I've just finished reading (and skimming) NIcholson Baker's most recent novel "Traveling Sprinkler". Baker is an amazing, if at times frustrating, prose stylist and bleeds immensely complicated prose from the tired body of everyday existence. This has been the nature of many of his books, which tend, however eclectic in their topical pursuits, to involve detailed monologues, innovative wordplay, and enthralling gamesmanship. I picked up his latest as I am keenly interested in Baker's writing, if I only read it sporadically, rather than addictively. In addition this book is a sequel to a fascinating comic novel called "The Anthologist" which gained considerable critical attention a couple of years ago. In that book, a narrator named Paul Chowder (not unlike Baker himself) is a middle-aged writer who spends much time ruminating upon how poetry works, its history, and how to compile a poetry anthology. Chowder is clearly a lot more bungling and less renowned than the author, but it's probably owing to the fact that Baker empathizes so closely with Chowder as an alter-ego that the book really resonates so strongly. However "Traveling Sprinkler" is less focused, and as with most "sequels" pales a bit if compared to "The Anthologist." But maybe i'm a bit taken with Mr. Chowder whose chosen mundane pursuits include: composing (bad) pop music and taking up cigars (both) at a relatively advanced age, worrying over US foreign policy and writing crap lyrics about it, caring from a distance for his ex-partner, and wondering when to speak up at Quaker meeting. Chowder is often boring and silly, self-centered yet kind, yet eminently human. A modest and potentially highly enjoyable book if you are up for a meandering monologue rather than a plot filled feast. You can watch a brief interview of Baker from the Los Angeles Review of Books here.
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