Recipes for Sauerkraut

Nicholson Baker loves artificial constraints: the clarity they bring to a project, the odd angles and tones they inspire.

—from the introduction to “The Art of Fiction No. 212,” Nicholson Baker interviewed by Sam Anderson, Paris Review # 198, Fall 2011

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Lately I’ve been thinking about the relations between inventories and traumatic experiences and how the Book of Job starts with an inventory. Novels are full of inventories. When you think of three of the most anthologized stories of our time, Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried,’ Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl,’ and Susan Minot’s ‘Lust,’ they’re inventories. They’re essentially about trauma in the form of lists.

Charles Baxter, quoted by Don Lee on the Ploughshares Web site

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The diminution of authors and books IS one of the major negatives—for its own sake, but even more importantly, for what it implies about the place of the self. Authorial vanities aside, I would ask as Updike does, ‘[A]re we not depriving the written word of its old-fashioned function of, through such inventions as the written alphabet and the printing press, communication from one person to another—of, in short, accountability and intimacy?’

—Sven Birkerts, “The Hive Life,” AGNI #64

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Books traditionally have edges: some are rough-cut, some are smooth-cut, and a few, at least at my extravagant publishing house, are even top-stained. In the electronic anthill, where are the edges? The book revolution, which, from the Renaissance on, taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling cloud of snippets.

So, booksellers, defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our sense of personal identity.

—John Updike, “The End of Authorship,” The New York Times, 25 June 2006

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[I]t just feels good to find something there—even, or especially, when the article you find is maybe a little clumsily written. Any inelegance, or typo, or relic of vandalism reminds you that this gigantic encyclopedia isn’t a commercial product. […]

And when people did help they were given a flattering name. They weren’t called “Wikipedia’s little helpers,” they were called “editors.” It was like a giant community leaf-raking project in which everyone was called a groundskeeper. […]

It worked and grew because it tapped into the heretofore unmarshaled energies of the uncredentialed. […]

Wikipedia was the point of convergence for the self-taught and the expensively educated.

—Nicholson Baker, “The Charms of Wikipedia,” The New York Review of Books, 20 March 2008

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[Wikipedia’s] scholarship is of a different order, the sourcing sometimes provisional, the arbitrariness of inclusion often troubling, but I’ve found that my students are already citing it exclusively, as if to go to the Britannica were to cast a vote for the dead past.

—Sven Birkerts, ibid.

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“What do you say to that? […] Somebody just made up a story with me in it? That’s kind of weird, and I just don’t get it.”

—Earl Swift and Tris Wykes, “A case of borrowed identity for former Admirals” (re the real reaction of one of the real hockey players who appeared in a fictional Simon Rich story), The Virginian-Pilot, 30 January 2007


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[I]t is a post-Frey world.

—Sarah Weinman, “The Problem of Using Real Names in Fiction,” Galleycat, 5 February 2007

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Donald Barthelme, “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning

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Sue Ann Brownly caught Miss Mandible and me in the cloakroom, during recess, and immediately threw a fit. For a moment I thought she was actually going to choke.

—Donald Barthelme, “Me and Miss Mandible” (third and fourth sentences in the last diary entry); Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964)

Sue Ann Brownly caught Miss Mandible and me in the cloakroom, during recess, Miss Mandible’s naked legs in a scissors around my waist. For a moment I thought Sue Ann was going to choke.

—Donald Barthelme, “Me and Miss Mandible” (third and fourth sentences in the last diary entry); 60 Stories (1981)

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Liza’s blindness, Clea’s amputated hand, Leila’s smallpox, Justine’s stroke, Pomball’s gout

—A list on the chalkboard behind the character Professor Hilbert in Stranger than Fiction at approx. 53 minutes; reference is to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet

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[I]s there any difference between microfiction and prose poetry any more, other than what it says on the spine and whether the publishers send it to “poetry people” or to fiction reviewers? […] I realize that it’s hardly a new question: I’m just wondering whether I’ve missed some cool answers.

—Stephen Burt, “The Practical and the Aesthetic,” 6 October 2009

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What is a recipe for sauerkraut doing in my notebook? What kind of magpie keeps this notebook?

—Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”

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They allow no dogs in the capital. Their eyes are the exact pale blue shade of an iceberg. They believe in Hidden People. Their horses grow long coats in the winter, and sleep lying down. I have never seen so many kinds of moss.

—Eliot Weinberger, “Paradice,” The Nation, 10 February 1997

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“I tried to put the date on all my kids’ drawings, thinking, That’ll help. But of course you’re trying to save something that’s evolving. It isn’t savable.”

—Nicholson Baker, ibid.