Nicholson Baker’s fifth novel, The Everlasting Story of Nory, was not, as its 9-year-old heroine might say, the world’s most raging success. I picked it up as a pocket hardback in a clearance sale. A week later, I returned and bought the remaining stock at a pound apiece, to distribute to friends and family.
The book itself explains why I did this. In Chapter 39, ‘Reading Tintin to Her Babies’, Eleanor ‘Nory’ Winslow ponders the difficulties of communicating a literary enthusiasm:
Sometimes the problem with telling someone about a book was that the description you could make of it could just as easily be a description of a boring book. There’s no proof that you can give a person that it’s a really good book, unless they read it. But how are you going to convince them that they should read it unless they have a glint of what’s so great about it by reading a little of it?
Thankfully, magazines now exist that are dedicated to overcoming this problem. Rereading my last remaining copy of Nory for this piece, however, I wished I had gone to the wholesalers and taken a boxful, because there are few books that ask so much for the proof of being given.
For me, The Everlasting Story of Nory is a profound exploration of the origins of civilization through the mind of a child. But that could, admittedly, be somebody else’s idea of a boring book. And so could this, from the dust-jacket:
A nine-year-old American girl . . . is spending a term at an English school. She thinks about teeth, tells herself stories, defends a classmate, has nightmares about cows, and generally does her best to make sense of life’s particulars as she encounters them.
Like the boys in Nory’s class who emit ‘low gurgles and snickers’ when she has to read her story about a girl who makes friends with a dog, not to
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