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U and I: A True Story Paperback – February 4, 1992
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It didn't matter that I hadn't written a book that had won a National Book Award, hadn't written a book of any kind, and didn't know how to golf: still, I felt strongly that Updike should have asked me and not Tim O'Brien.
He justifies this reaction with a remarkably intricate series of associations between his life and Updike's, starting with the major impact a golf joke in an Updike essay once had on him. When Baker reads in the paper that his local cops offer to X-ray kids' candy for razors, he plausibly imagines the droll "Talk of the Town" piece Updike might have spun from the item, glumly noting that Updike's piece would have been better. He even teasingly confesses that U and I constitutes "a little trick-or-treating of my own on Updike's big white front porch." By the time he actually meets his hero (at Rochester's Xerox Auditorium!) in 1981, Baker has transformed him into a character in a Baker story. Quite a trick--and a treat.
In his elegy for Yeats, Auden wrote that a great poet's words are modified in the guts of the living, but Baker proves what really happens: at best we misremember and mangle, shamelessly remaking the master in our own image. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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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.
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."
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the funniest books I've read, seriously. You have to love that Baker has the brashness to write this book even though he'd only read a few of Updike's books! Read morePublished 15 months ago by Billy Williams
This book caused me to laugh aloud. It's a new kind of "criticism," doing a piece a about a writer, Updike, without reading very much of his work. Read morePublished on April 18, 2012 by Sylvia Carter
I enjoyed Baker's MEZZANINE book more but I do appreciate his sharing in U and I typical problems author that authors face like "Have I used this idea before in print?"Published on June 30, 2011 by Glenn A. Harper
One of the most original - and honest - pieces of literature in the history of the planet, to date, at least. Read morePublished on January 20, 2010 by Irl Barefield
That may be true for most books, but it's doubly true for this one.
This book appealed to me because the author and I share a common interest (though in the case of... Read more