Books by John Gardner

Before becoming an author of fiction in the early 1960s John Gardner was variously a stage magician, a Royal Marine officer, a journalist and, for a short time, a priest in the Church of England. ‘Probably the biggest mistake I ever made,’ he says. ‘I con


ON WRITERS AND WRITING by John Gardner
Released: April 1, 1994

"It sounds so intelligent."
By the time he died in a motorcycle crash in 1982, novelist John Gardner had distinguished himself as a candid, thoughtful critic of his fellow fiction writers who wasn't embarrassed to write a manifesto, On Moral Fiction (1978), that argued against purely aesthetic, formal judgments of literature. Read full book review >
STILLNESS AND SHADOWS by John Gardner
Released: May 12, 1986

"Delbanco's reconstruction brings up that question and also this one: with literary friends like this, do you need enemies?"
Novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Gardner's literary executor, has taken it upon himself to give to posthumous (and not intended to be published) Gardner manuscripts the pitiless light of day. Read full book review >
GILGAMESH by John R. Maier
translated by John R. Maier, edited by John Gardner
Released: Oct. 5, 1984

"But any intelligent effort to popularize that enigmatic primeval masterpiece is more than welcome."
Too fussy and detailed for the casual reader, too amateurish for the scholar, this curious collaboration between novelist Gardner (completed just before his fatal motorcycle crash in 1982) and English professor Maier (SUNY, Brockport), with help from Assyriologist Richard A. Henshaw (Colgate Rochester Div. Read full book review >
ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner
Released: May 25, 1983

"Otherwise: for creative-writing teachers (and budding novelists) only—and, even on those terms, a mixture of the helpful and the platitudinous."
The late novelist John Gardner was also a longtime creative-writing teacher, and this small how-to book is addressed to "the beginning novelist who has already figured out that it is far more satisfying to write well than simply to write well enough to get published." Read full book review >
THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner
Released: Jan. 11, 1983

"Repetitious and disorganized, heavier on rhetoric than step-by-step guidance—but sure to interest creative-writing teachers and, to a lesser extent, beginning writers."
Like On Becoming a Novelist (p. 428), these lecture/instructions on writing—completed before novelist/teacher Gardner's death last year—involve an often-dense mixture of theory, philosophy, and practical technical matters. Read full book review >
THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES by John Gardner
Released: Oct. 1, 1982

"But it's hardly a fair reflection of the year's best—and perhaps this series should take on a new title if such unbalanced collections are to be expected in the future."
Since the death of Martha Foley, the Best American Short Stories series has been in the hands of annual celebrity-editors—so, while William Abrahams' O. Henry Awards collections have become ever more sturdily sound and balanced, the Best have become idiosyncratic and erratic, more a gathering of personal favorites than a trustworthy reflection of the evolving short-story scene. Read full book review >
MICKELSSON'S GHOSTS by John Gardner
Released: June 1, 1982

"In all: a fascinating, oddly depressing failure."
One of Gardner's longest novels, most personal, most ambitious—and alas, too, the most shambling and ultimately incredible. Read full book review >
THE ART OF LIVING AND OTHER STORIES by John Gardner
Released: May 1, 1981

"But in most of them he seems to be writing far too much for his fellow artists, far too little for the world outside the ivory tower."
Gardner's first short-fiction collection since The King's Indian (1974) offers ten highly polished stories—which, though generally unaffecting, do represent the range of his narrative imperatives. Read full book review >
FREDDY'S BOOK by John Gardner
Released: March 1, 1980

"Here his lumbering counterattacks and homilies pummel away whatever surface charms the story has, making this a stiff little diversion (illustrated by Daniel Biamonte) of interest mainly to tireless observers of book-world bickering."
Gardner's belief in the primacy of tale-telling (see Moral Fiction) is so firm that he doesn't mind telling us that this tale isn't exactly his own: "A key event in Freddy's Book (King Gustav and the Devil) is drawn from a tale in Mark Helprin's collection, A Dove of the East and Other Stories," explains the prefatory note. Read full book review >
ON MORAL FICTION by John Gardner
Released: April 19, 1978

"But, excessive and self-limited as Gardner's "rules" for moral fiction may be, they do illuminate the lousiness of much of today's writing, they do remind us of the viability of some centuries-old models, and they will provoke a good deal of healthily furious literary fisticuffs."
The essence (which is all you need) of this profound and petty essay appears in 1978's Pushcart Prize collection (p. 220)—and an indisputable essence it is: what Arthur Miller so eloquently demands from drama, novelist Gardner demands from fiction—that it seek "to improve life, not debase it," that it "ought to be a force bringing people together, breaking down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, and holding up ideals worth pursuing." Read full book review >
IN THE SUICIDE MOUNTAINS  by John Gardner
A CHILD'S BESTIARY by John Gardner
Released: Sept. 1, 1977

"Sly, sparkling fun."
John Gardner's variations on fairy tales have been marked by a polished and fanciful cleverness, but these unpretentiously witty rhymes are an altogether more genuine pleasure. Read full book review >
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHAUCER by John Gardner
Released: April 1, 1977

"Forcefully written, provocative, and filled with a likable spirit of freewheeling evangelism."
The Chaucer revealed by the last few decades of critical scholarship is much in need of a good popular biography; the cosy trivialities of Marchette Chute's 1946 Geoffrey Chaucer of England have little to do with the joyous solempnitee and vast sophistication we now discern in the works. Read full book review >
THE POETRY OF CHAUCER by John Gardner
Released: March 1, 1977

"For all his obvious love and learning, Gardner has failed to make his own words, as Chaucer made his, "cousin to the deed."
The highly regarded novelist (Grendel; Jason and Medeia) is also a Middle English scholar of long standing; his biographical companion to the present volume will appear this spring. Read full book review >
OCTOBER LIGHT by John Gardner
Released: Dec. 6, 1976

"Mostly though, his powers are hoppingly electric, his Godforsaken October moods—closest to Nickel Mountain's weathers—scatter your heart."
Serious comedy, or tragical-comical-historical-pastoral farce, poem unlimited, metaphysical hijinks, and a triumph of Vermonter Americana. Read full book review >
GUDGEKIN, THE THISTLE GIRL, AND OTHER TALES by John Gardner
Released: Oct. 11, 1976

"Disappointing."
Gardner's second quartet of stories for children licks the sparkle of last year's Dragon, Dragon but suffers from the same coyness. Read full book review >
DRAGON, DRAGON, AND OTHER TALES by John Gardner
Released: Aug. 1, 1975

"A sparkle for classroom or family aloud."
Four playful changes on traditional fairy tale themes, a bit thinner than we'd expect from the author of Grendel and occasionally descending to the level of adult archness ("Only the prince. . . remembered Chimarra's saying 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself [or something]"), but disarmingly witty and polished. Read full book review >
KING'S INDIAN by John Gardner
Released: Dec. 1, 1974

Midnight tales for the literary intellectual — which, you will rightly observe, could mean almost anything from Mensa-level insomniac pastime to serious brooding. Read full book review >
NICKEL MOUNTAIN by John Gardner
Released: Dec. 5, 1973

"Sort of like Our Town, an old-fashioned tableau — and as plain as a pineboard coffin."
"A Pastoral Novel," so subtitled and altogether free of those Sunlight Dialogues — actually closest in design and intent to Gardner's first book The Resurrection and once again a small town in the Catskills circumscribes whatever takes place here. . . the features of ordinary life — universals you might say — all moving to the same terminus, death. Read full book review >
JASON AND MEDEIA by John Gardner
Released: June 1, 1973

"Perhaps, after all, encounters with antiquity are better left to Europeans."
John Gardner is a writer of great energy and intellectual inventiveness, saturated in an imagination addicted to myth, mostly the existential sort, man creating his own myths about the self, about order, about love, as the world surrounding him falls to pieces, becomes increasingly chaotic or mindless or threatening. Read full book review >
THE SUNLIGHT DIALOGUES by John Gardner
Released: Dec. 6, 1972

"A complex and difficult fable of curiously American relevance; a book of bleak humors and raw surprises which mine — and sometimes undermine — the fictional ground with speculative brilliance."
Metaphysical novelist Gardner has traveled from ancient Greece (The Wreckage of Agathon, 1970) and Beowulf (Grendel, 1971) to contemporary upstate N.Y., this time with a variegated cast which reflects the heat of the central dialogue like shattered glass. Read full book review >
GRENDEL by John Gardner
Released: Sept. 17, 1971

"At the close one is not sure if the savior is "blithe of his deed," but Gardner, the word-pleaser, should be."
As in Resurrection (1966) and The Wreckage of Agathon (1970) Gardner demonstrates his agility at juggling metaphysical notions while telling a diverting tale. Read full book review >
THE WRECKAGE OF AGATHON by John Gardner
Released: Sept. 23, 1970

"Impressive thoughts on important concerns, but not always succeeding on fictional terms."
Mad, raving old men with elegant pasts can make lunacy worth listening to—like a Shakespearean king or Mr. Gardner's Agathon, a self-styled seer holding forth at the time of the ascendance of Sparta. Read full book review >
THE RESURRECTION by John Gardner
Released: June 20, 1966

"But if it fails, it is perhaps because it has been doomed to begin with by the very nature of its attempt."
John Gardner is a thoughtful, indeed ruminative, but straightforward writer, rather like George P. Elliott; ideas rather than people concern him. Read full book review >