I’ll . . . Have What He’s Having?

This week I unveiled my and Barrett’s twin essays on the sex writing of Javier Marias and Nicholson Baker. But after having read Barrett’s essay—and thus having gained some fairly intimate knowledge of House of Holes’ creation—I’m not sure how I feel about this. Actually, no, I do know how I feel about it: pretty grossed out.

See, over at Slate there’s a little blurb about how much Nicholson Baker loves to write at his local Friendly’s restaurant, and how he wrote his recent porn-fest in part over there:

But a recent profile by Katie Roiphe mentioned that Friendly’s was one of the places Baker wrote House of Holes—and somehow this makes perfect sense: Though his style can be gloriously elaborate (see, e.g., sentence B in this blog post by book critic Sam Anderson) his outlook is nonetheless entirely unpretentious. The Mezzanine, his debut, includes long passages about straws and shoelaces, for instance. (It also includes, in an extensive digression about paper towel dispensers, a mention of Friendly’s.) And, in fact, Baker’s occasionally rococo style is perhaps not at all inappropriate to a place where one can have for lunch or dinner a Fribble and a Fishamajig.

That’s nice and all, except I also read this in Barrett’s essay:

What’s fascinating—or appalling?—reading all of these reviews and profiles is that my sneaking inclination that Baker was just accelerating the old male novelist gaze into straight-up porn turns out to be his completely, unashamedly, fully confessed motive all along.

Here’s what he says in his New York Times Magazine profile, written by the grandmaster of literary softball, Charles McGrath:

“You want to have some surprises and some literary value,” he said. “After all, I’m in the novel-writing business. But it has to be arousing. A book with this level of smut, filth, whatever—there would be no point if it wasn’t arousing to write. There’s nothing like writing a sex scene. You’re writing a little slower. You’re in a world that you’ve invented, and you’re slowly describing it. It’s a turn-on, no question. It’s self-seductive.”

Now for all I know, Baker was writing the non-porn parts of House of Holes at Friendly’s—except that there appear to be no non-pron parts, which is part of the problem with the book. So you tell me: do you really want to be the dude in the adjacent booth while a big-bearded, vaguely husky guy like Baker is self-seducing?

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Isn’t writing about sex literature’s unexplored frontier? Neither prudish nor ashamed but bold and honest.

I guess some frontiers are less promising than expected.

I have to say that your title for this post ties it all together.

The image of Baker as a furiously scribbling Santa Claus pornographer in the corner booth will stay with me for a long time.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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