Tuesday, May 13, 2008

U and I

My ongoing misremembering and misquoting of Annie Dillard reminds me of Nicholson Baker's funny book, U and I. This synopsis is from Michiko Kakutani's 1991 review:

Mr. Baker repeatedly reminds us that he has read less than half of Mr. Updike's oeuvre, and he frequently misquotes remembered passages from Mr. Updike's books. What he proposes to do is show "how one increasingly famous writer and his books, read and unread, really functioned in the 15 or so years of my life since I first became aware of his existence."

The resulting book is a comically self-obsessed exercise in misreading, filled with absurdly amusing anecdotes and ludicrous fantasies and delusions. Mr. Baker is mainly interested, we quickly realize, in using Mr. Updike as a means of comparison: the eminent author is someone he can measure himself against, imitate, compete with and feel inferior to.
Baker's ego/competition stuff is funny, if sometimes embarassing, but he's probably right that we construct our literary sensibilities out of bits and scraps that we twist in directions pleasing to us, a process something like birds gathering and arranging fiber and grass to make their nests.

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