Compared to What?
On Writing and The Writer's Life

Thomas Farber's special gift as a writer is his ability to convey with deceptive simplicity and economy whole ranges of emotional experience. Here, in this luminous mosaic of linked nonfiction stories and meditations, he presents us with a startlingly original, interior view of the writer's life: the intricacies of its methods, of the impulse to story, of the writer's place in society--all that informs and haunts this odd vocation.

Critical Praise

"...the ambiguity and irony of good literature, and the honesty of a true confession...[Farber] is neither sentimental nor self-indulgent, but beneath his detached tone lurks a ferocious ternderness, a firm compression.                   

--Isabel Allende, author of The House of the Spirits

"...can be read as a rich collection of anecdotes and quotations, delivered with quick, understated wit, as a shrewd, unsentimental, detached essay on this peciliar occupation; or as the confession of a mania, with its eruptions of manic fearlessness and comedy; or as the autobiography of one who has been saved by himself--though this is never quite said--by his craft; and even as a sidelong meditiation on the practical meaning of art, seen unpretentiously in the terms of an American life. "                   

--Robert Pinsky, author of History of My Heart

"I love reading Thomas Farber. It's like listening to a preternaturally articulate, well-read, and inventive person think aloud. Beautifully crafted, his work seems to have complete spontaneity. It's always surprising, like jazz. Compared to What? is especially daring, like the great jazz piece of the same name.                  

--Phyllis Rose, author of Parallel Lives

"...pieces of verbal lacery stitched together into a balanced, lovely, delicately patterned whole..."                   

--Kirkus Reviews

"...the most unusual manual in quite a while..."

--Washington Post

"Farber's unusual stream-of-consciousness style, with interlocking anecdotes flowing together, evokes the writer's life effectively, miraculously avoids sounding pompous...neatly celebrates the joys of writing..."


" amiable and lively account of himself at mid-journey....Allusive, anecdotal..also admirably unsententious."

--New York Times Book Review

"...not a how-to, but a how-come and what-with. The pieces are witty to profound, sentimental to shrewd... "

--The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"...a wonderfully rich little book...[Farber] is a master of concision."

--Los Angeles Daily News