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U and I
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U and I

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  845 ratings  ·  86 reviews
Baker muses on the creative process via his obsession with John Updike.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 4th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  845 ratings  ·  86 reviews

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Adam Dalva
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Pleasingly bizarre idea for a book, as Baker uses Barthelme's death as an excuse to spiral into an essay on his obsession with John Updike (a writer, as Baker points out, that I would NEVER have connected with Baker), who was still alive. The gimmick, and one I quite like, is that Baker deals with the influence of his memories of Updike's lines, and only after the fact does he go back through and find out what the actual phrases are. Often, he is wrong. Often, his are better. The leaky nature of ...more
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
Sep 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: litcrit
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
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
A portrait of a young writer as a reader of Updike. I can't say he's convinced me that Updike is a genius, but certainly lovely reading about anther reader reading. Many lessons in here too for those of us with bad memories of what we once read but who won't let such a bad recall prevent us from continuing to talk about these books insofar as a shady memory of a reading experience is better than having never had that experience in the first place.
M. Sarki
Jul 22, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Rose Gowen
Oct 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Jim Elkins
Mar 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: american
I'm only reviewing this book a little late (it was published in 1991): but I'd like to make the case that it should be required reading for writers and readers who care about the sort of thing David Foster Wallace was also trying to do, beginning in the early 1990s.

For me, the book splits into two "model authors" (that's Eco's formulation, in "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods).

First is the self-absorbed, insecure, hyperbolically self-interrogating ingenue author, the one who fawns and obsesses a
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 14, 2009 rated it liked it

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
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-my-thing
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
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 29, 2007 rated it did not like it
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.
Robert Stewart
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If a book makes you want to read more John Updike, it must be great. Easily one of the funniest books I've ever read. My kids would ask what was so funny, I would explain that in the book, the author was having an awkward interaction with another author at a gala event, or the author was buying a Big Mac with pennies, and they would stare at me blankly, that was even funnier. I also now want to read more Nicholson Baker.
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
"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 rated it really liked it
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
May 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recently, I read an article encouraging writers to *confide* rather than *confess* ( - gnomic advice now lodged in my memory to which I returned and returned again while reading this short book/long essay.

If there is a difference between the two modes, Nicholson Baker does both incessantly. This is not a book for everyone - his obsessive candor will either pull you in or grate at your patience. Fortunately, it worked for me. I relate to his neurotic tics
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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...
Apr 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
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."
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
There is no other writer out there quite like Nicholson Baker. Before reading "U and I" I read three books of his: "The Mezzanine", a litany of observations over the space of one lunch hour, "Vox", one long phone sex conversation littered with bizarre fantasies, and "The Fermata" which was essentially an amalgamation of the former two books. The utterly grounded and mundane remarks on shoelaces and milk slosh with a surprising force into the positively planar fetishistic sex scenes. Two sides of ...more
Paul Wilner
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hilarious. Smart. Moving. Modest (and egotistical). Far preferable to Updike's own work (to me), though I would hate to see Baker read this (to adapt his mode) and think less of me for the opinion, which he clearly does not share. In any case, as a stand-alone, it's brilliant. A little like watching a Larry David shtick, but one that doesn't wear thin (again, at least to me.)
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Brilliant as always, Nicholson Baker's meandering narrative on writing about Updike and his influence is so much more. Indeed, it's even the opposite! No need to be familiar with Updike (or even like him) to love this.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-new-yorker, 2017
Can't remember the last book that made me laugh so freely and underline so frequently - probably The Mezzanine.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Rather tiresome.
Li'l Vishnu
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘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’
Neal Jochmann
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
It sort of inspired anxiety in me but it is great nonetheless :)
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Brent Legault
Nov 08, 2007 rated it liked it
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
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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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“Literary friendship is impossible, it seems; at least, it is impossible for me. Indeed, all male friendships outside of work sometimes seem to be impossible: you look at each other at the restaurant at some point in the conversation and you know that each of you is thinking, man, this is futile, why are we here, we’re wasting our time, we have nothing to say, we’re not involved in some project together that we can bitch about, we can’t flirt, we feel like dummies discussing movies or books, we aren’t in some moral bind with a woman that we need to confess, we’ve each said the other is a genius several times already, and the whole thing is depressing and the tone is false and we might as well go home to our wives and children and rent buddy movies like Midnight Run or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or The Pope of Greenwich Village> when we need a shot of the old camaraderie. 0 likes
“The meanness that first bothered me, though, when I encountered it a decade ago, long before I was married, was in a short story in Pigeon Feathers in which a young husband returns with hamburgers and eats them happily with his family in front of the fire, and thinks lovingly of his wife’s Joyceanly “smackwarm” thighs, and then, in the next paragraph, says as narrator (the “you” directed at the narrator’s wife), “In the morning, to my relief, you are ugly.… The skin between your breasts is a sad yellow.” And a little later, “Seven years have worn this woman.” This hit me as inexcusably brutal when I read it. I couldn’t imagine Updike’s real, nonfictional wife reading that paragraph and not being made very unhappy. You never know, though; the internal mechanics of marriages are shielded from us, and maybe in the months after that story came out the two of them enjoyed a wry private joke whenever they went to a party and she wore a dress with a high neckline and they noticed some interlocutor’s gaze drop to her breasts and they saw together the little knowing look cross his unpleasantly salacious features as he thought to himself, Ho ho: high neckline to cover up all that canary-yellow, eh? Updike knows that people are going to assume that the fictional wife of an Updike-like male character corresponds closely with Updike’s own real-life wife — after all, Updike himself angered Nabokov by suggesting that Ada was Vera. How can Updike have the whatever, the disempathy, I used frequently to ask myself, and ask myself right now, to put in print that his wife appeared ugly to him that morning, especially in so vivid a way? It just oughtn’t to be done! It makes us readers imagine her speculating as she read it: “Which morning was he thinking that? He sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast and thinking I was ugly and worn! And I had no idea.” 0 likes
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