January 7, 2010
NICHOLSON BAKER (born 1957) was not the first novelist to create an entire narrative out of the smallest of events, but his 1988 debut, The Mezzanine, still strikes a melodic chord in readers because of the sheer joy with which the author brings to life one man’s ruminations on shoelaces, the hum-drone of workaday office life, and the very essence of manhood — all in the time it takes to travel up an escalator. Although each of Baker’s subsequent fictions and nonfictions has circled around an obsession, whether it’s John Updike (U and I), sex (Vox and The Fermata), fatherhood (Room Temperature), or print newspaper archives (Double Fold), they share a common theme: finding the music (literally, in his new novel, The Anthologist, with its poetry excerpts set to melody) in the mundane. Some authors express themselves by building fictional worlds; Baker expresses new truths about the world in which we live but too often taken for granted.
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What do you think?
i’m on p56 of NB’s ‘the anthologist’ and head-over-heels. i thought he’d never top ‘the fermata’ – because why should he? – but seeing all his fiddley-ness and brilliance applied to POETRY is most exhilirating. and the NB effect: how you roll along, gently lubed by his chattiness and eccentricity, until all of a sudden – ptoing! -you’re on the end of one of his LINES…
A Nicholson Baker project that I’m crazy about is “The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898 – 1911),” which he coedited with Margaret Brentano in 2005. Here NB’s “fiddley-ness and brilliance” were put to use in the material world, rescuing an amazing treasure trove of comics, advertisements, portraits, political cartoons, and other illustrations from oblivion, and presenting it in all its glory.
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