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Room Temperature
Nicholson Baker
Published by Grove Weidenfeld in 1984
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


This book takes place in a room as the author feeds and rocks his baby daughter (Bug) to sleep one lazy afternoon. The action of the novel moves as slowly as the room temperature changes and thus the title. He rocks, he looks at Bug, he looks at the mobile made for her by his wife from celadon colored inspection slips he found in his new suit, he muses on the life of the comma in literature, he remembers holding his breath for two minutes in order to play a staccato fugue on a french horn, he recalls trying to experience pregnancy as a youth, lying to his mother about money he took from her purse to buy a model airplane, and the key episode that changed his lifetime career aspirations from that of a french hornist to a technical writer and reviewer of TV commercials. And many more memories. As a man is both a part of nature and its epitome (as Owen Barfield said), Baker takes this fifteen minute portion of his life and, by describing it in detail, shows us the entire panorama of his hope and dreams and how those have been actualized in his life to date.

About halfway into the book we begin to feel the temperature of the room, the warmth of Bug snuggled into the sweater, and the quality of the author's life. If it is possible to fell another's quality life, this must be how it feels. Again and again I was surprised by the minutiae of detail that were part of my experiences in life that I thought no one else had ever undergone, much less describe. The sound an empty coke bottle makes when you abruptly break a vacuum with your lips on it, how you remove a bottle from a suckling baby's mouth to allow the baby to breathe and the air to re-enter the bottle so that sucking may be resumed, how you clean the encrusted mucus from the insides of a baby's nose and the baby resists at first until it discovers the pleasure of free breathing and submits willingly to future removals.

A delightful book for fathers who have rocked their babies on afternoons long ago or will on afternoons to come.

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