The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc., by Jonathem Lethem

2011. Non-faction, essays, liner notes, book intros, stories, segues. Jonathem Lethem all the way. Post-modernism is the word. An essayist tiptoes into memoir via (mainly) previously published pieces.

I bought it because the professional(?) reviews on-air and in print rhapsodized over Lethem the novelist, the post-modern essayist, and one reviewer in particular seemed to catch a glimpse of heaven because Lethem apparently swore off non-fiction to devote himself to novels going forward. Okay. If that works for you, I won’t judge.

If you read the New Yorker, Atlantic, Harpers, and such mags, you’re familiar with the type of essays Lethem writes. Maybe even with the very essays in this book.

For me, this book from start to finish was mostly very, very good. I wouldn’t base a new religion on it, but I did enjoy and develop a deep respect for his depth and breadth [“completist,” he calls it] approach to literature. He’s a non-MFA, which gets my respect, and he apprenticed in independent bookshops, which gets my envy.

His love of Philip K Dick is joyous, of J G Ballard is infectious, his re-intro of Paula Fox is intriguing, and his tour of Mailer is funny. I too read and enjoyed most these works he refers to, but Lethem gives me the feeling I missed something based on how he brings them back to life and plugs them into contemporary culture.

Wherever your interests lie, you’ll find something to like very, very much in these essays.

I read a book of his stories which I’ll review separately.



M L Rudolph has worked for CNN among other American and British television and film companies. He has written for general interest and trade magazines and published his first novel, Facing the Son, A novel of Africa, on Amazon in 2011. More are on the way. Rudolph is a dual US/UK national and lives in Pasadena, CA. View all posts by M L RUDOLPH

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