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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholson Baker’

The Thrills of Good Suction, and Other News

May 15, 2015 | by

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(Nicholson Baker, Bissell Zing not pictured.)

  • Gay Talese has held on to his address book for fifty years, and he’s never erased a name. It has just the kind of history and pedigree that makes documentarians salivate—so, sure enough, it’s soon to be the subject of a documentary. “ ‘Do you really think you can make a film out of this?’ Talese asked me, somewhere around the F’s. Absolutely, I told him.”
  • William Zinsser has died at ninety-two. His On Writing Well belongs on the shelf next to Strunk and White—a clear, well-styled guide to clear, well-styled writing. A classic Zinsserism: “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”
  • In which Nicholson Baker, a vacuumer as much as a writer, contends with the utility and beauty of true suction: “So strong is the Zing’s suction that it has a volume dial in its forehead that you can adjust on the fly from gentle to area-rug-ravaging. I vacuumed several rooms before a dinner party last week and found myself singing Irish drinking songs loudly as I worked.”
  • Hannah Arendt is still at the center of the argument: “Like so many Jewish texts throughout the ages, Eichmann in Jerusalem is an invitation to an auto-da-fé. Only in this case, almost all of the inquisitors are Jews. What is it about this most Jewish of texts that makes it such a perennial source of rancor among Jews, and what does their rancor tell us about Jewish life in the shadow of the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel? What does the wrongness of Eichmann’s readers reveal about the rightness of its arguments?
  • Lynda Barry on drawing and storytelling: “People think if you’re writing a story that you have to follow story structure … it’s like thinking the only reason we have teeth is because there are dentists.”

Miniature Books by the Brontës, and Other News

July 3, 2014 | by

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Stephanie Mitchell / Harvard University, via the Los Angeles Times.

  • When Charlotte Brontë was thirteen and her brother, Branwell, was twelve, they designed and wrote a series of tiny books: “Measuring less than one inch by two inches, the books were made from scraps of paper and constructed by hand. Despite their diminutive size, the books contained big adventures, written in ink in careful script.”
  • Charles Simic is addicted to soccer, though in his youth he wasn’t very good at playing it: “My grandmother once came to watch me play and when she got home told my mother: ‘All the other kids were running around nicely and kicking the ball, except your son, who kept jumping up and down and flailing his arms.’”
  • Later this month, the Guggenheim will host “ANTI-PASTA: A Dinner Inspired by Italian Futurism,” which observes the tenets set forth in Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine.” “Be rid of pasta, that idiotic gastronomic fetish of the Italians,” Marinetti wrote, enumerating eleven requirements for an ideal meal, including “harmony between table setting and food, the invention of food sculptures, and the use of scents, poetry, and music, as well as scientific instruments during preparation.”
  • This may not be a cause for pride, but we’re proud of it nevertheless: two of the books in this “Weird Sex” roundup are by recent Paris Review interviewees Nicholson Baker and Samuel Delany. (On House of Holes: “Amid the bathetic histrionics, Holes asserts a striking degree of tender, if debauched, humanity.”)
  • New York has subways and buses, ferries and trams, but it also has dollar vans, a form of “shadow transit” operating “mostly in peripheral, low-income neighborhoods that contain large immigrant communities and lack robust public transit.”

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Amazon Is Stressful, and Other News

November 27, 2013 | by

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  • In honor of Thanksgiving, novels full of good food.
  • Hundreds of writers have volunteered to sell books at indie bookstores this Small Business Saturday.
  • An undercover BBC investigation has found that working at the Amazon warehouse during the holiday season can lead to “mental and physical illness.”
  • Keep a notebook, write daily, and other tips from Nicholson Baker.
  • And whether or not you finish the books, twenty great opening lines.
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    What We’re Loving: Baseball, Giacometti, Literary Sprinting

    November 8, 2013 | by

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    Missing baseball yet? I am: I miss the slow churn of the season, I miss sitting in the stands, shielding my eyes from an afternoon sun as a hit flies into the air—is it foul? is it fair?—only to be caught at the wall by an outfielder. I miss the rhythm of apparent inactivity mixed with maximum tension. (I don’t miss the Cubs never winning a World Series.) What is beautiful about Steven Millhauser’s single-sentence story “Home Run” in Electric Literature is that not only does it celebrate our national pastime, it celebrates this rhythm through language. As editor Halimah Marcus explains in her introduction, “With nary a punctuation mark other than a comma, Millhauser builds momentum like the titular home run—the linguistic equivalent of bated breath, of rally towels, of screaming from your seat, of going, going, gone.” —Justin Alvarez

    In celebration of Neil Gaiman’s recent appointment at Bard College (my alma mater), I’ve been spending my evenings with American Gods. Not generally a reader of fantasy, at first I found myself echoing a question asked early on by our protagonist, Shadow: “What should I believe?” When we received an answer—“Everything”—it came from a man with a buffalo head. The book is a compendium of mythological tales, mixed together with intelligent precision and strewn with horror and humor. Ancient deities war with the rising gods of a digital world; a junkie leprechaun roams the streets in search of a misplaced gold coin; morticians by the names of Ibis and Jacquel chew on small bits of organs as they reseal their cadavers. Oh, and Lucille Ball is a god of the new millennium. Yet at the core of these phantasmagorical episodes is a commentary on melting-pot America, where the titans of other worlds are forgotten and replaced by newer, trendier gods—“gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.” It’s no wonder that this novel has won both Hugo and Nebula awards or that the Internet has been in a frenzy over the rumored HBO adaptation. —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

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    Fictional Food, and Other News

    October 18, 2013 | by

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  • Go Comics has put the complete Calvin and Hobbes archive online. Read on the site, or download the app.
  • The novels of Nicholson Baker. In nail art.
  • Can you guess which books inspired these fictitious food scenes? Or, the quiz some of us have been training for our entire lives.
  • “To call these books essential is not to say that I believe everyone must read them, but to convey that they broadened and informed my ideas of what it means to be female and how the stories of girls and women are told.” Anna Holmes on five essential “lady” books everyone should read.
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    What We’re Loving: Quaker Meeting, Blue Trout, and the Call of the Wild

    June 21, 2013 | by

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    Quaker Meeting in London, c.1723.

    Why aren’t there more novels about Quaker worship? It’s inherently dramatic, people sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak through them. Dramatic—and really, really funny. For proof look no further than Nicholson Baker’s forthcoming novel, Traveling Sprinkler. The hero, Paul Chowder, spends a lot of time attending Quaker meetings (i.e., church). Most of the rest of the novel he spends trying to teach himself the guitar, write (incredibly dorky) songs, and win back the girlfriend who left him in Baker’s earlier novel The Anthologist. There are lots of reasons to love Traveling Sprinkler: Baker gets sweeter with each new book, and underneath the sweetness lie witty arguments about poetry and song and taste. Among other things, this is the best novel I’ve read about Spotify. It also vividly captures Quaker beliefs and practices at a moment when, as Paul Elie wrote last year in the New York Times, many novelists have trouble writing about religion. —Lorin Stein

    “Beautiful and brilliant, possessed of an eye protected against sentiment coupled with a steel-trap mind and a tongue feared by all who had been at the receiving end of its talented sarcasm, a sarcasm that for some would always be wickedly amusing, for others just wicked.” So says essayist (and issue 204 contributor) Vivian Gornick of critic and writer Mary McCarthy on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. In a piece drawn from her introduction to a new edition of McCarthy’s 1949 novel, The Oasis, Gornick highlights the book’s biting satire but, more importantly, McCarthy’s fearlessness in barely disguising her characters from their real-life counterparts (mostly her Partisan Review colleagues). As McCarthy stated in her Art of Fiction interview, “What I really do is take real plums and put them in an imaginary cake.” —Justin Alvarez Read More »

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