Published by Simon & Schuster on March 10th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Books & Reading, General, Literary, Literary Criticism
eARC provided by Copy provided by publisher via NetGalley
A funny, frisky, often outrageous book about love, literature, and modern life—and a wink of the eye to U and I, Nicholson Baker’s classic book about John Updike—by an award-winning author called “wonderfully bright” by The New York Times Book Review.
Nearly twenty-five years ago, Nicholson Baker published U and I, the fretful and handwringing—but also groundbreaking—tale of his literary relationship with John Updike. U and I inspired a whole sub-genre of engaging, entertaining writing about reading, but what no story of this type has ever done is tell its tale from the moment of conception, that moment when you realize that there is writer out there in the world that you must read—so you read them. B & Me is that story, the story of J. C. Hallman discovering and reading Nicholson Baker, and discovering himself in the process.
Our relationship to books in the digital age, the role of art in an increasingly commodified world, the power great writing has to change us, these are at the core of Hallman’s investigation of Baker—questions he’s grappled with, values he’s come to doubt. But in reading Baker’s work, Hallman discovers the key to overcoming the malaise that had been plaguing him, through the books themselves and what he finds and contemplates in his attempts to understand them and their enigmatic author: sex, book jackets, an old bed and breakfast, love, Monica Lewinsky, Paris, marriage, more sex, the logistics of libraries. In the spirit of Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage and Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, B and Me is literary self-archaeology: a funny, irreverent, brilliant, incisive story of one reader’s desperate quest to restore passion to literature, and all the things he learns along the way.
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, that he was a real person and that his writings are there for anyone to discover. I feel as if this could have been written by a great many people discovering great literature. Without more than the author’s dissection of Baker’s work, I am unable to say whether his writing inspired this plunge into dissection, or if the author chose Baker at random due to popularity. A good preface would be to mention that a reading of Nicholas Baker is a prerequisite. Since I didn’t and I won’t be reading Baker anytime soon. I can only tell you that the writing in this book is very thought provoking, if not a bit off the deep end of musing.
While the writer is discovering Nicholas Baker, he is going through his own life. His relationship and it’s ticks. He travels to France and sprinkles in what an American living in France might discover, or what he has discovered, anyways. There are so many elaborately elaborate descriptions in this book. The descriptions are not of the landscape or visions of the author, no, these descriptions are of the feelings and introspection of a man who really needs to reflect on the meanings of things most people didn’t consider. The author goes to great lengths to analyze his thoughts on the subjects in the stories by Baker and their mimicry to the author who penned them.
I think this book is a bit of an acquired taste though. I won’t be surprised if it is not well received by the masses. Because reviewing is made into an art. The author’s critique of another author’s writing may not be taken well. In my opinion this book is an experience for thoughts and a tribute to great writing. Any author who could make a discussion of books by one author, into a book, and make it this thought provoking has my undivided attention.