Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Anthologist, was published in September 2009. (July 2010)

IN THE REVIEW

Letter to John Updike

Twenty-five years ago, when I was twenty-eight and trying to write a novel, I sent this fan letter to John Updike. I lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, back then, and my girlfriend, now my wife, lived in Boston. I printed the letter out all on one page, with narrow margins, using …

The Charms of Wikipedia

Wikipedia: The Missing Manual

by John Broughton
Wikipedia is just an incredible thing. It’s fact-encirclingly huge, and it’s idiosyncratic, careful, messy, funny, shocking, and full of simmering controversies—and it’s free, and it’s fast. In a few seconds you can look up, for instance, “Diogenes of Sinope,” or “turnip,” or “Crazy Eddie,” or “Bagoas,” or “quadratic formula,” or “Bristol Beaufighter,” or “squeegee,” or “Sanford B. Dole,” and you’ll have knowledge you didn’t have before. It’s like some vast aerial city with people walking briskly to and fro on catwalks, carrying picnic baskets full of nutritious snacks.

Leading with the Grumper

Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Volume I, A-G)

edited by J.E. Lighter
This may be the funniest and best-smelling work of profound lexicographical slang-scholarship ever published. Some may respect the hint of Elmer’s glue in recent printings of Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (8th ed.), or the faint traces of burlap and cocoa-bean that linger deep in The Oxford Dictionary …

Survival of the Fittest

Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West

by M. B. Parkes
The nine basic marks of punctuation—comma, dash, hyphen, period, parenthesis, semi-colon, colon, space, and capital letter—seem so apt to us now, so pipe-smokingly Indo-European, so naturally suited in their disjunctive charge and mass to their given sentential offices, that we may forgivably assume that commas have been around for at …

NYR DAILY

On the Stovetop of Sleep

You can’t fight it. It happens. The dreams come on. They’re part of what we do. I had a theory once, which I also put in a novel, that many nightmares were caused by a common physical need: the need to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. Out of the stochastic stew that sits cooling on the stovetop of our sleep-softened consciousness, a couple of images would be ladled out in a bowl and sprinkled with a special neural Pickapeppa Sauce that made them seem frightening, so as to wake us up. All our subconscious was trying to do, I thought, was to help us by saying, Friend, your bladder is overfull and you should get up and relieve it.

We Don’t Know the Language We Don’t Know

Protesters from the group Code Pink in front of the White House. Their umbrellas spell

One Saturday last month I went to Lafayette Park in Washington D.C., across the street from the White House, in order to protest several wars. The squirrels were out doing seasonal things. A tree was balancing big buds on the finger-ends of its curving branches; the brown bud coverings, which looked like gecko skins, were drawing back to reveal inner loaves of meaty magnolial pinkness. A policeman in sunglasses, with a blue and white helmet, sat on a Clydesdale horse, while two tourists, a father and his daughter, gazed into the horse’s eyes. The pale, squinty, early spring perfection of the day made me smile.

Letter to John Updike

Twenty-five years ago, when I was twenty-eight and trying to write a novel, I sent this fan letter to John Updike. I lived in Brookline, Massachusetts, back then, and my girlfriend, now my wife, lived in Boston. I printed the letter out all on one page, with narrow margins, using my new Kaypro computer and Juki daisywheel printer. Updike didn’t answer—he couldn’t, because I didn’t put a return address on the envelope.