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NICHOLSON BAKER QUOTES

American writer (1957- )

For me, as a beginning novelist, all other living writers form a control group for whom the world is a placebo.

NICHOLSON BAKER, U and I

Poetry is prose in slow motion.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

That was the problem with reading: you always had to pick up again at the very thing that had made you stop reading the day before.

NICHOLSON BAKER, Mezzanine

Spending your life concentrating on death is like watching a whole movie and thinking only about the credits that are going to roll at the end. It’s a mistake of emphasis.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

I edit with a pen, I write on a computer. I’ve always had trouble with pencils because they get dull so quickly, or they just break, and then there’s that ­awful shuddery feeling when you’re trying to write with a couple of scraps of wood poking out.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Paris Review, fall 2011

You can tell it's a poem because it's swimming in a little gel pack of white space. That shows it's a poem.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night?

NICHOLSON BAKER, A Box of Matches

I was always a believer, even with word processing, that there’s something useful about having to retrace your steps from the beginning. And you have to print it out, too—you only get so far if you work by staring at a screen, because the resolution of the paper page is much higher. Your eye actually takes in things on paper more efficiently. I can fiddle around with something on a screen for days and think I’m getting somewhere, and it won’t be right. Then I’ll print it out and take it to bed, and instantly it’s obvious what’s bad about it, and I’ll cross out, cross out, cross out.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Paris Review, fall 2011

At some point you have to set aside snobbery and what you think is culture and recognize that any random episode of Friends is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than ninety-nine percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history every published. Think of that. Of course yes, Tolstoy and of course yes Keats and blah blah and yes indeed of course yes. But we're living in an age that has a tremendous richness of invention. And some of the most inventive people get no recognition at all. They get tons of money but not recognition as artists. Which is probably much healthier for them and better for their art.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

Shoes are the first adult machines we are given to master.

NICHOLSON BAKER, Mezzanine

Notes of joy have a special STP solvent in them that dissolves all the gluey engine deposits of heartache. War and woe don't have anything like the range and reach that notes of joy do.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

When you have a child, you get a surge of ambition, or a surge of hormonal urgency, to get something done, something worthy of your new station in life.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Paris Review, fall 2011

The force of truth that a statement imparts, then, its prominence among the hordes of recorded observations that I may optionally apply to my own life, depends, in addition to the sense that it is argumentatively defensible, on the sense that someone like me, and someone I like, whose voice is audible and who is at least notionally in the same room with me, does or can possibly hold it to be compellingly true.

NICHOLSON BAKER, U and I

You need the art in order to love the life.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist

I'm a pretty autobiographical writer. I like a high ratio of true events to made-up events or rearranged events. I've always felt that if you think you can find a way to tell the truth and keep the fictional flux going, it's at least a good idea to try, because very often the truth is more interesting than the posed picture, the tableau. The messiness of truth is a useful corrective.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Paris Review, fall 2011

The function of a great library is to store obscure books.

NICHOLSON BAKER, New Yorker, Apr. 4, 1994

Sometimes I'll spend an hour writing a tiny email. I work on it until I've created the illusion that I've dashed it off in three minutes. If I make a typo, I let it stand. Sometimes in fact I correct the typo without thinking, and then I back up and retype the typo so that it'll look more casual. I don't know why.

NICHOLSON BAKER, The Anthologist


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