Running and Keeping Up

October 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nicholson Baker, so modest and down-to-earth as usual, interviewed at Full Stop:

There’s something useful about being humbled by the difficulty of what you’re doing, and by the sense that you’re trying to figure it out. It’s maybe better not to know what you’re doing, or at least that’s what I tell myself, because most of the time I really don’t feel that I’ve figured it out. When I was starting out, I’d check out books from the library on how to write, and they were useful to me in that I rebelled against some of the rules.

Books and movies are so skewed towards action. You get fired, and that’s the inciting incident, or your wife leaves you, your husband leaves you. You come into some money. You are suddenly mistaken for a CIA operative. Something happens that is completely out of the blue, and you’re expected to have wise, thoughtful reactions to it. But actually, you’ve just become a person who is sort of running and keeping up. I don’t believe that whole thing of: Get the character in a tree and then throw stones at him. I don’t buy it. It’s a very bad piece of advice.

I met Baker when he was touring for The Anthologist. The same man who unashamedly gave us Vox and House of Holes turns flush when he speaks about his own accomplishments and influence as a writer. His novels all tunnel down into the buried circuitry of logic and memory, though lately he has turned away from explaining the miraculousness of manmade objects (matches, drinking straws, shoelaces) and more toward humans themselves and their painful limitations. The Anthologist was an instance in which the flaws of the character gave substance to the narrative, and I’m glad that Baker is bringing back Paul Chowder for Traveling Sprinkler.


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