On Books: 'A Box Of Matches' By Nicholson Baker

Feb 2, 2017

2017 is here and with it comes new resolutions, new tasks, and new routines. It is often in these first weeks of the new year that we like to take stock of our lives – reflecting, contemplating, measuring. Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches is such a self-study: it observes life up close, without ever leaving the comfort of its narrator's own home.

"A Box of Matches" by American author Nicholas Baker
Credit London: Chatto and Windus, 2003. Print.

There is nothing extraordinary about Emmett: he is a middle-aged man living in Maine with his wife and kids, a pet duck, and a cat. His life is determined by strict routines and each of the book's 33 chapters start with the same premise: he gets up at 4 o'clock in morning, he lights a fire with a match, makes himself breakfast, and writes a few pages on his laptop. It is in these early hours of the day when his family is still asleep, that he contemplates his own existence. The most mundane thoughts cross his mind about seemingly trivial everyday life activities: giving his son a bath, feedings the pets, grocery shopping.

Just like its setting, A Box of Matches is a quiet book. There is no central conflict here, no dramatic plot - only the narrator's detailed observations made during his daily routines. But this is exactly what makes Baker's novel so intimate and universal at the same time. With a slightly cynical and humorous tone, it shows us our own existential fears, and the absurdity and the beauty of life.