John Barth is the rare experimental writer who has sold a lot of books. He splashed onto the literary scene at the age of twenty-six with the National Book Award-nominated existential novel The Floating Opera (1956), then followed with the comical nihilism of The End of the Road (1958).
The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), a novel interwoven with abundant digressions and stories-within-stories, marked the beginning of Barth’s romance with metafiction. He used similar techniques in Giles Goat-Boy (1966), an avant-garde 700-page New York Times bestseller.
Barth’s catalog includes quite a few works of fiction that question the nature of fiction itself: among others, the iconic story collection Lost in the Funhouse (1968); the National Book Award-winning Chimera (1972), a mash-up of mythical figures; LETTERS (1979), an epistolary opus populated by characters from his previous novels; and The Tidewater Tales (1987), in which a minimalist novelist and a maximalist oral historian sail around the Chesapeake, telling each other stories. In his many books and contributions to magazines and newspapers, Barth has steered his career through the trickiest of channels, publishing work that is simultaneously popular and pioneering.