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Tag: Nicholson Baker

NYTBR on The Anthologist

I am not a big poetry person so I was a little worried about reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.  The NYTBR review makes me want to read it however:

And let’s face it, stories involving poets tend to be hokey or, worse, excruciatingly literary. Maybe the spires of libraries rise darkly in the gloaming; maybe bookish amour unfolds amid bosomy fields laden with the fleeting fruits of summer. At best, the author follows the course Stephen King takes in “The Tommyknockers” and skims over his protagonist’s occupation in order to concentrate on the perilous effects of buried alien spacecraft.

Yet somehow Nicholson Baker has written a novel about poetry that’s actually about poetry — and that is also startlingly perceptive and ardent, both as a work of fiction and as a representation of the kind of thinking that poetry readers do.

I also like this quote about The New Yorker and poetry:

The New Yorker is a terrific magazine, but placing a poem there is like finding a hundred bucks in an old coat pocket: it’s great, but you can’t build your world around it. You build your world around what’s there for you on a daily basis, which for poets, famous or otherwise, means literary journals.

So The Anthologist is moved up a few notched on the towering TBR pile!

In the Mail: hump day edition

–> The Anthologist by Nicholson BakerThe Anthologist

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Baker’s lovely 10th novel, readers are introduced to Paul Chowder, a study in failure, at a very dark time in his life. He has lost the two things that he values most: his girlfriend, Roz, and his ability to write. The looming introduction to an anthology of poems he owes a friend, credit card debt and frequent finger injuries aren’t helping either. Chowder narrates in a professorial and often very funny stream of consciousness as he relates his woes and shares his knowledge of poetry, and though a desire to learn about verse will certainly make the novel more accessible and interesting, it isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying it. Chowder’s interest in poetry extends beyond meter and enjambment; alongside discussions of craft, he explores the often sordid lives of poets (Poe, Tennyson and Rothke are just some of the poets who figuratively and literally haunt Chowder). And when he isn’t missing Roz or waxing on poetics, he busies himself with a slow and strangely compelling attempt at cleaning up his office. Baker pulls off an original and touching story, demonstrating his remarkable writing ability while putting it under a microscope.

–> Red to Black by Alex Dryden

Publishers Weekly

The pseudonymous Dryden, a British journalist, eschews both technological marvels and implausible action scenes in his absorbing debut, a spy thriller that exposes the links between the “old” Russia of the Cold War and the “new” Russia of Vladimir Putin. In 1999, Anna, a colonel in the Russian foreign intelligence service, becomes romantically involved with Finn, an MI6 agent stationed in Moscow whom she deliberately targets for seduction. Meanwhile, Finn has learned of “the Plan,” a long-nurtured and fiercely guarded scheme to undermine the West. Finn and Anna each play a decade-long and dangerous double game as they seek to uncover incontrovertible proof that will thwart the Plan and allow them to leave intelligence work together without fear of reprisals. The detailed accounts of the financial maneuverings of the KGB and its successor, the FSB, are mind-boggling. Despite lackluster prose, Dryden’s fact-based scenario provides worrisome food for thought.

I get it, you hate Amazon & the Kindle. So what?

Let me state right up front that I am biased on this subject.  I own a Kindle (1) and enjoy it. But on the other hand I don’t think I am such a Kindle partisan that I can’t see reasonable criticisms or recognize hype.  There are plenty of both in discussions of the Kindle and ebooks in general.

But I found Nicholson Baker‘s New Yorker essay incredibly tiresome and rather disingenuous.  Baker spends 6,000 words saying what is rather obvious to anyone who has looked into the Kindle: if you read books for their typogrpahy, illustrations or other visual elements – books as physical objects with all that entails – then the Kindle (like most ebook readers) is not for you.  Oh, and lots of books are not available yet.

Clearly, for Baker reading is a very physical and visual activity.  He wants certain things from a book and the Kindle doesn’t give him what he wants.  Fair enough.  I still love a well designed book and certainly find Kindle’s handling of illustrations problematic.

But Baker completely ignores why the vast majority (at least I suspect) of Kindle owners enjoy using it.  Here are a couple of issue the Baker basically misses:

  1. A library on the go.  If you frequently travel and love to read Kindle is a lifesaver.  You can have a library of books while only carrying something the size of a trade paperback.  So many critics seem to miss this very basic point.  Can they not see how handy it is to have a huge selection of books plus magazines and newspapers at your fingertips without lugging them all around with you?  This is not a question of art but one of practicality.
  2. Instant gratification.  Baker mentions this in passing but doesn’t explore it.  It is incredibly convenient to decide you want to read a book and start doing so 60 seconds later.  Why is it so hard to see how awesome this is? Finish the first book in a series and want to start the next?  With Kindle you can do so without even getting up.  It was the Amazon store and the Whispernet that really gave the Kindle the buzz.  Again, not aesthetics but convenience.
  3. Sometimes it is about the words.  The fundamental problem Baker has with the Kindle is that books are clearly more than mere words to him.  He derisively describes Kindle books as “a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon.”  Sure, but sometimes that is all I need.  In fiction all I often need is the story.  The way the author creates a world out of words.  I don’t need illustrations or a book cover or a certain typography, font, type of paper, etc.  I just want to read the story.  The same is true of non-fiction.  I just want the information – the argument, or the history, or the descriptions. I have found reading the Kindle a great way to get what I want from certain books without the need for a physical copy to lug around or to take up more space in my house. It is really that simple.

It doesn’t bother me that Baker doesn’t like the Kindle.  And I think he makes a few valid points – even if they are hardly insightful or unique.  What I found rather silly is the verbose and snide way he goes about making these arguments.

Yes, we get it.  Some people hate Amazon.  Yes, the iPhone is superior to every other device. Yes, Kindle is propietary. Yes, the Kindle doesn’t handle graphics very well.  Yes, the Kindle isn’t a work of art.  Yes, yes, yes.  I get it.

My response? So what? That is not why I have one.  I fail to see why it was necessary to pen 6,000 words to rehash this rather tired cultural argument.

I don’t know if the Kindle will revolutionize books but I am happy just to take advantage of the convenience it provides.

Perhaps that is just too mundane for Baker but it works for me.

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