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John Barth


For a long time, John Barth was the post-modernism poster boy. He messed around with history in The Sot-Weed Factor, he messed around with computers and sci-fi in Giles Goat-Boy or the Revised New Syllabus, he messed around with the epistolary novel and conspiracy theories in LETTERS, he messed around on the Chesapeake in Sabbatical: A Romance but, most of all, he messed around with myth and story-telling and the novel-seen-from-the professor’s-point-of-view. All of this garnered him great praise and fame and learned articles in learned journals. Yet now, he suddenly seems less relevant. His literary games are, well, just that, games. Lost in the Funhouse, which academics seem to see as the pinnacle of his work, is absolutely unreadable. Giles Goat-Boy or the Revised New Syllabus, fun though it is, is almost as dated as his earlier works. His later works are entirely self-indulgent – humorous, pleasant reading but essentially lightweight. Critisd on Barth, have given high praise to LETTERS and, I must say, I am in full agreement with them on this. While many of the big novels of the 60s and 70s are looking decidedly cumbersome, LETTERS remains not just a big novel but a fun big novel. If it’s fun you want, Barth’s pastiche of the 18th century novel and early America – The Sot-Weed Factor – is even more fun. So, forget the pomo poster boy act and just read these two because they are fun.

Barth was born in 1930 in Cambridge, Maryland, where some of his novels are set. He has a twin sister, Jill, and the theme of twins appears in his novels now and again. Most of his career has been spent as a teacher of literature, primarily at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he did his undergraduate degree (in journalism). He died in 2024.

Other links

John Barth
John Barth
John Barth
John Simmons Barth
Featured Author: John Barth (from the New York Times – reviews of most of his books and articles by Barth)
The Literature of Exhaustion
Virtuality By John Barth
Of Words and Water Literature and the Bay (on literature and the Chesapeake Bay; mentions Barth)
Proguing Through Literary Waters John Barth Reads from Unpublished Novel
Click (story by Barth)


1956 The Floating Opera
1958 The End of the Road
1960 The Sot-Weed Factor
1966 Giles Goat-Boy or the Revised New Syllabus
1968 Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice
1972 Chimera
1982 Sabbatical: A Romance
1984 The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction
1987 The Tidewater Tales
1991 The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
1994 Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera
1995 Further Fridays: Essays, Lectures and Other Nonfiction, 1984-1994
1996 On With the Story
2001 Coming Soon!!!: A Narrative
2004 The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories
2005 Where Three Roads Meet
2008 The Development
2011 Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons
2012 Final Fridays
2015 Collected Stories
2022 Postscripts