From Hart and Leininger, Oxford Companion to American Literature:
BARTH, John [Simmons] (1930-). Maryland-born novelist, educated at Johns Hopkins, whose fiction set on the Eastern Shore of his native state includes The Floating Opera (1956), the experiences of a man recalled on the day in 1937 when he debates suicide, and The End of the Road (1958), another existential and nihilist view of experience set in a travestied conventional love triangle. Although placed in the same setting, his third novel, The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) is more fantastic and funnier in its lusty parody of an 18th-century picaresque tale re-creating the life and times of Ebenezer Cooke. This was followed by Giles Goat-Boy (1966), another lengthy, complex, and comic novel full of ingenious parody in its satirical allegory of the modern world conceived in terms of a university campus. Lost in the Funhouse (1968) consists of 14 pieces of fiction related in part by their concern with what happens when a writer writes (he makes himself a persona) and a reader reads. Chimera (1972) is also a volume of short fiction, retelling in elaborate style tales of Scheherazade, Perseus, and Bellerophon dealing with social and psychological problems of modern life, also introducing the author Barth along the way. The last-named work won a National Book Award. Barth returned to the long novel in Letters (1979), an unusual development of epistolary fiction, in which seven more or less parallel narratives are reveales through correspondence written by seven characters from his earlier fiction, including the author himself as just another imaginary figure, the intricate story comprising an inquiry into the patterns into which the characters have been previously set and the degree of freedom they may possess. Sabbatical: A Romance (1982) tells of the adventures and ideas occasioned by a long cruise of a college professor and her husband, an aspiring novelist. The Friday Book (1984) collects essays and other nonfiction. The Tidewater Tales (1987) is a lengthy novel about a novelist who claims he cannot write a projected novel as he and his wife sail full of friction along Chesapeake Bay. The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991) probes the connection between memory and reality in a postmodern style of narration.
The Sot-Weed Factor, novel by John Barth, published in 1960 and in a revised version in 1966.
In a lusty picaresque tale that satirizes conventional historical fiction, the novel creates a fictive biography of the real Ebenezer Cook, endowing him with a twin sister, Anna. After failing in his studies at Cambridge, though abetted by a tutor, Henry Bullingame, Ebenezer is ordered by his father to manage the family tobacco plantation in Maryland. There he spends most of his time writing poetry and protecting his virginity, both of which are under constant assault. Finally he achieves fame as a writer while simultaneously losing his poetic inspiration and his virginity.
Giles Goat-boy, or, The Revised New Syllabus, novel by John Barth, published in 1966.
In the metaphoric world called the University, control is held by a computer, WESAC, which is able to run itself and to tyrannize people, for it has the ability to subject them to a radiating and disintegrating force, that is, to EAT them, an acronym for its power of "Electroencephalic Amplification and Transaction." WESAC is so out of hand that one of its developers, Max Spielman, believes it can only be controlled through reprogramming by a Grand tutor, a prophet, who will bring a "New Syllabus," that is, a new philosophy. For this role and this purpose he selects George Giles, whom he had raised among goats as a goat, though he was actually a human found as an infant in the tapelift of WESAC. In his undertaking George has to contend with a troublemaker, Maurice Stoker, who alone fully understands the operation of WESAC, and with a minor poet, Harold Bray, who contends that he is a Grand Tutor. George enters the computer to destroy it, and learns to confound WESAC by answering its questions through paradoxes that paralyze the machine. When George emerges, authorities eager to put WESAC back into operation seize him and send him back to the animal site of his boyhood, for he is now the University's scapegoat.
Later works (Wikipedia: John Barth):
- The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991)
- Once upon a Time: A Floating Opera (memoirish novel) (1994)
- On with the Story (stories) (1996)
- Coming Soon!!!: A Narrative (2001)
- The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories (2004)
- Where Three Roads Meet (three linked novellas) (2005)
- The Development: Nine Stories (2008)
- Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons (2011)