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Room Temperature Paperback – April 3, 1991

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Editorial Reviews Review

Nicholson Baker writes in 360-degree Sensurround--his descriptions of the seemingly banal awakening the most jaded of senses into recognition, admiration, and amusement. In Room Temperature, his self-deprecating, endlessly curious narrator is at home giving his baby girl a bottle and allowing his mind to wander. Uppermost in his thoughts are his wife and daughter, but there is also that obsession with commas and some concern with tiny taboos like nose-picking and stealing change from his parents. Truth-telling is the operative mode; at one point he tries to get his wife to explain a doodle by quoting a review of early Yeats: "Always true is always new." Room Temperature is a rare novel of domestic pleasure and stability, with a twist. "Was there ever a limit between us? Would disgust ever outweigh love?" Baker's alter ego asks, and seems determined to find out.

From Publishers Weekly

Baker's first novel, The Mezzanine , was hailed for its minimalist conceit--the story of a lunch-hour sortie to buy shoelaces--and its exhaustive cataloging of objects encountered and thoughts entertained. For readers impressed with the precision of Baker's descriptive powers but chilled by its clinical rigor, this second novel will deliver a welcome warmth. Occasioned by a 20-minute bottle-feeding of his infant daughter "Bug," narrator Michael Beal, a young house-hus- band, transforms the sounds and textures of an autumn afternoon into an absorbed--and absorbing--reverie: "The Bug's nostril had the innocent perfection of a cheerio a tiny dry clean salty ring, with the odd but functional smallness . . . of the smooth rim around the pistil of the brass pump head that you fitted over a tire's nipple to inflate it." In a refreshing bit of candor, the narrator baldly states the author's goals: "I certainly believed, rocking my daughter on this Wednesday afternoon, that with a little concentration one's whole life could be reconstructed." In a classic pairing of form and content, meditations on the images of infancy develop into mature, if somewhat ingenuous, reflections on the transit to adulthood. This is a small masterpiece by an extraordinarily gifted young writer.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 3, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679734406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679734406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,754,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've written thirteen books, plus an art book that I published with my wife, Margaret Brentano. The most recent one is a comic sex novel called House of Holes, which came out in August 2011. Before that, in 2009, there was The Anthologist, about a poet trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhyming verse, and before that was Human Smoke, a book of nonfiction about the beginning of World War II. My first novel, The Mezzanine, about a man riding an escalator at the end of his lunch hour, came out in 1988. I'm a pacifist. Occasionally I write for magazines. I grew up in Rochester, New York and went to Haverford College, where I majored in English. I live in Maine with my family.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Cruse on October 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
Probably the most undeservedly overlooked of Nicholson Baker's novels, Room Temperature is a delightful, heartwarming tome.
Any attempt at synopsis would only serve to make the book sound dreadfully boring. After all, during the entire 116 pages the narrator is feeding his small child. No car chases or steamy love scenes. Just a father feeding his baby.
Rather than relying on typical, often stale plot devices, Baker relies on his considerable talent at description to maintain the reader's interest, and he succeeds in a big way. Room Temperature is touching in a way that none of his other books are. The father-child bond is explored in such breathtaking detail that one finds the book impossible to put down, despite the lack of a discernable plot.
Nicholson Baker is not for everyone. His quirky prose and lack of traditional plot lines are sure to put off many readers, but fans of Updike are sure to find a great read in Room Temperature
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have read all of Mr.Bakers books, and with the exception of "The Everlasting Story..." (which indeed did seem to be everlasting) have read them with delight. Although he's often compared to Updike, I think he surpasses him due to his wit and his more creative sense of the strangeness of life. In "Room Temperature" we find the antidote, along with his other novels, to a modern world obsessed with speed, impersonal technology and the summational catchphrase "whatever". How wonderful it is to see an author bend his mind and spirit to the details of life with so much talent and fervor. And how wonderful to see that his books, plotless and demanding of full attention as they are, sell so well. It gives me hope for our civilization; it really does. On a sidenote - I am tired of critics and readers thinking he is cheapening his prose by writing on sexual topics. Sex is one of the most universal and fascinating and character-revealing subjects around; a great writer can make anything cerebral and holy, and a writer needs to go where his passions lie. Besides, do we really want every novel to be about rubber bands and bathroom hot air dryers?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Oedipa Hex on November 8, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A quiet meditation on the life of a brand new father, and how the infant a couple brings into the world somehow encapsulates every memory, every thought, every ounce of love of the husband for the wife. The sound of bacon crackling = the sound of the narrator's wife smiling in bed. How happy would we all be if our moments in thought were spent deeply ruminating over the magical details that make living worthwhile? Why shouldn't feeding your infant from a bottle in a rocking chair be at once everything and nothing?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ken Deshaies on October 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
Not for the faint of heart. Many people have lauded this book for it's rather deep study of the mental meanderings of a father feeding his infant daughter. And, while I found many of the passages very interesting, funny, and clever, and also found much of this pedantic and a sort of pretentious super-intellectual discourse. From musings over several pages about whether his breath could actually affect the movement of a mobile across the room to recollections of incidents in his marriage and in his life, you are obliged to ride in this car no matter where it takes you. Here is an example:

"Even so, when Patty's handwriting paused for a moment that evening soon after Bug was born, and I held in my mind a tiny pen-sound that I felt sure was a comma, I didn't at first think of literary punctuation at all, but of the distant preliterate sight of Mal Green's markings on my horn etudes. The idea of the comma as an oasis of respiration, a point of real as opposed to grammatical breath, of momentary renewal and self-marshaling in the dotty onslaught of sixteenth notes, overlaid itself on my idea of the comma as a unit of simple disjunction in written English. How had we come up with this civilized shape? I wondered. Timidly and respectfully it cupped the sense of a preceding phrase and held it out to us. It recalled the pedals of grand pianos, mosquito larvae, paisleys, adult nostril openings, the spiraling decays of fundamental particles, the prows of gondolas, half-spent tubes of antifungal ointment, falcon or airplane wings in cross section: there was a implied high culture in its asymmetrical tapering swerve that gave it a distinct superiority over the Euclidean austerity of the full point, or period."

And this is just the first half page of an 11 page discourse on the comma.
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By Brian Egras on April 11, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Room Temperature is certainly about a father and his child, but there is so much more. In typical Baker style, he examines minutia with elucidating commentary. This, in itself, is worth reading the novel; however, the quality that makes it transcend happens to be his ability to unite the entire book with its central theme: Breath. From the comma, to the mobile in his child's room, to tuba lessons, breath pervades - breath as its metaphor to remember to cherish every moment.

I have never seen a novel so effortlessly and imperceptibly weave a central idea throughout a book. Read this novel for both it compelling insight but also for the extraordinary literary technique.
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