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A Box of Matches

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,626 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
Emmett has a wife and two children, a cat, and a duck, and he wants to know what life is about. Every day he gets up before dawn, makes a cup of coffee in the dark, lights a fire with one wooden match, and thinks. What Emmett thinks about is the subject of this wise and closely observed novel, which covers vast distances while moving no further than Emmett’s hearth and hom ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 9th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2003)
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Ex Libris by Anne FadimanAt Large and at Small by Anne FadimanShelf Life by Gary PaulsenDouble Fold by Nicholson BakerThe Anthologist by Nicholson Baker
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26th out of 47 books — 6 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,675)
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Aug 13, 2009 Buck rated it liked it
I have a bad habit of not bothering to review three-star books, just because it’s so hard to anatomize and articulate indifference. How do you make lukewarm admiration sound interesting? It’s like telling someone, ‘I think you’re a really nice person.’ Who wants to hear that?

A Box of Matches is, however, a really nice book. It’s polite, well-spoken and blandly attractive. Your mother would like it, and when, after a week or two, it stopped coming around, she’d ask wistfully, ‘Whatever happened t
MJ Nicholls
Jan 31, 2012 MJ Nicholls rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
If you turned up at your agent’s office, caught his attention long enough to pitch a new novel idea, and told him the novel would be structured around a box of matches, with each match unleashing a series of domestic anecdotes told by a very boring and precise man, your agent might throw a plant at your head. Nicholson’s agent, however, simply said: “Sounds great, can you have it by February?” Oh, agents. Oh, Nicholson. Oh, mass of unpublished unloved unwanted writers. Oh dear. Anyway, this is a ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I laughed, I rolled quickly through the contemplative pacing, and I desired to become the character, but alas I lack a fireplace. To me, this book speaks what I most consider classically ideal. It is not a plot driven book (there really is no plot) but it is a scene; it is what I strove to write when I had a chance and encouragement to write for a course in college. I admire Baker (and let's be frank, this book is Baker writing about himself and not even really hiding it), and took much almost g ...more
Apr 24, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it
I’m jealous of this guy. I’m jealous because he can write about nothing or next to nothing and not only keep my interest but actually get me to enjoy myself. I had a friend once who, during a party game, spent sixty seconds describing paint dry and it was hysterical. But that was only sixty seconds. This book is another thing completely. As others have said there’s no plot, little character development and hardly any dialogue. A man gets up—or aims to get up—at 4am every day during which time he ...more
Jan 19, 2008 SooYoung rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the gents
The Village Voice describes Bakers, "A Box of Matches," as "hypnotics" and it is so very much. With brief chapters and simple sentence construction, the quick style of the book keeps the reader turning the pages. An impressive feat when you consider that there is no gripping intensity or action in the plot.
But the novella's brevity and slow river rolling movement is what keeps you with it. Before you realize it, you're three miles downstream, so why not kick back and enjoy the read.

As any good
Oct 09, 2012 Mmars rated it liked it
This is a short book that took me forever to read - last winter. And I don't really remember if I finished it or not, or whether that even it matters. I loved his little reminiscings. Really. They were fun. Sometimes insightful, sometimes just a slice of life, etc. But, for me, as the book went on it just became less interesting.

I loved the way his little ritual started later and later as time went on. I kinda wish he had said "I give up" or "I quit" and then written a long essay analyzing his
Aug 11, 2011 Joni rated it it was ok
If you're going to write a book without a plot, you'd better compensate for it in some major way. This doesn't; it's nicely written but not entertaining. A middle-aged man wakes up early and lights a match for a few days in a row, while pondering his domestic life. It's as boring as that sounds.

Baker also wrote 'The Mezzanine' for which the plotline was "A man goes up an escalator and thinks about modern life". But that was an AMAZING read because the prose was so intense and often deeply insig
Sep 29, 2012 Jafar rated it it was ok
A man wakes up every morning when it’s still dark, makes a fire and a cup of coffee in the dark, eats an apple, and thinks. This may sound interesting. However, most of what he recalls and describes is mind-numbingly mundane. I have to give credit to Baker for this. It’s no easy to write page after page after page about nothing. And I’m sure he did this intentionally. The portrait of a man who is mentally and emotionally paralyzed? Maybe. But this comes at the expense of tormenting the reader. T ...more
Jim Marshall
Feb 09, 2009 Jim Marshall rated it it was amazing
A Christmas gift from my oldest daughter Laura, the book is a minimalist, episodic, almost diary-like first person account of a father who gets up before the rest of the family every morning, lights a fire, and thinks about what matters. There a lot there that I can't really describe.
Oct 23, 2007 Ruth rated it it was amazing
Such a deceptively simple, yet beautiful book of musings. I loved it.

Jerry Ghazali
Apr 11, 2014 Jerry Ghazali rated it liked it
Bermodalkan sekotak mancis saja Nicholson Baker mampu menterjemah setiap batang mancis yang dikorbankan setiap awal pagi kepada bab-bab yang bersifat catatan harian sekaligus menjadikan ia sebuah buku.

Menilai daripada corak rutin harian beliau, boleh dikatakan buku ini terzahir daripada kebosanan Nicholson Baker sendiri ataupun beliau sendiri barangkali seorang yang membosankan. Namun fikiran beliau yang cenderung dan gemar menerbitkan teori-teori bersifat pseudo-sains memberi sedikit hiburan da
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Jan 18, 2014 Bree (AnotherLookBook) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Ever since I picked up The Mezzanine on a whim, I've been hooked on Nicholson Baker. Since that first entry into his wonderful world of prose, I've read quite a bit of his writing, both fiction and non-fiction. To me, this book totally takes the cake.

I loved the small scale of the narrative "project": as many entries as there were matches left in the narrator's box. It was just so, so perfect.

Baker has this way of describing some of the most intimate things you've ever experienced--the smaller e
Apr 05, 2012 Diane rated it it was amazing
A slim little book packed with quirky, sensitive ruminations about life. Emmett awakes every morning, lights a fire and enjoys some quiet time before his family awakes and starts the day. Each chapter (there are 33 because there are 33 matches in his box) begins the same way, "Good morning it's (whatever time) a.m. ..." and then Emmett shares his thoughts. He enjoys his coffee and a crunchy apple while he meditates. The writing is sensitive and lovely. Emmett's thoughts are deep and yet ordinary ...more
My Bookshelf
Jun 22, 2010 My Bookshelf rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up a copy of this after reading Walter Kirn's review in the New York Times. It's a beautiful novel, and Kirn really captures what Baker is seeking to accomplish with it when he says:

"His grief, it's hinted, is all prospective. He's mourning the future, not the past. While fondly shampooing his son's hair, he remembers the day when his own body grew long enough to touch both ends of the bathtub at the same time. ''This is all too much for me,'' he thinks, realizing that his son's day wi
Aug 18, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it
Once again, Nicholson Baker scores a bulls-eye. This short narrative of a man's early morning thoughts in solitude captures perfectly the way my mind wanders through yesterday, the plan for today, and pretty much anything else that occurs to me when I am not purposefully doing something. I think this may be a must-read for any woman who has ever wondered, "how does his mind work?" Men will experience the glow of recognizing one of our own and also appreciate the self-insight and awareness this l ...more
Terence Hawkins
Jul 15, 2014 Terence Hawkins rated it it was amazing
Years ago--many years ago--my first writing teach, Kate Walbert, told me to get a copy of The Mezzanine and "try to do that." Of course I did, and of course I couldn't, but it remains one of my favorite books and one a recommend to anyone interested in learning to write.

A Box of Matches is a companion, not a reprise. Though Baker's observational sharpness and narrative precision are very much on display, his protagonist in Box is far more personally disclosing than that in Mezzanine. In the latt
Christian Schwoerke
Jun 28, 2014 Christian Schwoerke rated it liked it
I’d never read anything by Baker, and knew only of his book Vox, which created something of a sensation back in the late 70s or early 80s, with what I recall was a gimmick: the entire novel was a phone call or series of phone calls. What I don’t recall was who was talking; I have the impression I avoided joining interested readers at the time because I thought it was between a man and a phone sex operator. Despite this somewhat vague and shady opinion, I read and enjoyed a recent New York Review ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I feel like I could read Baker constantly. He pairs wit and humor with true pathos and poignancy so brilliantly. And, though this wasn't my favorite of his novels, it truly exemplifies his gifts as a writer. So, rather than take my (less good) words for it, note his: "Passing me by, passing me by. Life is. Five years ago I planned to write a book for my son called The Young Sponge. I was going to give it to him as a birthday present. It was going to be the adventures of a cellulose kitchen spong ...more
May 30, 2016 Xander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the most part, these chapters are glorious little nuggets of observation. Even if I can't specifically relate to every idea that is brought up (for example, the notion of needing to think suicidal thoughts in order to fall asleep), the process by which these thoughts are arrived at feels universal. AND so many of these ponderings are exactly inline with things I've considered--such as deciding to sit down to pee in the middle of the night or the excruciating loveliness of watching your own c ...more
May 04, 2007 Lily rated it really liked it
I love the way this man writes. And also what he writes about. My experience of this book was clean and bright and sort of woody-smelling, sort of like a hand-made fire.
Dec 23, 2014 zespri rated it liked it
I liked the idea behind this little book. Each morning a man get up early before the house wakes up, and lights a fire, makes a cup of coffee, and thinks. The book is basically a stream of consciousness of where his brain takes him that morning, and it goes into some strange and hilarious places.

When the box of matches is finished, so are the musings, and the book ends! Simple, but the prose is lovely, and simple, and easy. Don't expect a gripping tale, but if you like slow and detailed, with i
Jun 25, 2016 Carla rated it it was ok
Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind when I was reading this, or maybe it is because I am not a man, or older, but I just can't undestand the hype about this book. It reads like a journal account of a man getting up before sunrise every morning to build a fire and make coffee in his old house, and his musings about his life those mornings. Thanks goodness there were only 33 or so matches in the box. There small flashes of humor or thoughts on getting older, raising children, falling in love ...more
Aug 24, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lapl
Seriously, how did this even get published? Have I ever wanted to give a book such a lone, lone, solitary, teeny-tiny, nonexistent star? NO. This is what "Box of Matches" prompts out of me. Nevermind the content of all things! UGH, where do I begin. It is just SOooo bad! He gives detailed descriptions of THE MOST mundane stuff you can/can't imagine. It's just so bad. Did I mention it's bad? I really can't believe that I read the whole thing. OK, some highlights: a VERY detailed description of ho ...more
Geof Huth
Nicholson Baker's novel "A Box of Matches" is written in daily entries by a man setting a fire in the dark every day with the matches of one box. Each day, he lights the fire, thinks about the fire, thinks about his animals and his family, remembers his past, and generally does not consider the future. We learn what kind of person he is and what propels him (if such a verb could be used for this gentle and uncomplicated man). There is no story here, though parts of what might be a story arise, a ...more
Justin de la Cruz
Aug 21, 2013 Justin de la Cruz rated it really liked it
N. Baker does his thing. If you like his thing, you'll like this. If you don't know what his thing is... he tends to write fiction from the kind of point-of-view of a very eccentric party-goer who corners you during a lull in the party and starts sounding off about how his firewood is harder to chop now with his new hand axe, which doesn't nearly have as nice of a handle as his last hand axe did.

Baker takes the mundane and makes it the profane. He's a "the devil's in the details" kind of guy, an
Jan 29, 2013 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: new-england
I read this for the first time when it was initially released. I suddenly had the urge to reread it a few days ago, and a few pages in realized that the book takes place 10 years ago this month (January of 2003). Coincidence?

I like this book more now than I did upon the first read. Reading it in one's late 20's, you're coming at it from a very different headspace than when you're in your late 30's, and therefore closer to the narrator's age.

My one major gripe with this work is that I get the fee
May 17, 2008 Libby rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008-hits
I'm just seven short chapters into this slender novel, but I really like it so far. I like it, in part, because it isn't a fashionable book; nothing fantastical or weird happens, the characters aren't based on historical figures, the narrator isn't struggling with any sort of identity politics (except for the most basic ontological crisis: living) or sensational problem. I guess the form itself is a little "fashiony" in that it is very rigid, structured, and novel, but the work so far seems to e ...more
Dec 15, 2014 Duc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the cover concept of this book. This has been on my radar for a long time now. I'm starting to read it. Lately, I wanted to sellect short books that I could finish and feel accomplished. It's a slim volumn. Hearth and home, that has been the archetypal image of dwelling that goes back to the time of cave dwellers and the discovery of fire. The fire place is becoming rarer. I don't have a real wood fire place. Reading this book make you yearn for a fire place, a place to contemplate and me ...more
Nov 19, 2007 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, new-england
This is actually the slightest of Baker's triad of minimalist stream of consciousness novels, after the great The Mezzanine and good Room Temperature, but I'll give it an extra star because it contains a brilliant theory about bad dreams that I now take to be literally true, which makes returning to sleep (after emptying my tank) a piece of cake, no matter how alarming the dream.
Here's the theory in Baker's words:
"I have a theory of bad dreams which I think is revolutionary. My theory is that t
Aug 19, 2013 Benjy rated it it was amazing

What a treat! I consider myself a Nicholson Baker fan but somehow had never heard of this until I found it while snooping through my friend's bookshelf a couple of days ago. He doesn't know I borrowed it. Shhhh...

If you've read The Mezzanine, you may have had the same thought I did: man, I could read a whole book of Nicholson Baker just sitting by a fire, describing stuff and letting his mind wander. And that's what you get in this book. Little plots bubble up as characters and locations recur,
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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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“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.” 12 likes
“You’ve got to get cold to get warm,” Phoebe said.
Now that is the truth. That is so true about so many things. You learn it first with sheets and blankets: that the initial touch of the smooth sheets will send you shivering, but their warming works fast, and you must experience the discomfort to find the later contentment. It’s true with money and love, too. You’ve got to save to have something to spend. Think of how hard it is to ask out a person you like. In my case, Claire asked me to go on a date to the cash machine, so I didn’t actually have to ask her. Still, her lips were cold, but her tongue was warm.”
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