The erudite novelist and essayist ponders obsessions both old (newspapers and rare books) and new (Kindle 2, Wikipedia, video games).
Very little escapes the attention of Baker (House of Holes, 2012, etc.), whether it’s the small details of old jobs, fleeting summers, technology—both dying and cutting edge—or odd but fascinating obscurities. He likes to find the form in abstractions. In “I Said to Myself,” he digs away at questions many fiction writers have considered at one time or another: What does a person really sound like when he talks to himself? Are thoughts sentences? Should they be placed between quotes, or was James Joyce right to get rid of those? Baker also wants to preserve the past even as he warily embraces the future. In an essay about gondoliers, he refers to the gondola as “an ancient and noble boat, which summed up many lost beautiful things.” Baker is a champion of beauty on the verge of vanishing, whether it involves old newspapers or rare books tossed out by space-squeezed libraries, or Wikipedia entries on forgotten Beat poets. He’s against destruction on principle, as he shows in a defense of pacifism, in which he argues that wars only create retribution and violence. An “armistice without victory” would have saved more Jews in World War II, he believes, a deeply felt if unconvincing hindsight proposition. He prefers war as a video game—and who doesn’t?—such as Modern Warfare 2, which turns out to be “an unjingoistic, perhaps completely cynical amusement.”
Not a major work, but a thoughtful collection from a writer who, to quote his own description of Daniel Defoe, has “an enormous appetite for truth and life and bloody specificity.”