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A Box Of Matches [Paperback]

Nicholson Baker
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

1 Jan 2004

A man gets up earlier and earlier each day, dresses in the dark, makes his coffee and lights the fire with a box of matches. Then he rummages through the thoughts that crowd his head and preoccupy him. Here is mid-life domesticated man, whose thoughts veer brilliantly from love and marriage, to firelighters and suicide, in the twinkling of an eye.

This is Baker at his best, humorous and observant, revealing the underlying truths about the ephemerality of life, the joy of small things, the darkness just the other side of everyday life - all human life in a box of matches.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 178 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099448386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099448389
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 286,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

One man's simple, colloquial meditations on his past, his family, and his life's daily minutia are the substance of Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches.

Feeling that life is passing him by, Emmett, a middle-aged medical textbook editor, decides to wake up early each day to sit by a fire in his country house and record his thoughts in a diary. "Good morning," Emmett begins, "its January and its 4.17 am, and I'm going to sit here in the dark." From this vantage point, Emmett reflects stream-of-consciousness style on whatever occurs to him, no matter how mundane: his recent trip to Home Depot, how he met his wife, the habits of the family duck. Routines, such as how he makes his morning coffee in the dark or picks up his underwear with his toes, are described with childlike reverence and directness.

All told, nothing much happens in A Box of Matches, which seems to be the point. Baker is more interested in the idea that for many, life is made up of such apparent trivialities, and that only by pausing to appreciate them can anyone gain any lasting satisfaction. Baker emphasises this through the moments of understated wisdom and joy that Emmett derives from ordinary occurrences, such as the daylight through the window: "a simple light that goes everywhere but with no heat, aware that it is taken for granted and content to be so."

This is the philosophical equivalent of a one-joke premise, however, and there are moments when Emmett's naiveté and laundry list-like narrative wear thin. Likely understanding this, Baker has wisely kept things short. A curious, often charming novel, A Box of Matches will inspire some readers, while inspiring frustration in others. --Ross Doll, --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Extraordinary prose" (Sunday Times)

"As Kipling was to the secrets of the jungle, so is Baker to modern domesticity, equally ready with fascinating observation" (Daily Telegraph)

"There is a good deal more everyday wonder here than in a hundred original miscellanies" (Observer)

"This might be Baker's best yet - you're in for a treat" (Evening Standard)

"Like the small, agreeable sensations it so deftly evokes, this modestly scaled story is a pleasure that can add cheer to an entire day" (Spectator)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humble pleasures 26 Mar 2004
I picked this up at random in a bookshop and discovered, in the first two pages, one beautiful simile (about a fire) and one profound truth (about socks).
So I bought it, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's always a pleasure to read a book that, rather than striving and failing to be the Great American Novel, instead meets its own humbler goals. "A Box Of Matches" is full of fresh and meditative observations on a quiet domestic life. The narrator's obvious love for his wife and children (who spend most of the book either asleep or padding around discreetly in the background) saves the book from sliding towards solipsism, and his pets in particular are beautifully drawn. It's not entirely true to say there is no plot - over the course of the book Emmett's comforting suicide fantasies melt away, and one can try reading between the lines for a better understanding of who he is.
But really it's Baker's gifts for imagery and anecdote that make every page a pleasure, dare I say the literary equivalent of basking in front of a warm fire.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ordinarily wonderful 19 Feb 2004
How great it is to be alive. Rejoicing in the ordinary and everyday, Nicholson Baker has produced a brilliantly original and mesmerising short novel of thoughts, memories and ideas, run through with plain non-drama.
In concept, it may seem a daring move. But never underestimate the consummate observation and affirmation which sparkles within Nicholson Baker’s prose.
“A box of matches” can be summed up as a snapshot of a middle aged man from Maine getting up between 4-5 am to light a fire in his grate, in the dark, making coffee and reflecting on his life and current concerns. Are we sleepy yet? That’s your plot; full stop.
But wait, wake up. Recounts of the loving wife and two fast growing kids tells of a family man and over-hours publishing editor who cares; he’ll be sure to be ready to drive them to school, get the shopping in and earn a serious wage. Tales of the pet duck and the pet ant are laugh out loud drollness gone mad. The matter of fact of human nature with children, parents, grandparents, love, hope, sincerity and bodily functions are all here. Was that bodily functions? All will sound a chord somewhere, in an endearing and thoroughly witty and smile inducing way.
Strike a light, settle back and be reflected in the glow. An amazing short dazzle of inspiration. Don’t miss it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars 'I'm always happy to open a dishwasher..' 23 Feb 2013
'..curious to see what Dead Sea Scrolls await within.' That's so Baker - not the literary (or cliché, maybe?) 'lurk within' but not, either, the plain 'wait'.
Charming and domestic - one so wants to believe in this. Is the $900 rug real? Is the duck? Is Wayne Thiebaud?? (Yes.) When I got to '[my wife] shifted her warmly pajamaed bottom towards me and I steered through the night with my hand on her hip' I had to check his wife wasn't really called Claire. I came a cropper with the selected (aka 'vintage') Baker, but if he can keep this up.. It does spiral into platitude, rather, by #7 - but heck, platitude and pedantry are what he (and we) are about, aren't they? Now if Claire would just sqeeze up I'll snuggle down with the pair of 'em
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5.0 out of 5 stars Small but perfectly formed 17 Feb 2013
A beautifully written little book. Baker is so very observant about everyday things, and occasionally drops in some really profound and affecting thoughts on life. The lack of much by way of a plot doesn't seem to matter when the writing is as good as this. An absolute pleasure to read (and re-read).
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This is one of those books where nothing really happens, but that's not really a bad thing! It is the story of a man who get up every morning very early, while it's still dark, to light the fire with a box of matches.

The narrative takes us through the motions of each of these mornings, and the subsequent day, through his thoughts, and via a series of flashbacks, over some of the events of his life.

Will it keep you on the edge of your seat? No. Is it worth reading for sheer skill of the storytelling? I think so
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