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U & I: A True Story Paperback – 12 Jan 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (12 Jan. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862070970
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862070974
  • Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 12.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,582,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

NICHOLSON BAKER was born in New York in 1957. He is the author of eight novels, including The Mezzanine, Vox and Room Temperature (all Granta Books), and five non-fiction works, including U & I (also Granta) and Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, for which he won the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
On August 6, 1989, a Sunday, I lay back as usual with my feet up in a reclining aluminum deck chair padded with blood-dotted pillows in my father-in-law's study in Berkeley (we were house-sitting) and arranged my keyboard, resting on an abridged dictionary, on my lap. Read the first page
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. Millar VINE VOICE on 10 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
Nicholson Baker has written a book about John Updike, or rather he has written a book about Nicholson Baker writing about John Updike. If anyone is familiar with Baker's novels (specifically 'Mezzanine', 'Room Temperature' and 'Box of Matches') they will know what to expect - a minute dissection of his reasons for liking, and writing about, the author, John Updike. Baker reminiscences about how he discovered Updike and quotes from his work - ostensibly from memory, commenting on how most of the quotes he attributes to Updike are wrong - which are later corrected using '[]' in the text itself.

'U & I' essentially comes across as an internal conversation between Nicholson Baker and Nicholson Baker - where the subject happens to be John Updike. If you enjoy introspective novels and an insight into the working practices of a living author, or are already a fan of Baker, then this book will be of interest.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
I'm so glad I wasn't there 28 Oct. 2000
By "lexo-2" - Published on
Format: Paperback
Nicholson Baker's semi-demented account of his Updike fascination begins from perhaps the slimmest premise a writer ever attempted to build a book upon. He admits that he hasn't even read most, or even half of Updike's work all the way through, and yet he can't help measuring his achievement against Updike's. Which, when you look at the imposing bulk of Updike's work against the handful of slender volumes that is Baker's, seems fair enough, at least if you think quantity is a virtue.
Yet Baker writes so well, not just about the nuances of his quasi-Oedipal relation to Updike, but about Stuff Generally, that we keep reading. When he says that a particularly sarky remark of Samuel Johnson's "merited a shout and a thigh slap", the economy of that phrases reassures us about his own talent; likewise his description of a hamburger as "substantial, tiered, sweet and meaty" makes you want to go out and chow down straight away. This is not only about Updike - although it's very good on Updike - but chiefly about Baker, and his own determination to wring poetry out of the everyday.
Perhaps Baker's real direction, if the manic momentum of "U and I" is anything to go by, is more towards the torrential worry of a Thomas Bernhard than the Olympian repose of an Updike. I only began to read Updike years after I'd read this book, and I find him a bit of a let-down. But Baker has gone on to do some entertaining things with sex, some excellent essays and a kid's book. He has demons far more volatile than Updike's; I think he should let them roam a little more freely.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
The influence of anxiety. 31 Oct. 1996
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Imagine a late-night chat session around a few beers, in
which a good friend who happens to be a writer starts to
tell you about his obsession with John Updike; but the
story is a little too weird to take seriously (your friend
starts off telling you that he has only read a small
percentage of Updike's work) and a little too funny to be
true (your friend's mother gleefully introduces him to
Updike at a book signing); so you, entertained, listen to the whole
story in a state of somewhat suspended disbelief. The story
turns out to be brutally honest, of course, because the
friend turns out to be Nicholson Baker, before his name
became synonymous with anxious, detailed fiction. The
inflated relationship to Updike, sustained hilariously in
his mind like a zeppelin, turns out to be based on a couple
of fan-meets-idol encounters, since the story is about Baker
as a young, unestablished writer; but this doesn't mean that
Baker and Updike aren't (or weren't) linked together by some
fundamental literary bond. This book is Baker's attempt to
examine the roots of that bond, and the results are
delectable, side-splitting, and painfully embarrassing.
Drink a few beers while reading.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Anxiety of Influence 22 Sept. 2001
By John Abbott - Published on
Format: Paperback
Baker has a gift for writing very funny pieces about subjects that are usually dry and serious. Nominally about John Updike, U and I is mostly concerned with how young writers are influenced by the "tradition" of past writers. He's anxious, for instance, about "The Anxiety of Influence." Has Harold Bloom covered the same ground already? Baker doesn't know, because he hasn't read Bloom, and now refuses to do so, for fear that the book will "take me over, remove the urgency I feel about what I'm recording here." His vague ideas of Bloom's argument have come second hand. "Book reviews, not books, being the principal engines of change in the history of thought." That doesn't stop him wildly speculating about what Bloom would say, and then sheepishly confessing to some of the books that have directly influenced his own work in progress, such as Exly's A Fan's Notes and Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot.
John Updike, in an interview that appeared in Salon, praised the book himself. "It has done me a favor, that book, because it's a book like few others. It's an act of homage, isn't it? He's a good writer, and he brings to that book all of his curious precision, that strange Bakeresque precision."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Highly Amusing B.S.; Fine Comedy 14 Sept. 2000
By R. W. Rasband - Published on
Format: Paperback
This eccentrically gripping book will remind you of every all-night college bull session you ever participated in. Baker's increasingly discursive rants about Updike reveal more about the present author than the Great Man, of course. Keep this book in mind the next time you read a really annoying review of an author you admire. It's just some poor slob trying to justify his existence. And that's the real point of this memoir, of course; we all make our own solipsistic uses of other people. If we are lucky, we grow out of it and get some objectivity. In the meantime laugh along with Baker AND DON'T TAKE LITERARY POLITICS SO SERIOUSLY!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The consciousness involved in the reading of fiction 12 Jan. 2005
By Mary E. Sibley - Published on
Format: Paperback
Nicholson Baker is reputed to be a miniaturist. In Baker's opinion Updike's obituary in THE NEW YORKER for Nabokov was a model of its kind.

In the opening pages a crisis arises when Baker reads an AP story in his local paper that Donald Barthelme has died. He strives to compose an obituary of Barthleme for THE NEW YORKER. Baker's obituary comes out eventually in the 'Notes and Comments' section of the magazine. Baker considers working himself up to a fanatical receptivity of Barthelme's work, but then thinks to himself that Barthelme would never know. The intellectual surface given to the dead writer's work changes in texture and chemistry. In the dead, autobiographical fidelity in the work becomes less important. Baker comes to feel that Updike is more important to him than Barthelme, particularly because Updike is still alive. Baker resolves to make a book about his obsession with Updike.

At first Baker seeks to write a commissioned article on Updike. He contacts THE ATLANTIC. Baker, 25 years younger than Updike, notes that older writers are wary of younger writers. THE ATLANTIC responds. An editor says the results could be good or creepy.

Nicholson Baker started reading Updike at Christmastime, 1976, when he was on leave from college. Like the rest of us, Baker's actual coverage of Updike's works is spotty. Both Baker and Updike have psoriasis. Baker offers up the facetious suggestion that book reviews, not books, are the engines of intellectual change. In wonderful fashion, Baker teases out the meaning of, and circumstances surrounding, an Updike observation made pursuant to reviewing Edmund Wilson's journals that a set piece on a sunset would clog, would break the momentum in the writing of a novel. Writing involves an unbelievable amount of memory. A prolific writer works to avoid reapeating himself.

In the end THE ATLANTIC runs an excerpt of the author's essay on Updike. Belittling the Franklin Library, the author states that Updike teaches even in his transgressions. The book is a marvellous piece of writing and encompasses many writerly concerns.
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