Traveling sprinkler : a novel

by Nicholson Baker

Hardcover, 2013



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New York : Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., [2013]

User reviews

LibraryThing member rhussey174
Nicholson Baker is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and Traveling Sprinkler is a sequel to one of my favorite Baker books, The Anthologist. It continues the story of his main character, Paul Chowder, a poet and, in the case of this novel, aspiring song-writer. The Anthologist was about Chowder’s attempts to write an introduction to his forthcoming poetry anthology, and in this new book, the anthology has come out, and Chowder is supposed to be writing new poetry. Instead, he spends his time learning music software and trying to win back his ex-girlfriend Roz. The format is typical Baker: his main character thinks about the world around him, shares his thoughts on this and that, and not much happens.

I don’t think this book is as good as The Anthologist, but the thing about Baker is that even while I’m thinking to myself, “this book isn’t as good as The Anthologist,” I’m still beguiled by the narrative voice. I don’t want the book to end, which for me doesn’t happen with very many books. I’m aware as I’m reading that the thoughts Chowder is having, random as they seem sometimes, do fit together and add up to something bigger. Baker weaves his themes carefully together, and in this case, he’s interested in what art can do in a world constantly at war. Chowder wants to write a political protest song, and he thinks throughout the book about drones and a friend who gets arrested protesting U.S. foreign policy, and he wonders what good one person can do, particularly a person who spends his time quietly, thinking about poetry. Here is where the traveling sprinkler fits in:

"National Walking Sprinkler of Nebraska made Wilson’s machines, and they still do. They made them for Sears and that’s where my father bought his. Everything about it is immediately understandable. It’s what America did before it threw itself wholeheartedly into the making of weapons that kill everyone.

I have been trying to write a poem about this sprinkler for years, because I like it so much, and I’ve never managed to do it. What a joy now to wind it around Nan’s tomatoes and watch it, in all its intuitive clumsy ungainly beauty, do some good."

Chowder is trying to appreciate what good there is in the world, as a counterweight to all that is bad. This effort may not get him very far, but it’s a worthy way to spend his time, at least.

So even with my doubts along the way, I was feeling warmly toward the book by the end. It has large things to say about the world, but it does it in an understated, charming manner that I find hard to resist.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Paul Chowder is back. The poignant poet of Baker’s The Anthologist is now fifty-five and feeling his age. His on/off relationship with Roz is currently off, but he is regretting that terribly. He is supposed to be writing a new book of poems, which his publisher thinks might sell given the popularity of the anthology he edited. But Paul never manages to do anything directly. So when he should be writing poetry we find him instead rekindling his love of music, learning how to lay down tracks with music software, and writing protest songs and, more important, love songs, the latter entirely with Roz in mind.

It is a slow meander, just as it should be when you wander down the backroads of your memories. We learn of Paul’s early career as a bassoonist and the moment when he realized that poetry, after all, was what he was really destined for. We follow his digressions into the politics of the moment and wade gently through his observations on pop music, dance, trance, and hip-hop. But it is his insight into classical composers, particularly Debussy, and his ongoing reflections on various American poets that really hold the reader. That, and his ongoing struggle to express his love for Roz.

If you fell in love with Paul Chowder’s voice in The Anthologist, then you will certainly love Baker’s return here to perhaps his most sentimental and affecting creation. Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
It took me 1.5 years, YEARS, to drag myself through this book. I did learn what a traveling sprinkler is, and if I had a garden I would definitely go to Sears to see if they still sell them.

Nicholson strung together a bunch of music appreciation notes and some literary criticism, but wow, what a first-class boring book. I kept at it simply to see what he had to say about Quaker Meeting. Turns out--surprise--not much, but the little he had to say shows he actually attended one at least a few times.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
What to say about this novel, a sequel to "The Anthologist"? I enjoyed it, I laughed sometimes, I learned a bit about songwriting and contemporary dance music.



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