Obligations of the Harp

SKU: 978-1-60235-120-2

Arthur Saltzman

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978-1-60235-115-8 (paperback, $24.00; £16.00; €19.00; $29.00 CAD); 978-1-60235-116-5 (Adobe eBook $16.00;  £11.00; €13.00; $20.00 CAD); © 2009 by Parlor Press; 213 pages.

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There is never a dull phrase in Arthur Saltzman’s Obligations of the Harp, his fourth book of essays. The writing in these twenty-five pieces is by turns wry and satirical, sensually descriptive, playfully punning—but always nuanced and illuminating.  Reference points range from Kobe Bryant to John Updike, from geology to Jewish ritual. One essay is a fanciful treatment of the history of the human cannonball; another provides a deeply humane and humorous account of preparing middle-schoolers for History Day. Varied in topic and tone, Saltzman consistently revels in and re-imagines the mysterious quirks of human behavior. The  award-winning essay, “Reason Not the Need,” for example, links the seemingly random care behind what we choose to save from a fire to Saltzman’s personal soft-spot for cafeteria jelly packets, “with the heft and suppleness of a small toad resting squat in your palm,” to the plundering of the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities. “Hard-wired for wonder and for worry,” Saltzman is a truly original mind alive to the artful accidents and patterns of the social, natural, and human worlds. 

In addition to The Obligations of the Harp, Arthur Saltzman’s previous books include the collections of essaysSolve for X (2007, University of South Carolina Press), Nearer (2006, Parlor Press) and Objects and Empathy (2001, winner of the First Series Creative Nonfiction Award), and six critical studies of literature and writers. Recognitions for his writing include the 2005 Columbia Nonfiction Award, the 2003 Victor J. Emmett Memorial Essay Award (from Midwest Quarterly), the 2002 Nebraska Review Creative Nonfiction Award, and the inaugural Ames Memorial Essay Award (from Literal Latte). He was a Professor of English at Missouri Southern State University at the time of his death in 2008.


  1. The Table on the Planet
  2. Get Up and Get Away
  3. Castaways
  4. The History Channelers
  5. Watch This Space
  6. Reason Not the Need
  7. Taking Pains
  8. From the Notebook of the Human Cannonball
  9. The Obligations of the Harp
  10. Name-Dropping
  11. On the Blink
  12. Chapter Thirty-Four, in Which Our Hero Cuts to the Chase
  13. Blown Away
  14. An Elegy for Eureka
  15. The Art of Getting By
  16. Chump Change
  17. A First Course in Aperture Therapy
  18. A Wet Blanket Apology
  19. Clique Song
  20. It Is to Weep
  21. On Reading with a Pen
  22. Time Out
  23. Falling with Style
  24. What All the Fuss Is For
  25. Much Obliged

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