John Barth has compared writing to sending a message in a bottle. Pitched into a body of water, the message is directed by chance currents to an unknown beneficiary on another shore. Publication is the bottle—a vessel for the text. What happens next requires flow.
Barth’s bottles have circulated far and wide since their initial launch in print. Paperback reprints have made his novels more affordable; translations have made them accessible around the world. But circulation goes beyond books. His publications are often followed up by public readings, recordings, and adaptations, not to mention reviews and critical essays.
Then there are the more personal networks of circulation: correspondence with literary colleagues and friends, celebrations by a fan club—the aptly named “Barthomania Society”—and teaching. Barth is famous as a teacher for never imposing his own style on his students. Although there is no “School of Barth” echoing his techniques, he has exerted a powerful influence on many writers who have learned from his example of exuberant imagination plus meticulous craftsmanship. These are the characteristics that have won John Barth an extensive following of readers—grateful recipients of his “water-messages.”