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The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  554 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
The Size of Thoughts, a collection of essays that have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications, includes one never-before-published piece on the world of electronics. The essays celebrate the joy--and exquisite details--of everything from library card catalogs and reading aloud to the significance of wine stains on a tablecloth.

Baker turns any subject, from feedi
ebook, 368 pages
Published August 24th 2011 by Vintage (first published March 19th 1996)
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Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What happened to Nicholson Baker, I wonder? The earliest pieces collected in The Size of Thoughts are so dazzling that, when I first dipped into them, I nearly fell off my barstool. (Okay, it was actually a food court stool, but still, I was all set to jab my plastic fork in my chest out of sheer, dyspeptic envy). Written for The Atlantic Monthly when Baker was still in his mid-twenties (bastard), these early pieces are exquisite little riffs on philosophical themes: the concept of rarity, the p ...more
MJ Nicholls
The earliest essays in this collection, labelled ‘Thought,’ are more like hyperliterate blog posts, or a Pascal Pensée, than anything resembling a conventional work of non-fiction. I haven’t read anything more word-drunk (overwritten?) outside the columns of Will Self and frankly, I didn’t expect it from Baker. Baker, of the thumbnail novel, the svelte entertainment—clearly, he needs a place to flex his writerly muscle, and the essays are that unfortunate destination. At no point does Baker stra ...more
A humble monument to one man's journey from reader to author; towards actualization along the lines of time, personhood, society.

The sort of collection meant to refresh a reader's own process of thought while fostering a greater love of learning. A treasure-trove of wisdom as homespun as your great-great-great-great-great grandpappy's knapsack. The sort of book to cherish alongside Emerson, Aesop, Benjamin Franklin or Walter Benjamin: proof that the Post-Industrial Age has not by any means signa
I have never been a fan of the stream-of-consciousness, thought-dissecting, see-how-many-pretty-adjectives-I-can-squeeze-into-a-sentence essay. Had I not scanned this book's table of contents before beginning to read in earnest, I would probably have put it aside after the first few postmodern meanderings. However, I knew that perseverance would pay off, for two-thirds of the way through The Size of Thoughts comes "Discards," the 1994 New Yorker essay that sparked Nicholson Baker's fine Double F ...more
Joshua Buhs
The first essay is deceptive. It is about how we change our minds, and argues--not convincingly, but correctly--that we do so in weird, unaccounted for ways--there is rarely an epiphany, and when those are in our stories of conversions they usually come from later reconstructions. He wants to delve into that deep, murky place where changes of minds really happen. The essay makes him to seem interested in subtley and nuance, the analog rather than the digital. But later essays, especially in the ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this collection of essays by Nicholson Baker is like getting into a warm bubble bath: you're soaking in the voluptuousness of language and a sharp sense of observation and warmed by the brilliance of Baker's mind and his restless sense of wonder. But then you find yourself sitting in lukewarm water, bubbles all popped, leaving a scum across the water, fingers all pruney and desensitized while you try to turn the pages on a 150-page disquisition on the changing perception of the word "lum ...more
Jerry Morris
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some very good pieces, and some that are merely fodder. The best is "Discards": what happened to the provenance history and other data on library cataloge cards when university libraries switched to online database systems in the 1990s - a must read for the lover of books formerly owned by famous people. "The History of Punctuation" comes in second for being informative, followed by "Books as Furniture" for being witty. "Lumber," which the author calls "the printed products from the lumber-room" ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What beautiful writing--I am loving this book already!
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't really get through the last essay but there were some gems in here.
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Library purists
Recommended to Kate by: Andy Barnett
Shelves: essays
"Moreover, the pressure of the reader's nail, deformed by its momentary trenchancy, against the tender hyponychial tissues it protects, creates a transient thumbwide pleasure that is, or can be, more than literary."

"The card catalog is to them a monument, not to intergenerational intellect, but to the idea of the lowly, meek-and-mild public librarian as she exists in the popular mind. The archetype, though they know it to be cheap and false, shames them; they believe that if they are disburdened
Hamuel Sunter
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had previously read two of these essays—"Recipe" and "Ice Storm"—for a creative writing course, and they convinced me to pick up Baker's novel Traveling Sprinkler. It was good but not so good that I continued to dip into his back catalog.

Two years later and The Size of Thoughts found me. A friend, also an English teacher, also named Sam, visiting from Honshu the week before he was to return to the US, arrived at my apartment with a few items he had no desire to haul across first the Pacific on
Apr 21, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, I was amused by this book, but then, I have an odd sense of humor.

My first impression was: OK, he had a couple of big hits, and his agent/publisher said "Nicky boy, we gotta get something else into print while you're hot!" and so they scraped together every random essay, book review, or shopping list he'd ever written and slapped them into a book.

My later impression was: He wrote this crazy 150-page essay on the word "lumber", and couldn't get it published in any normal way, so he wen
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection of occasional essay by Baker, written for magazines here and there. A very uneven collection, with a few short exercises in extravagant style, the long "Lumber" piece about, I think, the advantages and disadvantages of using computerized data bases as scholarly research tools, and the two major pieces, about the history of punctuation (focusing on oddball uses of the comma) and the thoughtful diatribe against the disposal of library card catalogs in favor of on line search tools.
I i
James Anderson
This was a very interesting collection. Some of the essays were ridiculously accessible. Then there were ones that were food for lots of deep thought. The essay bemoaning the loss of the card catalog was interesting. I went back and forth between shaking my head at the technophobia of the early 90's and thinking long and hard about the losses we've sustained in moving from an analog world to a digital one.

"Lumber", the second half of the book, felt at times like a psychological experiment in ho
I bought this book for the cover (I do that sometimes), though not the one pictured here. It featured a humble brown hat against a mint-green, matte background. And at the time I didn't know anything about Nicholson Baker. So it was purely by accident that I found some of my absolute favorite essays ("Changes of Mind," in particular).

Here is a sample: "Unless I am being unusually calculating, I don't decide to befriend someone, and it is the same way with a conviction: I slowly come to respect i
Jul 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Baker is a fantastic writer. This collection is absolutely worth it just for the first few essays - including the one on model airplanes and the title essay. He simply dissects the mundane and tosses it over and over.

Also the 1994 New Yorker article, "Discards" is a terrific gem you can't find even online (unless you have a New Yorker subscription). It laments the passing of library card catalog systems for early computer catalogs. Written before Google, it highlights some interesting ideas abo
Jul 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
He's a genius in my opinion. These essays are both fascinating and mind-numbingly boring. Baker's commitment to his style, to his characters, or in this case, his non-fictional subjects, is unmatched. The problem is, often the reader cannot match this commitment, leading to an uncomfortable situation where you want to stop reading but the man has put so much work into this thing you feel bad doing it. Every book of his I read, my admiration grows and I humbled by how stupid I am. I haven't read ...more
On "Rarity" Baker philosophizes on the very nature of what makes a thing rare, and the meaning that holds for us. He says: "...rarity constitutes part of the pleasure we take in many of the things we value, how rare should we allow a rareme to remain when it is in our power to influence its frequency?"

The author eschews a radical empathy for inanimate things (such as a lesser-used couch or disliked shirt) to show what the hipster movement has perhaps best exemplified. "When it begins to exist fo
M. Sarki
Jul 29, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pretentious twits
Shelves: abandoned
I looked at every essay, read a couple, but really found nothing to want me to delve any deeper into the fellow. This guy is just not interesting to me. I do not like his personality at all, which is, for the most part, missing from the beginning of this book and quick to get a little too full of itself to the degree I was finding myself becoming nauseated beyond repair. I have since read a couple Raymond Carver short stories in order to get back to something real, something with gusto and flair ...more
Christopher McCaffery
Some of these essays are entertaining, some genuinely interesting, some goofy, all overcome with the joy Nicholson Baker takes in his own weird, weird brain. Except for the closing essay on Lumber, which I anticipated as just the sort of performative, bizarre PoMo thing I enjoy, but which was in fact unfinishably dull. High points are a recipe for chocolate syrup, an essay on toenail clippers, and the long section on the demise of library card catalogues.
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books as Furniture is one of my favorite essays of all time, and the book is worth it for this piece alone. I also enjoyed greatly what he has to say about the digitization of library catalogs. The rest of the book is somewhat more hit or miss, but overall, I enjoy his prose style and ability to make seemingly random and mundane topics much more fun.
Jun 17, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the few books I ever gave up on partway through. Actually, it was most of the way through, but the endless essay about lumber at the end did me in. I used to feel more strongly about finishing things, and still somewhat do, but I'm coming to realize that time is finite and the amount of stuff I want to read is not.
More ruminations on the significance of insignificant things. Classic Baker, only this time couched in nonfiction. Just as enjoyable as the novels, though...and perhaps even more useful: I read his toast (given at his sister's wedding and reprinted in this book) at my own sister's wedding...careful to credit the original source, of course.
Jun 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I could talk the way Nicholson Baker writes, I'm well aware that I would be insufferable. But these essays are pure pleasure to read, an indulgent wallowing. His few paragraphs describing the joys of writing on rubber with a ball-point pen, followed by his regret at having cheapened this joy by decreasing its rareness with exposure in an essay-- swoon.
Bob Paley
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read most of Baker. He wishes Updike were (had been) his friend; I wish Baker were mine. He is the intellectual's uber freak. His is a seriously twisted, and seriously erudite, mentality. This book was a good excuse not to go outside during a trip to Bermuda that happened way too early in the season.
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the first few essays pretty well! When he got into model airplanes & film projection equipment, I got a little bored. Obviously, I could've skipped those, but I was doing my best to participate in Dessa Darling's #lithop book club. I shall come back to this later, like everything else I ditched late Feb.
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the essays I managed to finish. Baker has a wonderful mind and his lyrical celebration of unnoticed textures and things can be remarkable. But his affection for minutiae can also be extremely dull, an effect I have no doubt that Baker is aware of and enjoys. If you read, don't be afraid to give up on the "lumber" essay (or tell me how it ends).
Ryan Chapman
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
God, to have Nicholson Baker's brain. Where you and I might casually wonder about, say, the history of punctuation, Baker will camp out in the library until he's provided dissertation-level research in a breezy ten-page essay. One of my favorite books to revisit.
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The essay is a form that is close to my heart. I love knowledge, I love truth, I love revelation. This collection, where very intelligent and deftly written, fell somewhat flat for me as it felt like a great cerebral exercise devoid of a requisite dose of honesty, insight and heart. Your milage may vary.
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Nicholson Baker is one of the most interesting writers alive. This collection of essays is both serious and very funny. At times, I was chuckling out loud, at other times astonished by his attention to detail and his perspective on those details he cherishes. The extended piece "Lumber" had my amazed and amused throughout.
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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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