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Nicholson Baker

nicholson baker, nicholson baker-guggenheim award-april 2018
Nicholson Baker born January 7, 1957 is an American novelist and essayist His fiction generally de-emphasizes narrative in favor of careful description and characterization He often focuses on minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness Baker has written about poetry, literature, library systems, history, politics, time manipulation, youth, and sex He has written about libraries getting rid of books and newspapers and created the American Newspaper Repository He received a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2001 for his nonfiction book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper and the International Hermann Hesse Prize Germany in 2014 Baker has also written about and edited at Wikipedia A pacifist, he has also written about the buildup to World War II


  • 1 Life and career
  • 2 Personal life
  • 3 Synopses of books by Baker
  • 4 Books
    • 41 Novels
    • 42 Non-fiction
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 Music
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Life and career

Nicholson Baker was born in 1957 in New York City and spent much of his youth in the Rochester, New York area He studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music and received a BA in English from Haverford College

Baker is a fervent critic of what he perceives as libraries' unnecessary destruction of paper-based media He wrote several vehement articles in The New Yorker critical of the San Francisco Public Library for sending thousands of books to a landfill, eliminating card catalogs, and destroying old books and newspapers in favor of microfilm In 1997, Baker received the San Francisco–based James Madison Freedom of Information Award in recognition of these efforts

In 1999, Baker established a non-profit corporation, the American Newspaper Repository, to rescue old newspapers from destruction by libraries In 2001 he published Double Fold, in which he accuses certain librarians of lying about the decay of materials and being obsessed with technological fads, at the expense of both the public and historical preservation

Baker describes himself as having "always had pacifist leanings"

In March 2008, Baker reviewed John Broughton's Wikipedia: The Missing Manual in the New York Review of Books In the review, Baker described Wikipedia's beginnings, its culture, and his own editing activities under the username "Wageless" His article "How I fell in love with Wikipedia" was published in The Guardian newspaper in the UK on April 10, 2008

In 2014, Baker spent 28 days as a substitute teacher in a Maine public school as research for his 2016 book Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids He also wrote about the experience in The New York Times Magazine

Personal life

Baker lives with his wife and two children in South Berwick, Maine

Synopses of books by Baker

  • The Mezzanine 1988
  • Room Temperature 1990
  • U and I: A True Story 1991 is a non-fiction study of how a reader engages with an author's work: partly an appreciation of John Updike, and partly a kind of self-exploration Rather than giving a traditional literary analysis, Baker begins the book by stating that he will read no more Updike than he already has up to that point All of the Updike quotations used are presented as coming from memory alone, and many are inaccurate, with correct versions and Baker's later commentary on the inaccuracy given in brackets
  • Vox 1992 consists of an episode of phone sex between two young single people on a pay-per-minute chat line The sex scenes in the novel, though quite vivid, nevertheless share the basic approach that Baker has taken since The Mezzanine: in this case, he explores two characters' accumulated thoughts and memories in relation to sex For some readers, Baker's obsession with detail detracted from a hoped-for pornographic effect Others, in reading the imaginative sex stories the two protagonists produce for one another, have perceived a budding romantic affection: in the last act they perform before hanging up, the man gives the woman his phone number The book was Baker's first New York Times bestseller Monica Lewinsky supposedly once gave a copy to President Bill Clinton
  • The Fermata 1994 also addresses erotic life and fantasy To quote the dust jacket of one edition: "Arno Strine likes to stop time and take women's clothes off He is hard at work on his autobiography, 'The Fermata' It proves in the telling to be a very provocative, funny, and altogether morally confused piece of work" A fermata is a mark in musical notation indicating a note should be sustained
  • The Everlasting Story of Nory 1998 was inspired by Baker's daughter Alice, "the informant", to whom he dedicates the book In this work, Baker tries to see the world through the eyes of a curious nine-year-old American girl attending school in England
  • Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper 2001 is a non-fiction book about preservation, newspapers, and the American library system An excerpt first appeared in the July 24, 2000, issue of The New Yorker, under the title "Deadline: The Author's Desperate Bid to Save America's Past" The exhaustively researched work there are 63 pages of endnotes and 18 pages of references in the paperback edition details Baker's quest to uncover the fate of thousands of books and newspapers that were replaced and often destroyed during the microfilming boom of the 1980s and 1990s
  • A Box of Matches 2003 is in many ways a continuation of Room Temperature, similarly mining the narrator's store of reflections and memories, many of them domestic The narrator is now middle-aged and has a family He rises each morning about 4:00, lights a fire in the fireplace, and ponders The work is admired, although some have found it rather less exuberant than its predecessor
  • Checkpoint 2004 is composed of dialogue between two old high school friends, Jay and Ben, who discuss Jay's plans to assassinate President George W Bush Jay is an unbalanced day laborer who, in the depths of his anger and desperation at Bush's actions and his inability to do anything to stop them, has traveled to Washington, DC, to kill the president He considers many far-fetched means of assassination, such as depleted uranium boulders, flying radio-controlled CD saws, homing bullets trained to target the victim by being "marinated" in a tin with a picture of the president, and hypnotized Manchurian scorpions Ben has met Jay in a Washington, DC, hotel room, unaware that his friend is planning to commit "a major, major, major crime" Over the course of the novella, Ben discusses what drove Jay to plot an assassination Reviewers have pointed out that the book is mild, and the planned violence so cartoonish as to be non-threatening
  • Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization 2008 is a history of World War II that questions the commonly held belief that the Allies wanted to avoid the war at all costs but were forced into action by Hitler's unforgiving crusade It consists largely of official government transcripts and other documents from the time
  • The Anthologist 2009 is narrated by Paul Chowder, a poet, who is attempting to write an introduction to a poetry anthology Distracted by problems in his life—Chowder's career is going nowhere, and his girlfriend has recently left him—he is unable to begin writing, and instead ruminates on poets and poetry throughout history
  • House of Holes 2011 is a collection of stories, more or less connected to each other The novellas are erotic in the sense of Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron The titular House of Holes is a fantasy sex resort in which people can engage in absurd sexual practices, such as groin transference and sex with trees Akin to Alice, people enter the House of Holes through such techniques as tumbling through a clothes dryer or through a drinking straw It is a book of romantic fairy tales subtitled "A Book of Raunch"
  • Traveling Sprinkler 2013 brings back Paul Chowder from The Anthologist Having finished his anthology of verse poetry, Chowder is trying to write his own lyric poems, but seems to only produce lyrics He decides to concentrate on making songs, buying software and instruments that allow him to record complex dance music tracks He remembers his days playing bassoon, and considers its place in classical music He continues his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, and muses on cigars, drone warfare, traveling sprinklers, and more
  • Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids 2016 chronicles Baker's 28 days serving as a substitute teacher in a public school in Maine Baker tried to find out "what life in the classroom is really like”



  • The Mezzanine 1988, Weidenfeld & Nicolson; ISBN 1-55584-258-5 / 1990, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-72576-8
  • Room Temperature 1990, Grove Weidenfeld; ISBN 0-8021-1224-2 / 1990, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-73440-6 / 1990, Granta; ISBN 0-14-014212-6 / 1991, Granta; ISBN 0-14-014021-2
  • Vox: A Novel 1992, Random House; ISBN 0-394-58995-5 / 1992, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-74211-5 / 1992, Granta; ISBN 0-14-014057-3
  • The Fermata 1994, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-75933-6
  • The Everlasting Story of Nory 1998, Random House; ISBN 0-679-43933-1 / 1998, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-73440-6
  • A Box of Matches 2003, Random House; ISBN 0-375-50287-4 / 2003, Chatto & Windus; ISBN 0-7011-7402-1
  • Checkpoint 2004, Random House; ISBN 1-4000-4400-6
  • The Anthologist 2009, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 1-84737-635-5
  • House of Holes: A Book of Raunch 2011, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 1-4391-8951-X
  • Traveling Sprinkler 2013, Blue Rider Press; ISBN 978-0399160967


  • U and I: A True Story 1991, Random House; ISBN 0-394-58994-7 / 1991 Penguin/Granta; ISBN 0-14-014226-6 hard / 1992, Penguin/Granta; ISBN 0-14-014040-9 paper /1995, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-73575-5 / 1998, Granta; ISBN 1-86207-097-0
  • The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber 1996, Random House, ISBN 0-679-43932-3 / 1996, Vintage; ISBN 0-679-77624-9 paper / 1996, Chatto & Windus; ISBN 0-7011-6301-1 hard / 1997, Vintage; ISBN 0-09-957971-5 paper
  • Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper 2001, Random House; ISBN 0-375-50444-3 / 2001, Vintage; ISBN 0-375-72621-7 / 2002, Vintage; ISBN 0-09-942903-9
  • With Margaret Brentano his wife The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer's Newspaper 1898– 1911 2005, Bulfinch; ISBN 0-8212-6193-2
  • Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization 2008, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1-4165-6784-4
  • The Way the World Works: Essays 2012, Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1-4165-7247-3
  • Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids 2016, Blue Rider Press; ISBN 978-0-399-16098-1

Further reading

  • Cox, Richard J Vandals in the Stacks A Response to Nicholson Baker's Assault on Libraries Greenwood Press, 2002 ISBN 0-313-32344-5
  • Fabre, Claire "Aux frontières de l’intime : l’intériorité exhibée dans Room Temperature 1984 de Nicholson Baker" Revue française d’études américaines 2006 113-121
  • Richardson, Eve, "Space, Projection and the Banal in the Works of Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Nicholson Baker", in Emma Gilby et Katja Haustein ed, Space New Dimensions in French Studies, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Brussels, Francfurt, New York and Vienna, Peter Lang, 2005 "Modern French Identities", 30
  • Saltzman, Arthur M Understanding Nicholson Baker University of South Carolina Press, 1999 ISBN 1-57003-303-X
  • Star, Alexander "The Paper Pusher" The New Republic May 28, 2001 38-41


While writing on Traveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker posted some songs in the Paul Chowder style on YouTube The ballads follow Pauls composition design of combining dance music with protest songs and deal with foreign policy agenda


  1. ^ American Newspaper Repository
  2. ^ McGrath, Charles 2008-03-04 A Debunker on the Road to World War II, New York Times
  3. ^ Baker, Nicholson;"The Charms of Wikipedia", The New York Review of Books; Volume 55, Number 4 March 20, 2008
  4. ^ How I fell in love with Wikipedia
  5. ^ a b "Nicholson Baker Goes Back to School as a Substitute Teacher" Leonard Lopate Show WNYC radio 20 September 2016 Retrieved 21 September 2016 
  6. ^ a b "Nicholson baker goes back to school in 'substitute'" Buffalo News 9 September 2016 Retrieved 21 September 2016 
  7. ^ Elaine Blair September 29, 2011 • Volume 58, Number 14 "Coming Attractions" Review on "House of Holes" The New York Review of Books Retrieved September 13, 2011  Check date values in: |date= help
  8. ^ http://wwwstltodaycom/entertainment/books-and-literature/reviews/nicholson-baker-on-the-way-of-the-world/article_625c608a-e579-11e1-b432-001a4bcf6878html
  9. ^ "Jeju Island", 2012 "Terrormaker", 2012; "When you intervene", 2014; "Nine Women Gathering Firewood" and a "Whistleblower song", 2014

External links

  • Sam Anderson Fall 2011 "Nicholson Baker, The Art of Fiction No 212" The Paris Review 
  • Nicholson Baker at Random House, author page
  • Nicholson Baker, "A Debunker on the Road to World War II" New York Times, March 4, 2008
  • Cox, Richard J "The Great Newspaper Caper: Backlash in the Digital Age"
  • Grimes, William ""Say What It Wasn’t a Just War After All" New York Times Book Review
  • "How I fell in love with Wikipedia" Guardian April 10, 2008
  • "The Charms of Wikipedia" New York Review of Books, volume 55, number 4, March 20, 2008 subscription required, see also here
  • Interview about "Human Smoke" on "BackStory" radio program
  • "Can the Kindle really improve on the book" New Yorker, August 3, 2009 On the Kindle reading device
  • A radio interview with Nicholson Baker Aired on the Lewis Burke Frumkes Radio Show
  • Wroe, Nicholas "A Life in Writing" Guardian, 19 September 2009 An interview
  • KCRW Bookworm Interview May 4, 2002
  • Nicholson Baker on his literary career and how he came to write about sex La Clé des langues - 2012

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