On 12 May 2016 at The Arts House in Singapore, Nicholson Baker spoke about the 20 tons of bound newspaper volumes he bought from the British Library in 1999 using part of his retirement savings. He told us the story of Joseph Pulitzer’s ‘The New York World’ which was first published in colour over a hundred years ago.
The presentation showed:
- In bright detail, the humour, wit, design and prejudice of those newspapers
- A thermal underwear delivery truck beside a cotton mill in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. The newspaper bound volumes were held on the first floor of this mill for several years under the auspices of a dedicated non profit, The American Newspaper Repository, before being moved to the climate controlled, rare books collection of Duke University
- The proper way to mould a nose
- Emile Zola listening to a joke
- How to manually load pallets of over 5,000 bound volumes into 5 large, articulated trucks
- Microfilmed and physical pages - the contrast between these two modes of preservation illustrate the necessity of keeping original physical versions
- There is nothing new under the sun
I now regret tossing out my old copies of The Face and Beano.
I first read Nicholson Baker over 20 years ago so it’s been a privilege to meet him in person, and a treat to appear on a panel on Creative writing at NTU with him and Agnes Chew and Diana Rahim. He’s very tall, lacks pretension and self importance, and has shown a considerable warmth and generosity of spirit while attending literary events around Singapore this year. I don't think many in Singapore realise what a giant, and decent chap, of American letters Nicholson Baker is.
In the early 90s I first read his books Vox and The Fermata - these books were an integral part of my education. Initially I was disappointed when I read his subsequent books - spending ages looking for the naughty bits with very little success. Then I let the words and experience wash over me and I began to enjoy the meticulous, precise, flowing prose of Mezzanine, Room Temperature and A Box of Matches.
I really like his book, Human Smoke. Provocative and important, and very different in style to his other writing.
I’ve never read House of Holes, The Anthologist or Travelling Sprinkler. I must go to BooksActually and see if they have any of them.