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U and I: A True Story
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U and I: A True Story

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  647 ratings  ·  67 reviews
Nicholson Baker's novels, The Mezzanine and Room Temperature, have been highly praised for their sparkling originality, deadpan humor, and eccentric style. Now, with U and I, Baker has written the most idiosyncratic and deftly illuminating essay on literary influence in recent memory, as he reveals his preoccupation with the work of John Updike.
Hardcover, 179 pages
Published April 3rd 1991 by Random House (first published 1991)
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MJ Nicholls
Oh this is absolutely sublime! Baker, Baker, candlestick maker! But. I have a little problem dishing out a terse, considered and witty review, howevs. Reason? I read so much there is SIMPLY NO TIME to write all these reviews. Look, I have a life! Don’t believe me? Well . . . you’re right, I’m clearly not a high-flying fashionista (tweed is cool, right?), but I have OTHER THINGS TO WRITE! I’m supposed to get cracking on a synopsis for a new novel this weekend, and it is currently 21.43 GMT. This ...more
Paul Bryant
Nicholson Baker :

"I wanted my first novel to be a veritable infarct of narrative cloggers; the trick being to feel your way through each clog by blowing it up until its obstructiveness finally revealed not blank mass but unlooked-for seepage-points of passage."

P Bryant :

I just belted and I think killed with my copy of "U and I" the only housefly which has had the temerity or resourcefulness or lack of satnav to find its way into this my sanctum sanctorum. It was a moment imbued with dizzying per
‘It has done me a favour, that review, because it’s a review like few others. It’s an act of homage, isn’t it? Nicholson Baker

If ever there was a book that begged to be discussed prematurely, a book that pleads to be mocked in what I believe is the goodreads catchphrase 'a parody homage', this is it. And yet, maybe it has already been done? Could one live down the embarrassment? Firstly to have done what's been done before, secondly to have one's friends know that you don't even read their work
M. Sarki
Nicholson Baker has an almost neurotic obsession with not wanting to sound like another writer and not to enter into manuscript words or phrases another writer has previously used. He is frightful of himself slipping into his work a metaphor or turn of phrase that he unconsciously may have lifted from another writer's output he may have read many years ago but still resting latent in his memory just waiting to reveal itself, and himself, a writer lesser than he is or wants to be in the eyes of l ...more
Rose Gowen
I was happy to find this book yesterday at a church rummage sale. For a long time-- in spite of my affection for The Mezzanine, and the fact that certain ideas from The Size of Thoughts visit me pretty regularly-- I did not want to read U and I because of my antipathy toward Updike. I should have realized that it is as much about Updike as The Mezzanine is about buying shoelaces. It is really about writerly striving and anxiety, and as such, I found it hilariously funny. O, the vanity! O, the ri ...more
It's very difficult to put into words the beauty of this book, or figure out precisely what kind of book it is. It's ostensibly a book about John Updike, but in reality it has to do with Nicholson Baker's bizarre obsession with John Updike, or with Nicholson Baker's psyche in general. And what an amazing psyche it is! Wretched, grasping, obsessed with fame, completely and totally incapable of seeing only one side of any given sentence or word or syllable. On paper, this seems like a terrible cas ...more

Good book to read if you have two hours to kill waiting for the fucking night owl bus and its mid-April and 40F and raining. For anyone who has had a distant hero-worship/kill the father literary complex and finds they are constantly comparing the most minute biographical data of the object of said obsession with themselves, this is probably a cathartic read. Baker's anxiety over Updike seems to give credence to Bloom's thesis, but fuck that guy, like Shakespeare wasn't ripping off his predeces
I remain extremely skeptical of Baker having read three of his books and not having been thrilled by any of them. I'm hoping The Size of Thoughts will please me more. Given that I'm not a fan of Updike perhaps I was predisposed to dislike the book, but there was definitely a moment herein where Baker claims not to be showing off when, in fact, that's exactly what he's doing. And that's probably where my patience ran out.

Also, Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage is a funnier and more interesting explo
Jeff Bursey
Amusing, smart-assed, quotable, and focused: if you like any of these qualities in a book that's about a writer and another writer, U and I will be enjoyable. It can also be tiresome, too clever, and smug, but that's also written into the book, perhaps both deliberately and accidentally. Those things are not separable from its more interesting qualities. Definitely worth reading.
This is the kind of book that practically vibrates out of your hands from its playful explosive sentences, its wordplay, its genius. Ostensibly this is a book about John Updike, a "closed book examination," in which the author, Nick Baker, decides to dissect and critique the vast and sprawling career of one of his idols. The only problem? Baker can't remember much, and a lot of what he does remember is quoted or remembered wrong. But that is part of the fun as you'll see. Baker's wisdom is as mu ...more
This made me really want to read all of Updike. Wonderfully written. Flowing prose. Like Geoff Dyer's "Out of Sheer Rage," in that it approaches its subject (Updike) without bothering to reread his stuff, prefering to exacvate lingering impressions.
I should have heeded the jacket blurb: "Baker's latest book reaches glorious new depths of shallowness". This 'book' confirms the suspicion induced by the vapid emptiness of 'Mezzanine' - Baker is a smirking ass.
"I simply could not formulate a first sentence that felt interesting and properly heterogenous and yet acceptably free from Updike's influence" (174).

Well, try any sentence.

Okay, okay, I get that that's the point. I understand Baker's desire for honesty, and I think he is certainly honest (if simultaneously selfish, childish, and indulgent). Admittedly, I haven't read any Updike, but Baker's thoughts on mediocrity, measuring up to an idol, and leaving a mark are interesting enough without that c
Sep 16, 2008 Amanda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Not Sure
Recommended to Amanda by: the catalog
An enjoyable read. More autobiographical antics from Baker who is becoming my favorite author. He starts with talking about Don Barthelme and wantign to write about him in the living, the difference between a contemporary writers work while living and the tone it has in death, and then concludes with a hundred pages of moving through an obsession with John Updike. Whom I have never read, but whom Baker has barely read. He creates as a reviewer from memory and acknowledges the merit of his memory ...more
I first read this book twenty years ago, shortly after graduating from high school, and it made a lasting impression on me. That may seem strange, given the book's brevity and idiosyncrasies. It's a very quirky book about a young writer and his feelings (and his feelings about those feelings) about John Updike. It feels weird to realize that I'm now older than Baker was when he wrote this book. When I first read this book, I had some notions that a writing career might be in my own future, and B ...more
Little did I know before reading this gem that Baker had already treated fiction and literary criticism in as original and hilarious way as he did poetry in "The Anthologist". Not only that, but now I have to go back and read as much John Updike as I can--Updike lost me after "The Coup", although I did briefly attempt to read "Brazil". Thanks, Nicholson Baker, because now I also have to read those of your books I have not yet read, and I owe it to you to review those I already have read...
Will McGrath
This is a book-length essay about Nicholson Baker's obsession with John Updike. It primarily involves Baker comparing himself against his literary hero and wondering if he will ever be as good. This sounds like a terrible idea for a book. It is not a terrible idea for a book.

"U and I" is a hilarious and hilariously self-aware book, featuring a long discussion of which writer's psoriasis is worse (Baker pins his prose shortcomings on not having as severe a form of psoriasis as Updike had). Baker
Navel gazing at its finest, though sometimes I appreciated his sense of humor. Maybe I would've been more engaged if I'd ever read anything by John Updike except "The A & P."
Li'l Vishnu
‘I wish there weren’t such things as older and younger generations and the inevitable deaths that make you think you have some special connection with a writer just because a pumpkin of yours once rotted on his book.’ — p. 141

There go the last vestiges of The New Yorker's once universal hold on the American writer. Since it’s all Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro and posthumous things these days. (You’ve even got Chris Adrian in there—a hybrid writer-pediatrician whose authenticity I’
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
This is Nicholson Baker's love-book to John Updike which was written years before Updike died in 2009 and was inspired by Baker reading Donald Barthelme's obituary and deciding that Updike deserved to have his uber-praise while he could still read it.

In this book, written in 1991, Baker hilariously compares and contrasts his own paltry body of work (at that time) with Updike's and, of course, finds it sorely and pitifully lacking. Typical of Baker, there are many very funny lines and the story a
Brent Legault
I can't believe that this is a book. Even as a book, it's more like an idea for a book; like something a writer would just talk about writing someday, with his writer friends, and his whiskey. But no, there it is, on my shelf, a book. I'm shaking my head still, trying to figure out why. Why it's a book, I mean. It isn't that it's terrible. It's just that it's so diffuse, so hardly there at all. I keep thinking that I heard someone tell me, at a party or somehwere, that he was going to write a bo ...more
About a year ago I became obsessed with watching Charlie Rose interviews with Updike on Youtube. He was just a wonderful, genteel man, who could express considerate thoughts on any subject. In the interviews with Charlie he is often smiling, a writer who ENJOYS questions, is HAPPY to elaborate on his ideas. He is never overbearing, often funny, and always polite, while remaining convicted. I higly recommend watching these.

My Updike fixation began with wondering why his words were on the back of
Ben Bush
I recently read David Shield's Black Planet which shares some structural DNA with this book, although in some ways Shield's subject matter is a little spicier. Nicholson Baker's thoughtful chatty persona is always good company but this one didn't quite blow me away. He has a great bit about the phoniness of characters using metaphors from their jobs to describe the things around them and how actually people tend to do the reverse to see the whole world inside the things that they do at work. I t ...more
Marco Kaye
This book made me pay attention to the way I think, because Baker pays so much attention to his thought process. I suppose the subject matter (a younger writer's adoration with an older writer, in this case Baker and Updike) would make it a good book for writers, and it is. There are more than several writing tips in here. But it's more than a hagiography. Baker must know the George Bernard Shaw quote, "My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world.” Baker speaks it ...more
Nathan Warden
I don't know any other books like this. Nicholson Baker attempts to explain and contextualize his obsession with Updike. The end result is a a detailed examination of Baker's own flaws and insecurities as a writer. One of the most honest things I've ever read.
Lee Kofman
'U and I' is an original work of creative nonfiction, a sort of anti-literary-criticism essay about Updike. But its central gimmick - Baker’s anxiety about being influenced by Updike and therefore insistance to discuss him and his body of work without re-reading it or even checking the references - wears thin quickly. What remains is a somewhat-amusing yet-claustrophobic and repetitive discussion of the author’s relationship to Updike which is of course bound closely with Baker’s own process of ...more
Much of what I had to say about this is in my Rabbit Is Rich comments but I will reiterate how much I enjoyed it, as I have everything I have read by Baker. His obsessions are various and entertainingly discussed - one is whether he will ever be considered a "genius" on the level of John Updike. I suppose anyone who engages in any sort of artistic production must yearn to be regarded as at least remarkable and out of the ordinary. Baker is probably not a genius by most standards but he stands in ...more
Up until this book I thought Nicholson Baker could do no wrong. One might need more familiarity with and/or adoration for Updike to enjoy it.
Edwin Hodges
A muddled meditation on influence. Often brilliant, but too unkemptly, ambitiously meandering.
Shawn Mitchell
“Without some sort of anxiousness writing loses its charm.”
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Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist, his writings focus on minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness. His unconventional novels deal with topics such as voyeurism and planned assassination, and they generally de-emphasize narrative in favor of intense character work. Baker's enthusiasts appreciate his ability ...more
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