A Box of Matches

A Box of Matches

by Nicholson Baker


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Emmett has a wife and two children, a cat, and a duck, and he wants to know what life is about. Every day he gets up before dawn, makes a cup of coffee in the dark, lights a fire with one wooden match, and thinks.

What Emmett thinks about is the subject of this wise and closely observed novel, which covers vast distances while moving no further than Emmett’s hearth and home. Nicholson Baker’s extraordinary ability to describe and celebrate life in all its rich ordinariness has never been so beautifully achieved.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375706035
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/09/2004
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,222,805
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Nicholson Baker was born in 1957 and attended the Eastman School of Music and Haverford College. He has published five previous novels–The Mezzanine (1988), Room Temperature (1990), Vox (1992), The Fermata (1994), and The Everlasting Story of Nory (1998)–and three works of nonfiction, U and I (1991), The Size of Thoughts (1996), and Double Fold (2001), which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1999 he founded the American Newspaper Repository, a collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century newspapers. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Rochester, NY


B.A. in English, Haverford College, 1980

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Good morning, it’s January and it’s 4:17 a.m., and I’m going to sit here in the dark. I’m in the living room in my blue bathrobe, with an armchair pulled up to the fireplace. There isn’t much in the way of open flame at the moment because the underlayer of balled-up newspaper and paper-towel tubes has burned down and the wood hasn’t fully caught yet. So what I’m looking at is an orangey ember-cavern that resembles a monster’s sloppy mouth, filled with half-chewed, glowing bits of fire-meat. When it’s very dark like this you lose your sense of scale. Sometimes I think I’m steering a space-plane into a gigantic fissure in a dark and remote planet. The planet’s crust is beginning to break up, allowing an underground sea of lava to ooze out. Continents are tipping and foundering like melting icebergs, and I must fly in on my highly maneuverable rocket and save the colonists who are trapped there.

Last night my sleep was threatened by a toe-hole in my sock. I had known of the hole when I put the sock on in the morning–it was a white tube sock–but a hole seldom bothers me during the daytime. I can and do wear socks all day that have a monstrous rear-tear through which the entire heel projects like a dinner roll. But at night the edges of the hole come alive. I was reading my book of Robert Service poems last night around nine-thirty, when the hole’s edge began tickling and pestering the skin of the two toes that projected through. I tried to retract the toes and use them to catch some of the edge of the sock’s fabric, pulling it over the opening like a too-small blanket that has slid off the bed, but that didn’t work–it seldom does. I knew that later on, after midnight, I would wake up and feel the coolness of the sheet on those two exposed toes, which would trouble me, even though that same coolness wouldn’t trouble me if the entire foot was exposed. I would become wakeful as a result of the toe-hole, and I didn’t want that, because I was starting a new regime of getting up at four in the morning.

Fortunately last night I had an alternative. I’d brought a clean white tube sock to bed with me to use as a mask over my eyes, in case Claire was going to read late. I have to have darkness to go to sleep. I have one of my grandfather’s eye masks, made of thick black silk probably in the thirties, but it smells like my grandfather, or at least it smells like the inside of his bedside table. The good thing about draping a sock over your eyes is that it is temporary. The sock slips off your head when you move, but by then you’ve gone to sleep and it has served its purpose.

So when the hole in the sock on my foot became intolerable, I reached down and pulled it off in a clean, strong motion and flipped it across the room in the direction of the trash can–although I have to say there is something almost painfully incongruous in the sight of an article of underclothing that one has worn and warmed with one’s own body for many days and years, lying bunched in the trash. And then onto my naked foot I pulled the fresh sock that I’d had on my face. It felt so good: oh, man, it felt good, really good. I moved my newly sheathed foot back into the far region of the sheets and pulled the heavy blankets around me and I took my hand and curved it and draped it over my eyes where the sock had been, the way a cat does with its paw. Eventually Claire got into bed. I heard her bedside light click on and I heard the pages of her book shuffle, and then she twisted around so we could kiss good-night. “You’ve got your hand over your eyes,” she said. I murmured. Then she turned and shifted her warmly pajamaed bottom towards me and I steered through the night with my hand on her hip, and the next thing I knew it was four a.m. and time to get up and make a fire.

Customer Reviews

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Box of Matches 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very lite reading. Simple layout with delightful stories. Nothing really happens. If you're waiting for something big, you'll continue to wait. Fun narrative strong voice comes match by match until they're all gone. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to read and is tired of mainstream work.
Anonymous 12 days ago
This reflection by the author of his early mornings in front of his fireplace, from whence the book's name, is so mundane on the one hand and so exquisite on the other. It's a very calming read.
buzzharper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
great idea. great book. great ending.
FredB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has almost no plot. The main character is a guy named Emmett who has a wife and two kids. Every morning he wakes up early, lights a fire and contemplates life. That's it. Nothing more than that happens.
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I know he's widely known for his racier books (which I haven't read yet) but I hope people read his others as well. They're really like sitting in a warm blanket in front of a fire - yes, a reference to this book in fact. They deal with minutia but in an enjoyable artistic way that makes you wish you could comprehend all the little things in life as clearly. This and [Mezzanine] are "Stop and smell the roses," books.I wish I thought of it before....it'd be worth reading a chapter each morning when you wake up, if for nothing else than to have someone say "good morning."
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just loved the feel of this book. I kept having to check the cover to make sure it was actually written by Nicholson Baker! I felt as if I was there with the main character - making the coffee, lighting the fire...thinking about my life as he was.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago