned....Disarming The Guardian 
  • The Ecstasy of Influence is, more than anything, a record of Mr. Lethem’s life as a public novelist, a role for which he is obviously well suited…..Mr. Lethem has such a gift, and The Ecstasy of Influence is evidence of it. The New York Observer
  • The writer I most wish was my best friend....impressively omnivorous new collection of mostly non-fiction....reveal a lively, even manic mind at play across a wide and wonderful series of subjects that are threaded together, mostly, as a kind of autobiography of a would-be writer becoming a struggling writer and then a successful writer while all the while remaining a voracious reader.....This book is its own kind of dense and dreamy zoo, and even if you don’t listen to Echo Echo in your basement apartment, you’ll still find much in here to enjoy and know you’re enjoying and know that Lethem knows you’re enjoying as much as he does. The National Post
  • Conceptual ambition, sense of purpose and a fan’s evangelical devotion distinguish this collection from the typical novelist’s gathering of nonfiction miscellany.....impressively rich....In addition to being a writer who blurs the distinction between genre fiction (sci-fi, detective, western) and postmodern literature (a term he questions), Lethem writes with a commitment to sharing his enthusiasm for whatever obsesses him....While the results illuminate his formative influences and artistic development, they also cast considerable light on the culture at large, which is both reflected in Lethem’s work and has profoundly shaped it.....Intensifying that intimacy, he shares his complicated relationships.... high ambitions and a strong sense of purpose. Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • Peppery nonfiction....provocative tour de force....thoughtful and rambunctious....dynamically juxtaposed and connected....to create a jazzy, patchwork memoir....hilarious....fresh, erudite, zestful, funny frolic in the great fields of creativity. Booklist
  • One of the 2011 Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
  • A 2011 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Steve Horowitt | 2/3/2014

    " As Jonathan Lethem is one of my favorite authors, I was happy to read almost 500 pages of memory, reprinted and unpublished articles and to learn what shaped him into the writer he is today. I especially appreciated the delving into Sci-Fi (Philip K. Dick is another of my favorites and there are whole sections about this man). I also liked his discussions and mentions of his contemporaries like Donna Tart, Don DeLillo and others. Very satisfying read and I took away a lot! "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Jim Johnson | 1/25/2014

    " pretentious boring drivel "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 James G. | 1/23/2014

    " This collection of essays sparkles, and perhaps makes me glad it has taken me this long to "discover" Lethem. "Izations," about the treatment of our shared hero narratives like Spider Man and Bat Man across platforms and short, recent generations, is sweet and insightful. The long pieces on James Brown and Dylan are great. Lethem has read so many damn books himself it makes me kinda mad, resentful even - like they're all his. Not sure whether I ever get to his fiction. Loved this. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carljoe Javier | 1/20/2014

    " In volume and breadth this is an amazing essay collection. It is extremely dense and packed with ideas, and I am sure that not all people will like it, because it is so diverse and often goes out of its way to directly challenge reader expectations. Yet I found it an amazing and exciting read, one that regularly has you both nodding your head in agreement and jolting to the side because of a new or provocative idea. Great book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Darrenglass | 1/17/2014

    " Lethem is a good writer, no doubt about it. And very smart. And many of the topics he is interested in overlap with things I am interested in, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on those topics. Other topics that he is interested in are things that I don't really care about -- not to mention that I can only take so many fond reminiscences of growing up in Brooklyn -- and there were essays in this book that I found dull or annoying. But I suppose this is to be expected in a giant book of essays on topics ranging from comic books to music to modern art to 9/11. This book is probably better if you don't read it cover to cover but rather dip in and out of it, and are more willing to skip essays that aren't about things you care about. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Joseph | 1/14/2014

    " Some amazing stuff, a few throwaways. Worth it for the title essay and the Liberty Valance essay alone. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tyson | 1/13/2014

    " The collection of essays range for comic books to Philip dick to Borges and Calvino, from Brooklyn, to Sci-Fi. An eclectic set of essays which are both thought-provoking and funny. Letham's take on piracy and art is particularly good. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lou | 1/6/2014

    " I did end up skimming a little bit through some essays, but some of these are great, including his 30 page report from being imbedded with the James Brown Band, and his New Yorker review of Bolano's 2666. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kayla Hammond | 11/26/2013

    " Lethem mentioned how he mixed up astronauts and dinosaurs as a child. I liked that. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 John | 11/19/2013

    " A few great bits, but throughout this I kept forgetting what I was reading; occasionally in the middle of sentences. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Andie | 11/12/2013

    " Enjoyable, but some parts are much more interesting than others. 400+ pages was maybe more than needed to be included here. Only for big Lethem fans, otherwise I'd start elsewhere among his oeuvre. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Maria | 10/31/2013

    " Disclosure: I mostly paid attention to the essays about literature, and didn't even read any of the ones about Brooklyn or visual art, but if their quality is consistent with the essays about reading and writing, then someone who enjoys reading about those subjects will find the pieces meaningful. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nicole | 10/29/2013

    " Worth it for the essay "Stops" alone. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 keatssycamore | 10/26/2013

    " I like Lethem. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Kim | 10/4/2013

    " I don't like Jonathan Lethem. Didn't like Motherless Brooklyn. Don't like this. He's not David Foster Wallace... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Krok Zero | 1/22/2013

    " I did too much skimming to give an honest rating over three stars, but this is Lethem in hyper-enthusiast mode and thus worth the time of other (hyper-) enthusiasts. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 11/20/2012

    " Some good pieces here, and a few that drag. A good read if you skip the duller essays. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Dominic Dejoseph | 4/4/2012

    " Great series of funny and/or off-beat essays. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Scott | 3/18/2012

    " Lethem's non-fiction is so inventive and colorful that reading a book about his literary, musical, and artistic interests, etc. is almost as good as reading one of his novels. "

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About the Author
Author Jonathan LethemJonathan Lethem is the author of five novels, including Gun, With Occasion Music, and Girl in Landscape. His most recent, Motherless Brooklyn, was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won The National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award. He is also the author of the story collection, The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye and the novella This Shape We’re In. He edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year’s Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence Magazine. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s, and many other periodicals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.