Nicholson Baker Speaks!

May 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Just a reminder for the discerning literary types out there: Ace wordsmith and impressively bearded Nicholson Baker stops by the Mercantile Library tomorrow (May 3) at 7 p.m. to read from and discuss his work.

The 54-year-old New York City native has tackled a number of topics and genres — from nonfiction to fiction, from books about phone sex and bottle feeding babies to historical investigations about about the insidious nature of war — in a writing career marked by his playful use of language, biting humor and interest in the “moments between the big moments.”—-

Since he'll be speaking at a revered library, look for Baker to mention Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, his 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award winner about the American library system. Then there's his most recent book, The Anthologist, a funny, metalicious tale of a poet with writer's block.

CityBeat recently tracked down Nicholson in cyberspace. Here is our brief emailed correspondence. Oh, and for those interested in checking out what he has to say tomorrow night, admission for the event is $5 for Mercantile Library members; $10 for everyone else. To reserve a spot, call the library at 513-621-0717.

CityBeat: What role will libraries — or book stores for that matter — have in a future that is rapidly devaluing physical objects?

Nicholson Baker: I think we'll survive the tumultuous times we're in. Books will be books and they will also be electronic groat-clusters of words. Sometimes we'll read them on silent screens and sometimes on rustling pages.  Libraries and bookstores are nice places to go because each one serves up a piece of the literary universe in its own idiosyncratic way.  It's fun sometimes to read near other readers and crowds of multicolored bookspines.  And big libraries have the important job of holding onto the printed output from previous centuries—that won't change.  Paperback book covers have never looked better—those clean pale colors and the nubby, slightly matte texture of the paper.  I often like book covers better than the books they enclose.

CB: Your work defies easy classification and often discards conventional narrative techniques. Is this an organic turn of events or is it an overt decision on your part?

NB: I don't know what I'm doing — I'm just trying to figure it out as I go. The next book is the book that wants to be finished. Often I get impatient with "big" plots because they're so familiar: murder, end of the world, divorce, a big sack race. How many times have we seen movies about the end of the world? The best and most human moments are usually the moments between big moments.

CB: I often see in your work an acute yearning to change certain things about the world, which admittedly is the goal of most writers. Do you think books and/or writers can still have a profound impact on the way we see the world and/or influence public opinion? Did they ever?

NB: Recently I wrote an article for Harper's called "Why I'm a Pacifist." I'd like to stop the U.S. government from flying drones around in distant countries and killing people but I probably won't be able to. You pick your battles.

CB: You often write about writers and the act of writing or reading. Where does this obsession with writing, reading, language and words come from?

NB: Am I really that bookish? I've got a book about riding an escalator, a book about bottle feeding a baby, a phone sex book, a book about stopping time, a book about World War II. I'm not sure I wholly believe in obsessions. Life has too many interesting things to think about to spend too much time on one patch of turf.