U & I ~ Nicholson Baker

► door: A.IJ. van den Berg

I know it when I am borrowing someone else’s words in my conversation. Nevertheless, often it is an advantage to be better read than most. The old jokes I tell are seldom known by my company, my worn out bon mots seem completely fresh to them. Still, I pride myself in knowing that not everything I tell was thought up by another man, or woman.


That is why the common excuse for plagiarism is so inconceivable to me; please never tell me you had forgotten you copied those phrases and forgot they were not yours.

One of the writers I most often quote is Jeroen Brouwers, though those words always come from just one source; his collected letters Kroniek van een karakter.

U & I is telling a story I can really relate to. However, Nicholson Baker’s obsession with John Updike goes much further than mine with any writer.

Baker so much identifies with him that he is amazed that Updike has not asked him for a round of golf yet, even though they have never met.

In this book, he tells about his deep felt relationship with the other author, by quoting phrases from his books by heart. Baker often quotes them wrong. That is funny on the one hand, but it also shows how Updike’s language has incorporated his. This also makes him realize how extraordinary Updike’s mastery over words is:

Updike is a better writer than I am and he is smarter than I am — not because intelligence has any meaning outside the written or spoken behavioral it takes, but because all minds, dumb and smart alike, do such a poor job of impanating their doings in linear sentences.

Nicholson Baker, U & I
179 pages
Granta Publication 1998, first printed 1991


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