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A Box of Matches

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,114 ratings  ·  270 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 ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published March 9th 2004 by Vintage (first published January 7th 2003)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,114 ratings  ·  270 reviews

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Aug 09, 2009 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
MJ Nicholls
Jan 31, 2012 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 Oh, mass of unpublished unloved unwanted writers.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 ...more
I'm not really sure what I think about this book. The word mundane comes to mind, monotonous, long, for such a short book (178 pages). I can say, that for me, there really wasn't much of a story and I was definitely waiting for a story to begin, so for me, three 's but really more of a 2.5. ...more
Apr 24, 2013 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
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Overall, this is an interesting read in that the author skillfully let us follow a man’s daily musings as he strikes a match to start the morning’s fire. Some musings are entertaining, some are deep, but most are ... not. I wanted to stop reading when he examined his belly button lint and then threw it on the fire to see what colors the flame would turn (and no, I don’t remember the colors, but if you are actually interested, read the book; it’s belly button lint, for gawd sakes.) Yet, I ...more
Aug 08, 2011 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 ...more
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
Jan 28, 2012 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
Jan 19, 2008 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
Sep 13, 2012 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
Sep 29, 2012 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. ...more
Aug 11, 2011 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
Jim Marshall
Feb 09, 2009 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.
Joe Williams
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A perfect pre-sleep read. Baker can write about almost nothing in a beautiful, and often hilarious, way. I am a fan of the duck.
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Such a deceptively simple, yet beautiful book of musings. I loved it.

May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this quick read. Published in 2003, it aligns neatly with Baker's first and second novels, The Mezzanine and Room Temperature. Where The Mezzanine is a digression-heavy deep dive into the minute structures of everyday life, and Room Temperature is a floating journey through an instant in the mind of a father lulling his baby to sleep, A Box of Matches is a more use-friendly example of Baker's signature style of zooming in on the twists and turns of our thought processes. Written ...more
Regina Lemoine
This was okay, if a bit pointless. I liked The Mezzanine a lot more.
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A middle aged man’s thoughts on family, work, and doing everything in the dark.
Philip Fitzell
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For a light diversion from ""Ulysses," I read this book, which turned out to be not so "light."
On the surface, “A Box of Matches” by Nicholas Baker is a pretty dull novel in terms of its content! It is, however, anything but shallow. In fact, it could serve as a psychological study of boredom—probing into the unconscious thoughts of its protagonist, Emmett.

All through this short book, Emmett, seeks to escape that boredom: For example, if he could only have someone shoot an arrow into his heart;
Apr 01, 2012 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 ...more
Terence Hawkins
Jul 15, 2014 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
My Bookshelf
Jun 22, 2010 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
Feb 18, 2015 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 ...more
Rue Baldry
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is just absolutely delightful: a complete pleasure from start to finish. I'd heard this was the best Nicholson Baker book and, of those I've read, I'd agree.

It's a short book, but also a small book, focussing on the small details of a quiet life. Each chapter could be a short story of musings.

In the first, the narrator takes a box of matches from the kitchen with which to light the sitting room fire early on a winter morning. Each chapter then begins with an early morning time (at
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Love this author's writing style. Hard to describe a book where basically nothing happens. Each short chapter (the length makes it an ideal commute read) starts the same was "Good morning, it's (Insert time here)", followed by the routine of lighting the fire and making coffee (usually in the dark). Each day follows a soliloquy where Emmett, a middle-ages editor of medical textbooks, muses on the detail of his daily routine and commentary on life. His observations of the family pet duck were ...more
Aug 18, 2011 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 ...more
Tyler McGaughey
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
- This is the first book I've read in like ten years that manages to scratch the e'er elusive E.B. White essay itch.

- There's a story in here about an ant farm that will make you feel like a stoic ship's captain standing on a rocky Northeastern shore, staring out at the gray and spiteful surf, pretending the moisture on your aged and leathery cheeks is the sea's salty spray and not your own tears.

- Nickyboy continues his streak as the most essential writer on male urinary patterns.

- You've
Cynthia Byrne
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I truly enjoyed this little book of morning rumination. Emmett not only has some comforting observations, he also gives some handy tips about figuring out how to make coffee in the dark, how to take care of a duck in the winter, the mournfulness of train whistles, and shows himself to be an exceptionally kind and thoughtful (and absentminded and clumsy) man who loves life and uses suicidal thoughts to get to sleep and nightmares to awaken.
Keith Taylor
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
God, I love this book where very little happens, but happens exquisitely! I've reread it since, but here's a little thing I wrote back in the day:
May 04, 2007 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.
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Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. He was born in Manhattan in 1957 and grew up in Rochester, New York. He has published sixteen books--including The Mezzanine (1988), U and I (1991), Human Smoke (2008), The Anthologist (2009), and Substitute (2016)--and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, the New York Review of Books, Best ...more
“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.” 11 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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