By Nicholson Baker
Simon & Schuster, $25.00, 317 pages
From a beginning reflection on string in its various forms to his concluding remarks on lawn mowing, best-selling author Nicholson Baker demonstrates his skill as an essayist. His goal, as he says in the final chapter, was to produce a little book “for children and adults, that explains everything about history, beauty, wickedness, invention, the meaning of life,” and in that he succeeded. This collection of short personal narratives, most of which appeared in the New Yorker or other national publications, are loosely organized into sections titled Life, Reading, Technology, and War. Many readers will recognize Baker as an outspoken advocate of the printed word and sharp critic of public libraries and what he saw as an indiscriminate rush to eliminate the card catalog and book collections. Several of his most well-known pieces on these topics are included in the Libraries and Newspapers section. He writes with charm and humor but also with a literate, clear-headed insightfulness. Similar to the writers he most admires – including G.K. Chesterton, William James and Samuel Johnson – Baker supplies an informative and entertaining rumination on the large and small foibles of modern daily life. Highly recommended.
Reviewed By Linda Frederiksen