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Nicholson Baker

Traveling Sprinkler

Nicholson Baker Traveling Sprinkler
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Biographical note:

Nicholson Baker is the author of nine novels, including The Anthologist, Vox, and The Fermata, and five works of nonfiction, including Human Smoke and Double Fold  (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award). He lives in Maine with his family.

Excerpt from book:

One

Roz called to ask me what I wanted for my fifty-fifth birthday. One of her many good qualities is that she remembers people’s birthdays. I thought for a second. I knew what I wanted: I wanted a cheap acoustic guitar. You can get them for about seventy dollars at Best Buy. They come in an exciting cardboard box. I saw two boxes, leaning against a wall, waiting, last time I was there. I almost said that’s what I wanted—I came dangerously close to saying it—but then I didn’t, because you really can’t ask your former girlfriend for a guitar, even a cheap guitar. It’s too momentous a present. It presupposes too much. It puts her in an awkward position. And of course you can’t say, “What I really want is I want you back,” either.

So instead I said, “I think what I really want is an egg salad sandwich.” Roz has a particular way with egg salad— she adds in a rare kind of paprika or tarragon or some elusive spice I don’t understand. “We could meet at Fort McClary,” I said. “I’ll bring the picnic basket and the sliced carrots if you bring the egg salad sandwiches.”

Fort McClary is a place we used to go sometimes to smell the seaweed and look at the boats. I think it’s where the Revolutionary War began, but I’m not sure. There are huge hewn Stonehengeian stones tumbled about in the grass that were going to be part of a defensive wall that never got built. I think Paul Revere rode his poor snorting horse all the way to Fort McClary to warn that the British were coming, which was the beginning of a pointless trade war that didn’t need to happen.

Roz was silent for a moment.

“Or,” I said, “if a picnic is too heavy-duty we could just have lunch at the Friendly Toast.”

“No, no, I can definitely make you an egg salad sandwich,” she said. I could hear her smiling the indulgent smile of someone who once loved somebody a long time ago.

We agreed to meet at Fort McClary and have a birthday picnic.


Early this morning I had a literary dream. Roz was still living with me and I was supposed to review a book of 1S military recipes called Mess: Great Food from Army Kitchens.

Roz and I were testing one of the recipes, which was for octopus-walnut muffins. Roz pulled the tray of muffins out of the oven and I bit into one. “How does it taste?” she asked.

“Not too good,” I said.

“I’m not surprised,” she said. We shook our heads and tried to think of a way I could say something nice about the cookbook.

“Maybe you could praise the walnuts?” Roz said.

I woke up.


I’m parked on Inigo Road, which is my favorite road anywhere. I wish I could write about the phrase “happy phrase,” but there’s no time. Very soon I’m going to be Fifty Fucking Five. The three Fs. The last time I hit three Fs was ten years ago, and this time is definitely worse. Unless you’re Yeats or Merwin you are done as a poet at fifty-five. Dylan Thomas was in the ground for sixteen years at fifty-five. Keats was dead at, what, twenty-six? Riding on horseback with his sad lungs coughing blood. And as for Wilfred Owen.

The first time I read Keats’s sonnet “When I Have Fears,” I was eating a tuna sub. I was an applied music major, with a concentration in bassoon. I’d found the poem in T

“In sparkling and witty prose, Baker reminds readers why he’s one of the masters of the contemporary novel.”
Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“If you love Nicholson Baker's fiction, Traveling Sprinkler will easily feed your jones.”—Shelf Awareness
 
“Baker’s endearingly comedic, covertly philosophical love story, spiked with intriguing—even alarming—little-known facts, mischievously celebrates song and silence, steadfastness and loving-kindness”—Booklist
 
"There are lots of reasons to love Traveling Sprinkler: Baker gets sweeter with each new book, and underneath the sweetness lie witty arguments about poetry and song and taste."—Lorin Stein, The Paris Review




 


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