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3.6 out of 5 stars
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3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 26 March 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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VINE VOICEon 19 February 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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on 23 February 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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on 17 February 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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on 14 April 2003
This small book seems at first to be not about very much. Baker’s books tackle small subjects ( a shoelace, bottle feeding a baby, not writing a biography) in very profound ways.
A Box of Matches is concerned with the minutae of one person’s life through a small window of time across a few days. The beauty here is that Baker has discarded much of the brash intellectualism of his previous books and just tells it as it is. This book has a much more human feel to it, and there is almost an air of sadness throughout the book. The tragedy of the everyday is felt in the cadences of the prose, and captures the atmosphere (the dark kitchen, the fire growing each morning) perfectly. That’s not to say there is no humour in this book – I found myself laughing out loud at some of the anecdotes within, particularly concerning his cat. The narrator’s duck, beautifully described, is a superb character.
The book begins and ends quietly, and not much happens on the surface, but it will stay with you for a very long time.
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on 25 February 2003
I hate to say it, but it seemed to me that in this novel Nicholson Baker was merely going through the motions....happy to repeat the formula that worked for him in "The Mezzanine," but showing a lot less creativity this time around. That's not to say that "A Box Of Matches" is a bad book- it's not. It's enjoyable in a "passing the time" sort of way and you'll get a few chuckles. The book won't stay with you, though. Where "The Mezzanine" had truly remarkable 1-2 page footnotes on things such as straws, staplers and ice cube trays (remarkable for the author's powers of observation as well as for his sense of humor) which combined childlike curiosity with rigorous analysis (and perhaps even giving us a glimpse of the way the mind of a really good scientist must work), this new book has sitcom-silly humor concerning things such as belly-button lint, vomit and the subtle nuances of a man trying to urinate with accuracy in the middle of the night with no lights on. It's not all like that, but there's enough cheap humor and easy, "off-the-cuff" observations included to leave a bad taste in your mouth. We know that Nicholson Baker can do better than this, and I hope he is a bit more thoughtful the next time around and makes a return to top form.
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on 6 April 2007
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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on 10 March 2015
This little treasure really is like nothing else I have read before?...Simple, pared down writing but with hidden depths and many pleasures buried within the eloquent prose.
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on 23 July 2012
I read it in one go before going to sleep, it's a very gentle read. I was fascinated by the duck. Personally I'd have brought the duck into the kitchen, it really seemed so very cold. His wife seemed like a very patient person. I could have read more.
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on 3 January 2008
Formulaic whimsy, and somewhat coy besides. Occasional stabs at humour and a sort of pale philosophising.

Disappointingly lazy effort but just about passable if you`re having problems sleeping.
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