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The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber Paperback – February 25, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

Novelist and essayist Nicholson Baker has had a small but well-deserved cult following since his first book, The Mezzanine, and the publication of the literary sex-bomb Vox saw his popularity mushroom. Baker's great gift is a precision of observational detail that has a peculiarly incisive effect on a reader's consciousness. Here is over a decade's worth of his essays and articles, including the much-praised card catalogue article first published in the New Yorker. The Size of Thoughts, through its varied forays into the realms of the overlooked, the underfunded, and the wrongfully scrapped, is a funny and thought-provoking book by one of the most distinctive stylists and thinkers of our time. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and essayist Baker (The Fermata) here collects his published essays of the past 14 years, which showcase his talent for generating social and literary punditry that is at once whimsical and profound. His musings on the merits of such mundane items as nail clippers and library card catalogues reveal subtlety of thought and a dazzling mastery of language. If a few of the earlier pieces are arcane, Baker's penchant for probing the metaphysical depths of the ostensibly quotidian generally yields lively and provocative insights about the significance of often-unnoticed threads in the fabric of modern life. "Lumber," the longest essay in the collection, is a charmingly vertiginous meditation on the literary history of the word lumber, a project that leads Baker through a convoluted but interesting textual maze in which he discovers the pleasures of forgotten literary works and finds a new perspective on the opuses of several major writers. Those who enjoy Baker's distinctive brand of intellectual mind games will find him in top form here. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (February 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776246
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,619 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1996
Format: Hardcover
Nicholson Baker writes about important stuff; not things like affirmative action or the cumulative effect of the Marshall Plan on Postwar Europe, but essential little things like fingernail clippers and Testor paints.
In his new book of essays, "The Size of Thoughts," Baker deals with such weighty issues as the machinery of movie projectors and the relationship between rarity and writing on rubber. But don't get the idea that Baker's book is a frivolous rambling; included in this collection of essays is a careful mini-history of punctuation, a report on the computerization of library card catalogs, and a hundred pages devoted to an exacting essay on the word "lumber."
Arranged under six headings (Thought, Machinery, Reading, Mixed, Library Science, and Lumber), the essays in this collection range from playfully comical to earnest and sentimental. Among Baker's more informal offerings are a recipe for chocolate sauce, a collection of mistyped sentences put in poetic form, and excerpts written under the influence of "nearly a hundred dollars' worth of marijuana."Baker's sentences are rolling and pun-laden, his vocabulary sharp even under a cloud of THC. A good part of his talent rests in his ability to articulate the quirky joys and silly idiosyncrasies that we all share but are shy to admit. His "Model Airplanes" may well put many readers in toy store aisles looking for the biggest B-17 on the shelf and three little jars of olive drab. His "Clip Art" will have readers closely inspecting the chrome plating of their fingernail clippers, searching for tiny clues to their origins.
These essays and others reveal an amateur's curiosity, a dabbler's impatience, and a romantic's simultaneous love of and disappointment with the new.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Karen on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
After reading this book, you will never clip your toenails again without marvelling at the fine and delicate engineering that went into the noble toenail clipper. You will develop a nostalgia for flipping through the card catalog, and for the days when consumer items did not come in fashion colors and an overwhelming number of forms. We are unaccustomed to the results of such honed and loving attention paid to the quotidian. Who knew such pleasure could be gotten from the history of film projectors, or the semantic evolution of the word "lumber?"
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Cat Lund on January 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
"So what size are they?" I heard a voice asking. Blinking in the Queensland sunshine I looked up from my book and smiled when I realised what my questioner meant. "There's only one way to answer that question" I said, and proceeded to read the opening paragraph of the book aloud, while my questioner listened, spellbound.
Back in rainy Britain I'd woken up with a dry mouth and aching head after one of my farewell parties in a friends house. Desperate for something to read I spied this book upon a shelf. Attracted by the tasteless pink and orange cover adorning this particular edition I picked it up and immediately disappeared, enthralled, into the lumber-room of someone else's mind. This charming book is filled with some of the irrelevant bits and pieces that somehow sneak into our brains. We turn them over from time to time, pulling them out of our subconscious like a paper covered boiled sweet from a fluff-filled pocket.
The author leads you down the byways and alleys of his thought processes, challenging and amusing you by turn and always asking questions that you wish you had thought of. This gentle philosophical meandering leads you to look at your surroundings with fresh eyes and broadens your horizons because you suddenly understand how at least one other human being thinks. It's a charming book to suit a wistful mood, a beach, a cloud, a river. Pack it in your holiday suitcase and wander gently through it at a holiday pace when the mood takes you. You won't be disappointed.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By alexander laurence on April 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Which brings us to the book of the month: The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber by Nicholson Baker. With all this travel and displacement, I didn't read that much in the past month except for a few scant pages of this or that book, or leafing though New York Girls, or the Doris Kloster book, or flipping through pages of The Complete Reprint of John Willie's Bizarre. Baker's book was sort of a meditative book after enjoying the "over the top" quality of a Kern or a Kloster. Baker is a very intelligent man as an essayist and this sober and funny book reminds me of the thoughtfulness of his previous novels, The Mezzanine or The Fermata.
In fact, Nicholson Baker has been assaulted once or twice in the past by a reviewer or two for being a minor pornographer on the last two novelistic outings, and I guess that he is now asking for our forgiveness. He portrays himself here as a regular guy, with a great interest in the most minute particles. The careful essays are about simple things: changing your mind as opposed to making decisions, the size and shape of thoughts, and rarity in life and experience. Baker is also a physical guy and likes his hands on the machinery, so he devotes a word or two about typewriters, model airplanes, clipping your nails, and the movie projectionist.
He is a severe literary critic (refer to U and I), and Baker here elaborates his views on the literary profession which include the art of reading aloud, the history of punctuation, thoughts about Alan Hollinghurst and J. E. Lighter's The Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Things read at weddings, typos, a recipe, dewey decimal system, and books as furniture are thrown in the shuffle; glue keeps it all together. And finally a long essay about the history of lumber, where he comes out in favor of lumber, is his most strongly political. I say that I love lumber! Ever since I was hit on the head by a two by four as a child.
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