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Lost Youth

Nicholson Baker, 9 June 1994

The Folding Star 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Chatto, 422 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 5913 8
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... Alan Hollinghurst is better at bees than Oscar Wilde. On the opening page of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde has them ‘shouldering their way through the long un-mown grass’. A bee must never be allowed to ‘shoulder’. Later that afternoon, Dorian Gray, alarmed by Lord Henry Wotton’s graphic talk of youth’s inevitable degeneration, drops a lilac blossom that he has been ‘feverishly’ sniffing ...

Larceny

Adam Mars-Jones, 24 March 1994

The Fermata 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 305 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 5999 5
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... gift for stopping time, which he exploits entirely for purposes of sexual satisfaction, but Nicholson Baker’s trademark as a novelist has always been a fetishising descriptiveness that retards the speed of events almost to the point of non-existence and has in the past generated much literary joy. The ‘action’ of his first novel, The ...

Keep talking

Julian Loose, 26 March 1992

Vox 
by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 172 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 14 014232 0
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... on ‘Sex and Death among the Disembodied’. And as the gold-embossed cover helpfully explains, Nicholson Baker’s new novel Vox is also ‘about Telephone Sex’, about getting turned on by tuning in. Jim and Abby meet on the phone-sex party line ‘2VOX’. By the time the book starts, they have punched in their private code numbers and transferred ...

Both Ends of the Tub

Thomas Karshan: Nicholson Baker, 24 July 2003

A Box of Matches 
by Nicholson Baker.
Chatto, 178 pp., £10, February 2003, 0 7011 7402 1
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... Howie, the protagonist of Nicholson Baker’s first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), asks whether our ‘disorganised do-it-yourself evening life’ can ‘really be the same as the clean, noble, Pendaflex life we lead in office buildings’. After all the ‘wealth and pomp’ of the office, ‘we return home every evening and stand sweating in front of a chest of drawers,’ pull out the loose coinage accumulated over the day, remove the ‘sticky lump’ of a wallet, store our pants away, and ‘walk about in our underpants and T-shirt waiting for the Ronzoni shells to boil ...

Porndecahedron

Christopher Tayler: Nicholson Baker, 3 November 2011

House of Holes 
by Nicholson Baker.
Simon and Schuster, 262 pp., £14.99, August 2011, 978 0 85720 659 6
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... Sometimes,’ a woman says during phone sex in Vox, Nicholson Baker’s first foray into smut, ‘I think with the telephone that if I concentrate enough I could pour myself into it and I’d be turned into a mist and I would rematerialise in the room of the person I’m talking to.’ That’s more or less how people get to the House of Holes – a sexual spa resort, offering expensive bespoke treatments, located in a parallel dimension ...

Yodelling in Heaven

Glen Baxter, 21 March 1991

... rear cinches, as is true of Texas, Montana and Wyoming rigs.’ Clearly this prairie precursor of Nicholson Baker had stumbled onto something here: the hidden agenda, evolution and variation in Western Stock Saddles. Following a brief survey of cantles and wedge-shape prolongations, the author eventually comes to grips with a subject that has serious ...

Turbulence

Walter Nash, 9 November 1989

The Mezzanine 
by Nicholson Baker.
Granta, 135 pp., £10.95, September 1989, 0 14 014201 0
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The Memoirs of Lord Byron 
by Robert Nye.
Hamish Hamilton, 215 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 241 12873 0
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All you need 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 219 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 09 173574 2
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The woman who talked to herself 
by A.L. Barker.
Hutchinson, 186 pp., £11.95, October 1989, 0 09 174060 6
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Restoration 
by Rose Tremain.
Hamish Hamilton, 371 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 241 12695 9
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... Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine is a book about the mind electrically at odds with vacancy and repose; about the astonishing turbulence in the little grey cells of little grey people like you, and me, and Howie, who at lunchtime quits his office on the mezzanine floor and goes down the escalator to the street, to buy milk and cookies and a new pair of shoelaces ...

Realty Meltdown

Geoff Dyer, 24 August 1995

Independence Day 
by Richard Ford.
Harvill, 451 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 1 86046 020 8
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... to have tapped the potential of this relatively recent technological innovation; I’m surprised Nicholson Baker hasn’t made a whole book out of it.) I mention these messages because of the way they reveal Ford’s skill at conveying entire lives in very few words. (Nothing in The Sportswriter is more suggestive of the gulf/bond between Frank and the ...

Redeemable Bad Guy

Ian Hamilton: Rabbit and Zooey, 2 April 1998

Toward the End of Time 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 334 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 241 13862 0
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Golf Dreams 
by John Updike.
Penguin, 224 pp., £6.99, February 1998, 0 14 026156 7
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... it’s like to be, well, past it. There is perhaps a surfeit of that Updikean fine writing which Nicholson Baker parodied so well – ‘the blank seemed, in its blankety blankness, and blanketed blinkness, almost blonky in the late afternoon blonk’ – or, to put it in Updike’s own words, too much verbaceous dwelling on ‘her green sheath, with ...

Porno Swagger

Edmund Gordon: ‘Cleanness’, 16 April 2020

Cleanness 
by Garth Greenwell.
Picador, 223 pp., £14.99, April, 978 0 374 12458 8
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... In​ U&I (1991), his book about John Updike, Nicholson Baker imagines explaining the appeal of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library to his literary hero. ‘You know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which quickly becomes really interesting as a kind of ethnography, you realise that this is really one of the best first novels to come along in years and years!’ But Updike couldn’t get used to the sex ...

Satisfaction

Julian Loose, 11 May 1995

The Information 
by Martin Amis.
Flamingo, 494 pp., £15.99, March 1995, 0 00 225356 9
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... is a study of envy and egomania that happens to play itself out in the world of publishing. Nicholson Baker in U and I probed the devastating realisation that Updike ‘writes better than I do and is smarter than I am’. Here, though, there is no sense of one writer warding off another’s potentially crushing influence, or of the fragile ...

Sight, Sound and Sex

Adam Mars-Jones: Dana Spiotta, 17 March 2016

Innocents and Others 
by Dana Spiotta.
Scribner, 278 pp., £17.95, March 2016, 978 1 5011 2272 9
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... between the filmed and the written. In literature there is no clock time, no ‘real time’. When Nicholson Baker decides to set a whole novel in a lunch break (The Mezzanine) or Olaf Stapledon chooses a timescale of two billion years for Last and First Men, no technical innovation is necessary. They aren’t inventing a freedom but exercising one ...

Tied to the Mast

Adam Mars-Jones: Alan Hollinghurst, 19 October 2017

The Sparsholt Affair 
by Alan Hollinghurst.
Picador, 454 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 1 4472 0821 1
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... connoisseurship and defiant frankness. This qualm was both expressed and lightly lampooned by Nicholson Baker, writing in U&I: ‘Hey, I’m reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library, and you know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which quickly becomes really interesting as a kind of ...

The Tangible Page

Leah Price: Books as Things, 31 October 2002

The Book History Reader 
edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.
Routledge, 390 pp., £17.99, November 2001, 0 415 22658 9
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Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays 
by D.F. McKenzie, edited by Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez.
Massachusetts, 296 pp., £20.95, June 2002, 1 55849 336 0
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... put learned culture, they’ve also carved out a general readership for themselves – witness Nicholson Baker on card catalogues – and joined forces with groups slighted by literary theorists: librarians, book dealers, local historians. Even the form of The Book History Reader privileges empirical case studies over theoretical ...

Introversion Has Its Limits

Adam Mars-Jones: ‘Essayism’, 8 March 2018

Essayism 
by Brian Dillon.
Fitzcarraldo, 138 pp., £10.99, June 2017, 978 1 910695 41 8
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Sound: Stories of Hearing Lost and Found 
by Bella Bathurst.
Wellcome, 224 pp., £8.99, February 2018, 978 1 78125 776 0
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Proxies: A Memoir in Twenty-Four Attempts 
by Brian Blanchfield.
Picador, 181 pp., £9.99, August 2017, 978 1 5098 4785 3
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... the process in the finished volume is a matter of rhetoric. It was a different thing when Nicholson Baker, writing about his literary relationship with John Updike in U & I, decided not to reread Updike’s work, or to read for the first time the books he hadn’t finished (or hadn’t started). That was a piquant part of the book’s ...

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