Nearly twenty-five years ago, Nicholson Baker published U and I, the fretful and handwringing—but also groundbreaking—tale o
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This book is a strong take on the purpose of literature and a scathing critique of what it’s become. This is also a slap in the face of literary criticism itself, the lofty airy dishonesty of criticism that forgets that actual human beings are behind written books. B & Me is structured in a way that mimics Nicholson Baker’s U and I, a book ostensibly about Baker’s hero, John Updike. And like U and I, B & Me is not strictly what it appears to be.This is a love affair of the written word
The book begins with a crisis: the writer has been in the classroom too long to enjoy literature. He’s despondent, he needs help out of this funk. He needs that literary-induced passion that made him become a writer in the first place. How to do this? By reading a writer whose work he’s never actually read before, Nicholson Baker. Thus begins his jaunt across hundreds of years of literary history, a cultural landscape scattered with the landmines of anti-literary impediments such as moralism, (and recently, bad TV), and into the oeuvre of Nicholson Baker, book by book, in order to make sense of who he (Baker) is, what he writes about, how those themes connect to the author of B & Me himself, and even into the bedroom, whereby Hallman describes (as though from the pages of some of Baker’s pornographic novel, Vox) some very titillating sex scenes with he and his girlfriend. These are the things detractors will focus on, yet they are not what the book is about. What the book is about is rediscovering what it means to be a passionate reader, a “creative reader” as Emerson discussed in his 1837 commencement speech turned essay “The American Scholar,” an essay cited by Hallman as the originator of the term “creative writing.” Perhaps Hallman missed an opportunity to plug “creative reading” while discussing this very essay, but no matter. What’s important is that contemporary American culture is in dire need of books, real books, the little rectangular things made of paper with words written on them. What’s at stake without a literate culture is a dumbed down screen-based culture that leaves much to be desired. Hallman finally re-experiences that passion that he so sorely missed. And that’s what he wants from you, to remember what it means to fall in love with a writer like you did when you were fourteen.
Read this only if you are interested in the authors cringe-worthy oversharing about his sex life or if you find strained overreaching to show tenuous connections between Nicholson Baker and William and/or Henry James fascinating. Yes, I get that Hallman studied the James bros but that doesn’t necessarily mean they had undo influence on Baker. This results in what seems like an attempt to shoehorn them in for the sake of showing off his knowledge. There is also much hand-wringing about the state
I am completely at a loss as to how to review this book. This is a book about a man dissecting the writings of Nicholas Baker. He reflects on the writings real and inferred meanings. He laments his actions in life as he is discovering. He quips about the meaninglessness and righteousness of reviewing a writer’s book, all the while doing that very thing.
“Everything you write should be a test of whether you should be a writer.”
I have to begin by saying I didn’t even know who Nicholas Baker is, t