Tag Archives: Nicholson Baker

Books Acquired Recently: Getting Paid Edition

I decided to spend some of the money I received for my recent New York Times article on a variety of books, some that I’ve been interested in for a while but have not gotten around to, a few that have recently been recommended to me, and a few that have recently been published by friends. Aside from Reed’s book, which I purchased from the publisher, I bought all of them from amazon.com.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 4th ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012.

Baker, Nicholson. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. 2008. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Broder, Melissa. The Pisces. London: Hogarth, 2018.

Dearinger, Amber, ed. The Heart of Aces. Manteca, CA: Good Mourning Publishing, 2012.

Esquibel, Catrióna Rueda. With Her Machete in Her Hand: Reading Chicana Lesbians. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

Fernandes, Fabio, and Djibril al-Ayad, eds. We See a Different Frontier: A Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology. N.p.: Futurefire.net Publishing, 2013.

Hamilton, Jane Eaton. Weekend. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016.

Janzen, Rebecca. Liminal Sovereignty: Mennonites and Mormons in Mexican Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018.

Kaldera, Raven. Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press, 2006.

Lemus, Felicia Luna. Like Son. New York: Akashic Books, 2007.

Reed, Ken Yoder. Both My Sons. Morgantown, PA: Masthof Press, 2016.

Ruti, Mari. The Ethics of Opting Out: Queer Theory’s Defiant Subjects. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

Shipley, Ely. Some Animal. New York: Nightboat Books, 2018.

Zimmerman, Diana R. Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie. Newton, KS: Workplay Publishing, 2018.

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Books Acquired Recently

Abramović, Marina. Walk Through Walls: A Memoir. New York: Crown Archetype, 2016.

Abramović is my favorite artist, and I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it via her Facebook page. I love how she inserts her body into her work, insisting that art is always in some way autobiographical. I am excited to see how she handles the genre of written autobiography. Judging from the dust jacket blurb, the book is more properly spoken of as autobiography rather than as memoir, as its subtitle claims, but memoir is so marketable these days that it is understandable (though not necessarily justifiable) why the publisher would choose to mislabel it.

This and Smith’s book were purchased from amazon.com.

Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed: “The Tempest” Retold. London: Hogarth, 2016.

I recently received this book, which is signed by the author, as a gift. Hogarth has a series of retellings of Shakespeare’s plays by contemporary authors. This is a genre Atwood has worked in before, and I enjoy the writing of hers that I’ve read, so I am optimistic that the book will be an enjoyable one.

Johnson, E. Patrick, ed. No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.

Johnson’s anthology Black Queer Studies is an essential book in both the queer and African American literary critical canons, and a book that has had a significant impact on me as a scholar. Therefore, when I first heard about No Tea, No Shade, a follow-up collection, I ordered an examination copy from the publisher immediately.

Smith, Zadie. Swing Time. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.

I have loved Smith’s fiction since I first read White Teeth in a graduate school course eleven years ago. She is one of a select group of authors whose books I buy immediately without question (Nicholson Baker, Di Brandt, Samuel R. Delany, Don DeLillo [though he might be off the list now because his last book was so poor], Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeff Gundy, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, and Miriam Toews), and thus I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it.

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Books Acquired Recently: Mostly Lois Braun Edition

Baker, Nicholson. Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2016.

Baker is one of my favorite authors, and when I saw a short review of his latest book in the New Yorker I went out and bought it right away at my local Barnes & Noble (only because there are no independent bookstores nearby). His nonfiction always makes me think, and as an educator I am looking forward to what he has to say about his brief teaching experiences.


I was recently re-reading Douglas Reimer’s book Surplus at the Border on Canadian Mennonite writing, and in the last chapter where he briefly discusses a few lesser-known writers he mentions that Lois Braun’s short stories have some queer themes. I’ve never read any of Braun’s work before, but Reimer’s description of it was intriguing enough that I decided to buy her four short story collections, and they have all arrived over the past few days. I ordered them from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers.

Braun, Lois. The Montreal Cats. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1995.

—. The Penance Drummer and Other Stories. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 2007.

—. The Pumpkin-Eaters. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1990.

—. A Stone Watermelon. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1986.

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The Ten Most Influential Books List

I recently participated in the Facebook meme that asks for a list of the ten most influential books on a person’s life. Here is my list with some brief comments:

1. boneyard by Stephen Beachy—This book showed myself to me in an exact way that I had never encountered before in literature. Queer and Anabaptist: two great tastes that taste great together.

2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—My favorite book until I read boneyard. I’ve read it over half-a-dozen times and it always makes me cry. The last line is heartwrenching: “We would have been safe.”

3. questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt—Really all of Brandt’s poetry, but this collection is the one that I read first and that stays the most vivid in my mind. Brandt gave me a model for how to be transgressive when I really needed one.

4. Sleeping Preacher and 5. Eve’s Striptease by Julia Spicher Kasdorf—These two books feel inseparable for me. Kasdorf was the first poet whose work I read that made me realize that poetry could be relevant to my life.

6. Rhapsody With Dark Matter by Jeff Gundy—I had the same reaction to Gundy’s work as I did to Kasdorf’s. (Also, it drives me nuts that “with” in the title shouldn’t be capitalized here. What a dumb rule. I think it’s a significant enough word that it should be capitalized, which is why I have done so.)

7. The Tides of Lust by Samuel R. Delany—This isn’t my favorite Delany novel, but it’s the first one that I read (I also did a dissertation chapter on it), and it was good enough to get me interested in all of the others. Delany is the author whose work has been most influential on my current thinking.

8. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphries—I read this while doing research for a paper during my senior year of college, and it completely changed my view of the world because it told me about a practice (i.e., anonymous gay sex) that I had no idea existed. It taught me to begin looking at the margins, because that’s where the really interesting, revolutionary stuff happens. It also helped me to see physical space in a new way.

9. The Blue Mountains of China by Rudy Wiebe—In hindsight, this was my first encounter with postmodern fiction, which is now my favorite kind of fiction. When I first read it, its ethical vision was extremely formative for me.

10. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok—This was the first text I read that explored the relationship between religion and art in a serious way. If I hadn’t read this book, the words of the poets mentioned above would have fallen on deaf ears.

Three observations on this list: 1. It is overwhelmingly Mennonite, showing that no matter how hard I try I just can’t get away, and 2. I encountered half of the texts while at Goshen College, which proves something about the importance of a good liberal arts education. 3. After a few days’ reflection, I still stand by the list’s accuracy. The only glaring omission is Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine (But what would it replace? My first thought is Potok’s novel, but reading My Name is Asher Lev made my appreciation of many of the rest of the books on this list possible), which I actually think about more than any other book because of its chapter on public restrooms. Every time I go into a public restroom that I haven’t been in before (i.e., the restroom at my job doesn’t count because of how frequently I use it), I check to see whether it has a paper towel dispenser (and if so, what kind) or a hand dryer. The science of hand dryers has advanced a lot since the novel was written, and so sometimes they are better than paper towels, but I still generally agree with the novel’s argument in favor of the paper towels. Both options need to be well-designed in order to fulfill their function of getting one’s hands dry in a sanitary manner, though. It almost is not fair to compare them as entire categories.

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Books Acquired Recently: R.J. Julia Edition, and Some Thoughts on the Form

First, let me say that obviously my blog has been taken over by Books Acquired Recently posts in recent weeks. This is partly a manifestation of my book-acquiring addiction and partly a manifestation of the busyness of my first semester teaching at Utica College: I just haven’t had time to write about other subjects. I hope the blog’s subject matter becomes more diverse again during the month-long Winter Break that is fast approaching.

Second, I’ve mentioned this before, but for any new readers out there, the Books Acquired Recently idea is a blatant rip-off of Nick Hornby’s column in The Believer, in which he discusses books that he’s recently read and acquired. I love being a voyeur of other people’s libraries because it is one of the best ways to learn about a person, and thus I enjoy allowing others to view the process of continuing to build my own library. What can I say? I’m a literary exhibitionist.

Third, the recently acquired books themselves: Over the Thanksgiving break I visited some relatives in Connecticut, and they took me to the delightful R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison. The store’s three floors are architecturally pleasing, with inviting nooks for each section and plentiful cushioned chairs for customers who wish to investigate potential purchases without getting in the way of other patrons. The inventory is large, and the staff is friendly (not an easy task on Black Friday).

Baker, Nicholson. Traveling Sprinkler. New York: Blue Rider, 2013.

As regular readers of the blog know, Baker is one of my favorite writers. I didn’t realize he had a new novel out, but found Traveling Sprinkler in the store’s New Fiction section after I had already purchased the other two books and was waiting for everyone else in my party to be ready to leave. Of course I bought it as soon as I noticed it. I’m about a third of the way through the book, and while thus far it is not as good as its prequel, The Anthologist (which I love because it is The Nerdiest Book Ever), it has been smoothly enthralling like nearly all of Baker’s fiction.

Incidentally, Blue Rider also published the hardcover of Dickey’s memoir.

—. The Way the World Works: Essays. 2012. New York: Simon, 2013.

This book has been on my list of “books to buy eventually” since it came out. I enjoy Baker’s nonfiction, but reading it is always somewhat of a disappointment because it just isn’t as good as his fiction (which is not meant as a criticism: the two genres have different purposes, and nonfiction is much less concerned with creating a transcendent experience in the reader than fiction is). In this collection, Baker writes about essential topics such as how reading and writing are changing in the digital age. Everyone should be reading him.

Dickey, R.A., with Wayne Coffey. Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball. New York: Plume, 2013.

I have been meaning to read Dickey’s memoir since it came out just before the 2012 baseball season, and then decided to wait to purchase it until after the paperback came out because I assumed it would have extra material on his phenomenal 2012 year when he won the National League Cy Young Award. The Plume edition does, indeed, have a new chapter. Although I probably will not get around to reading Wherever I Wind Up until the spring when I begin craving baseball again, I decided to purchase it now because R.J. Julia is an independent bookstore well worth supporting.

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Thinking About The Mezzanine and Participating in Capitalism

I was re-reading Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine this afternoon because I am teaching it in my American Literature After 1945 class tomorrow, and I was struck by a passage that I hadn’t thought about much before (which is the beautiful thing about the novel: basically every paragraph is thought-provoking if it hits one in the proper frame of mind, thus making the book eminently re-readable because different passages will stand out at different times of one’s life). The narrator describes mailing a batch of varied correspondence and his subsequent feeling of importance:

“I became aware of the power of all these individual, simultaneously pending transactions: all over the city, and at selected sites in other states, events were being set in motion on my behalf, services were being performed, simply because I had requested them and in some cases paid or agreed to pay later for them” (21-22).

While not all of the correspondence that the narrator sends is financial in nature (e.g., he mails a letter to his grandparents), what struck me is that part of why capitalism survives is that it parcels out bits of fun to everyone when we buy things, even during seemingly small transactions. I suppose this is simply another way of saying that commodity fetishes exist, but nevertheless, it is necessary to note that we support the system just as much when we make a few small, aesthetically-pleasing purchases as when we buy a house because society teaches us that such a purchase is necessary to be considered “successful.” I happened to run several small capitalistic errands today, acquiring a variety of goods: a tank of gas, a snow shovel, a wine decanter (my favorite purchase), some trail mix, and a cup of coffee at a locally-owned coffeehouse. I had the same subtle, pleasing sense of accomplishment as the narrator does, which highlighted just how deep into the system I am.

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Books Acquired Recently

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. 1888 and 1890. Mineola: Dover, 2003.

Frederic, Harold. The Damnation of Theron Ware. 1896. Mineola: Dover, 2012.

I just recently heard of Harold Frederic (Utica College’s student literary society is named after him), who was from my new town of Utica, New York, and is buried less than a mile from my apartment. His major novel, The Damnation of Theron Ware, takes place in Utica, so I decided to buy it (and hopefully read it in the next week or two) as a part of my continuing investigations of the area. If I enjoy it there is a good chance I will include it in my American Literature After 1865 course next semester.

I have also been meaning to buy A Study in Scarlet for a while because it takes place in my just-now former state of Utah. I look forward to seeing how a British author depicts the bizarre realities of pre-statehood “Deseret.”

As an aside, note that for Doyle’s book the name of the volume itself is “A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four,” therefore according to MLA formatting only the “and” is italicized because the volume’s title should be italicized, but of course in italicized titles that include book titles (i.e., in this case, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four) the normally italicized titles must receive another form of emphasis since the entire title of the volume is already theoretically italicized. I understand the logic of this, but it just looks weird. I would much prefer if the “and” were the only word not italicized. I am all for MLA style’s attention to detail, but certain elements of it drive me up a wall.

As a second aside, Dover books are fantastic. I often assign them in my classes when I can because they are so inexpensive. Most people are familiar with Dover as a result of their editions of classic literary works, but they publish a wide-ranging list, including several significant chess books such as Frank Brady’s Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy and Hans Kmoch’s Pawn Power in Chess. The protagonist in Nicholson Baker’s novel The Fermata is in the process of writing a history of Dover as his M.A. thesis, and I’ve always wished I could read it. Baker himself would be the perfect person to write such a history because of his love of print culture, and especially print culture ephemera.

I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s essays for the past week-and-a-half, which is why this post is so footnote-y.

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Books Acquired Recently

Bergen, David. The Age of Hope. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012.

Bergen is one of my favorite novelists, and I just found out that he has a new book out. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been published in the U.S. yet–aside from Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, Canadian writers get zero respect here–so I had to find a copy from Canada online. I was able to find one from a bookseller in Ontario via abebooks.com.

Braddock, Jeremy. Collecting as Modernist Practice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.

I have always loved collecting things, so this book sounded appealing. As it turns out, the book considers anthologies as collections as well as discussing collecting objects, which is something that I am also quite interested in. I am looking forward to reading it. This, Lukas’s, and Wiebe’s books were bought from amazon.com.

Lukas, Paul. Inconspicuous Consumption: An Obsessive Look at the Stuff We Take for Granted, from the Everyday to the Obscure. New York: Crown, 1997.

I really enjoy Lukas’s Uni Watch blog, in part because we share the same obsession with aesthetic detail. I just found out that he published this book on the subject fifteen years ago, and bought it right away. It looks like a nonfiction version of Nicholson Baker’s novel The Mezzanine, which is a good thing.

Wiebe, Dallas. Skyblue the Badass. Garden City: Doubleday, 1969.

I have been reading a fair amount of Mennonite literature over the past year after a long hiatus from the field. I’ve been struck by how few U.S. Mennonite novels there are in comparison to the Canadian tradition (including David Bergen), and have been making a concerted effort to read the few U.S. novels that do exist. Wiebe was one of the first U.S. Mennonite writers, but I’ve only read a few of his poems and one or two of his essays. All of his fiction is out of print, but I was able to find a copy of Skyblue the Badass (I couldn’t find any of Our Asian Journey) for $46.00. I bought it with some birthday cash. It’s in very good condition, and I love that the back cover has a note from my main man George Plimpton.

George Plimpton's note about Paris Review Editions.

George Plimpton’s note about Paris Review Editions.

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Books Acquired Recently: Strand Edition

On New Year’s Day I visited the Strand Bookstore at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway in New York City. The Strand is my favorite place in the world; visiting it is a necessary experience for any book lover able to afford a trip to New York. I used to live within walking distance of it, and visit every time I am in the city. I hadn’t been to it since February 2011, which was the longest amount of time I’d been away since I first shopped there. I bought so much that I couldn’t fit it all in my suitcase and had to ship most of the books to myself. I was waiting for all of them to arrive here in Utah before writing about them.

Baker, Nicholson. The Everlasting Story of Nory. 1998. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Baker is one of my favorite writers, and this is the only one of his novels that I didn’t have. I read it on the plane home yesterday and it was a light, fun read, though not as good as his other books.

Calvino, Italo. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. 1979. Trans. William Weaver. Orlando: Harcourt, 1981.

This book was recently recommended to me by a colleague.

Danielewski, Mark Z. The Fifty Year Sword. New York: Pantheon, 2012.

I really enjoy the infusion of visual elements in Danielewski’s writing (which itself is so-so). This book is stimulating as an object: it includes Danielewski’s usual printed flights of fancy, and its dust jacket is riddled with pinholes that make the book look like it has chicken pox.

Houellebecq, Michel. Platform. 2001. Trans. Frank Wynne. New York: Vintage, 2004.

I’ve been meaning to read Houellebecq for a while because of my interest in fiction about sex. This was (perhaps surprisingly) the only one of his books in stock.

Hughes, Langston. Not Without Laughter. 1930. New York: Scribner, 1995.

I love Hughes’s poetry, but haven’t read any of his fiction, thus I was happy to buy this volume when I saw it on sale for only $5.95.

Pamuk, Orhan. The Museum of Innocence. 2008. Trans. Maureen Freely. London: Faber, 2010.

I recently read about this book, which has a corresponding museum curated by Pamuk in Istanbul.

Wallace, David Foster. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. 1999. New York: Back Bay, 2000.

—. Girl With Curious Hair. New York: Norton, 1989.

—. Oblivion. 2004. New York: Back Bay, 2005.

I love Wallace’s writing, and was happy that the Strand had all three of his short story collections in stock.

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Paul Lukas’s Fascination With Interesting Things

I’ve written here before about Paul Lukas’s Uni Watch site, which is a daily stop in my internet wanderings. One of the reasons I love Uni Watch is that Lukas’s material aesthetic is very close to mine: he’s obsessed with fine craftsmanship, enjoys older objects, and has an eye for fine detail (and, like me, is a Mets fan and likes Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine!). Today’s column is one in a series where he answers questions from readers about himself, and it’s worth checking out because it epitomizes what a thoughtful, intriguing person he is.

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