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House of Holes: A Book of Raunch

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Overview

Shandee finds a friendly arm at a granite quarry. Ned drops down a hole in a golf course. Luna meets a man made of light bulbs at a tanning parlor. So begins Nicholson Baker’s fuse-blowing, sex-positive escapade, House of Holes. Baker, the bestselling author of The Mezzanine, Vox, and The Fermata, who “writes like no one else in America” (Newsweek), returns to erotic territory with a gleefully over-the-top novel set in a pleasure resort, where normal rules don’t apply. Visitors, pulled in via their drinking ...

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House of Holes

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Overview

Shandee finds a friendly arm at a granite quarry. Ned drops down a hole in a golf course. Luna meets a man made of light bulbs at a tanning parlor. So begins Nicholson Baker’s fuse-blowing, sex-positive escapade, House of Holes. Baker, the bestselling author of The Mezzanine, Vox, and The Fermata, who “writes like no one else in America” (Newsweek), returns to erotic territory with a gleefully over-the-top novel set in a pleasure resort, where normal rules don’t apply. Visitors, pulled in via their drinking straws or the dryers in laundromats, can undergo crotchal transfers . . . make love to trees . . . visit the Groanrooms and the twelve-screen Porndecahedron . . . or pussy-surf the White Lake. It’s very expensive, of course, but there are work-study programs. In charge of day-to-day operations is Lila, a former hospital administrator whose breast milk has unusual regenerative properties.

Brimful of good-nature, wit, and surreal sexual vocabulary, House of Holes is a modern-day Hieronymous Boschian bacchanal that is sure to surprise, amuse, and arouse.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The thing about fantasies is that everyone has his own. So while Baker (Vox) attempts to be all inclusive in this collection of short vignettes that describe the adventures of randy characters sent to the hedonistic titular resort, in the end what's left is Baker's take on erotica but not much else. While some of Baker's characters, like Shandee, who's on a journey to return a dismembered arm to a man who willingly lost it at the House of Holes in exchange for the enlargement of another body part (guess which one), appear throughout the book, most of the others are only around until they find some form of satisfaction. The result is a wearisome stream of concupiscent characters spouting off filthy words with little promise of any sort of, well, climax. Prurient subject matter aside, Baker's writing is strong and, at times, comical. His characters poke fun at the awkward nature of their situations and dirty dialogue, and in a sea of middle-school style terminology, some lines—like when "Dave angled out his Malcolm Gladwell" at the 12-screen adult theater—are clever enough to warrant a smile. Still, living in the Internet age, where indulging wacky desires is a given, reading a ramble about other people's is more of a turn off than a turn on. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Truly uproarious . . . Baker is one of the most consistently enticing writers of our time . . . Readers with a fondness for richly ridiculous diction, witty provocation and graphic sexual prose that celebrates desire, frailty and the comedy of life will not be disappointed.” —Sam Lipsyte, front cover of the New York Times Book Review

“Wild and hallucinatory . . . Every page offers something smart and amusing . . . Full of fearlessness, cheerfulness, wit and brio.” —Meg Wolitzer, The Washington Post

“A joyful, almost Chaucerian book . . . Had Dr. Seuss been a slightly insane pornographer, he might have written a book like this.” —Tom Bissell, GQ

“A sexy, disturbing, funny book . . . It may also challenge the usual reader of literary novels with its sheer dazzling excess of imagination.” —Katie Roiphe, Slate

House of Holes is as funny as it is filthy and breathes new life into the tired, fossilized conventions of pornography in a way that suggests a deep, almost scholarly familiarity with the ancient tropes.” —Charles McGrath, The New York Times Magazine

“[Baker] escorts us through a surprisingly delightful session of all things benevolently sexual—everything’s consensual, of age and legal, even if, in most cases, physically impossible. . . . We’d recommend it to nearly everyone we know, and no one we don’t.” —Tim Grobaty, Contra-Costa Times

“About as fun and thoroughly unpretentious as literature gets.” Michael Pucci, New York Journal of Books

“A permanent tribute to both the idiocy and surreal inventiveness of sexual desire. . . . Attention must be paid. And laughter must ensue—and rather a lot of it, too.” —Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

“This is a funny, frisky novel that brings sexy back in a way that Justin Timberlake never dreamed.” —Mark Haskell Smith, Los Angeles Review of Books

Library Journal
If you are familiar with Baker's work (e.g., Vox), you understand that his prose ranges from the sexually provocative to the obscene, depending on the paragraph. At the same time, underneath the pornographic veneer of Baker's writing is an engaging commentary on society's distinction between sexual and aesthetic experience. Here, he uses an alternative reality, the house of holes, as a playground of latent desires in which characters experience their most erotic fantasies. The characters travel to this place, drawn with a touch of the magical, through portals such as washing machines and wooden sculptures. A world seemingly constructed from sexual energy, the house of holes encourages individuals to indulge rather than repress their sexual desire. Though roles and duties exist in this world, taboos are nonexistent. Purposefully explicit and outlandish, Baker playfully critiques the modern, mechanical portrayal of sex with unrestrained erotic experience. VERDICT The casual reader may find Baker's sexually charged diatribe overwhelming, while others will find this open expression of eroticism refreshing and honest. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/11.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Library Journal
After 2008's nonfiction Human Smoke and 2009's The Anthologist, Baker returns to the fruitful territory of his edgily erotic Vox and The Fermata. This one, about a world in which every carnal desire imagined can be easily satisfied, is billed as a modern-day Hieronymus Boschian bacchanal. I'm probably too modest to read this, but it will have lots of takers.
Kirkus Reviews

Baker returns to the eroticism of his earlierVox(1995) andThe Fermata(1994) but kicks it up about a dozen notches.

There's no plot to speak of here—just couplings in every conceivable (and many inconceivable) way. Some characters recur from chapter to chapter, yet they're fairly interchangeable, and Baker aims to disconcert readers with breezy surrealism. In the opening chapter, Shandee finds an arm on a field trip with her Geology 101 class, and this appendage quickly informs her (because it's able to write) that it's known as "Dave's arm." She discovers it can give considerable pleasure, the kind of sexual climax that all his characters seek. The title alludes to a kind of "portkey" that sucks characters through various holes (straws, the backs of dryers, putting greens) into a phantasmagorical alternative universe presided over by the formidable Lila. In this "house of holes," suffice it to say that weird things are the norm: Reversible crotch transfers, for example, result in gender-bendering; women have sex with headless men; men hump holes in a sex field; we hear rumors of the Cock Ness monster; a character named Rhumpa visits the "pornmonster," who grows bigger the more that porn is sucked out of the world...and these are just a few of the exploits coyly alluded to—others are even more graphic and bizarre. Even a put-together Dave makes an appearance toward the end.

Baker explores a fine line between eroticism and pornography here, and were it not for his wit and verbal play, the latter would win out.

Meg Wolitzer
…the book reads like good-natured, priapic, free-form performance art…sex is a valid, even profound topic for a novel, for it can show us who we are when we think almost no one else is watching. And humor is an essential ingredient for such a book, too, if only because without it, we'd be lost. House of Holes, though exhausting, is full of fearlessness, cheerfulness, wit and brio. Shame, refreshingly, gets little play.
—The Washington Post
Sam Lipsyte
…hilarious and extremely dirty…If this sounds like a world dreamed up by a man with smut and silliness foremost on his mind, whose lewdness often saunters right into the realms of pure pornography, well, bingo. But since Baker is also one of the most consistently enticing writers of our time, you take the ride. Readers with a fondness for richly ridiculous diction, witty provocation and graphic sexual prose that celebrates desire, frailty and the comedy of life will not be disappointed.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439189511
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 8/9/2011
  • Edition description: Simon & Schuster
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker is the author of nine novels and four works of nonfiction, including Double Fold, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and House of Holes, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The New York Review of Books. He lives in Maine with his family.

Biography

An elegant writer who has taken stream of consciousness to dizzying postmodern heights, Nicholson Baker has produced a body of work that is eccentric, inventive, and extremely difficult to categorize. In his virtually plotless novels, characters ruminate on the minutest details of everyday life and lose themselves in memories of Proustian intensity. His nonfiction is equally unconventional, filled with meticulously researched minutiae and passionate polemics on topics of great personal interest -- perhaps only to himself.

Baker's quirky brilliance was evident early on in several convoluted short stories that appeared in The New Yorker and Atlantic. But he hit his own idiosyncratic stride with his 1998 debut novel. Essentially one long, loopy digression riddled with footnotes nearly as long as the narrative, The Mezzanine traces a young man's meandering thoughts during a brief escalator ride from the ground floor to the mezzanine of the office building where he works. The "action," such as it is, takes scant minutes, but it's time enough to lay bare the protagonist's entire inner life. In his review for The New York Times, Robert Plunket singled out for commendation "...the razor-sharp insight and droll humor with which Mr. Baker illuminates the unseen world."

In other novels, Baker has taken us inside the heads of many characters: a young father bottle-feeding his infant daughter (Room Temperature); a middle-aged man whose early-morning ritual begins with lighting a fire (A Box of Matches); a man who stops time in order to fondle and exploit unsuspecting women (Fermata); two people a continent apart who indulge in graphic sexual fantasies over the telephone (Vox). (Fermata and Vox were widely criticized as "literary pornography." Vox created additional buzz, when it was revealed that Monica Lewinsky had given a copy to President Bill Clinton.)

Although Baker can never be accused of dispassion, the peculiarity of his nonfiction has led to mixed reviews. In lengthy essays and articles and wildly discursive books, he has paid extravagant tribute to his literary hero John Updike (U and I: A True Story), decried the destruction of library card catalogs (an essay in The Size of Thoughts), led a crusade to preserve and archive entire collections of American newspapers (Double Fold), and challenged the traditional view of World War II as "inevitable" (Human Smoke).

Baker's brand of erudite obsession may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is easy for literate readers to fall in love with his glittering prose. He is, above all else, a lover of language; and in his deft and capable hands, even the most mundane objects and events spring to glorious, full-bodied life. Summing up the singular, seductive charms of Baker's writing, Salon critic Laura Miller may have said it best: "...dazzling descriptive powers married to a passionate enthusiasm for the neglected flotsam and jetsam of everyday life."

Good To Know

A two-week writing seminar with Donald Barthelme at the University of California jump-started Baker's writing career.

His great-grandfather Ray Stannard Baker served as press secretary to president Woodrow Wilson and won a Pulitzer prize for his biography of Wilson.

Baker's first area of interest was music, rather than literature. A talented bassoonist, he attended Eastman School of Music with an eye to becoming a classical composer. Midway through his first year, he changed his major to English. He transferred to Haverfod College in Philadelphia, graduating in 1980.

One of Baker's most passionate concerns is preserving complete runs of newspapers as a valuable record of American history. To that end, he founded the American Newspaper Repository in 1999, when he learned the British Library was selling off or trashing its bound volumes of post-1870 newspapers.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Rochester, NY
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Haverford College, 1980

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2011

    Couldn't put it down

    As the title says, raunchy but at the same time hilarious. Each increasingly unlikely vignette is described in increasingly outrageous terms. A real page turner, I couldn't wait to find out how it all came together.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    This book is awful!  There is no plot.  The only attempt at a pl

    This book is awful!  There is no plot.  The only attempt at a plot is the use of "portals" which just seems to be thrown in haphazardly to make it seem like an actual book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2013

    Awful

    Disjointed and uninteresting

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012

    Waste of Paper

    People who buy this expecting to get a story will be very disappointed. There is no story here, just a bunch of random, incoherent, ridiculous chapters that never tie in together, and never make sense. What few recurring characters appear in this "book" do nothing to advance a plot, because there is NO plot. I am at a loss as to how this could be a New York Times Bestseller, or how it could garner so much praise. Before I am debunked as a conservative, or someone trying to censor literature, let me say that I have no problem with the "book's" content. I don't care about the language, or the gratuitous sex. My problem with it is that it's complete garbage. A boring, worthless waste of time and money.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2012

    Skip it

    Very light and pointless. The best that can be said for it is women are not treated as sexual objects.

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  • Posted September 16, 2011

    Silly

    Written for a precocious 14 year old on hormone overload, but a precocious 14 year old wouldn't bother. For anyone else, it is a tedious romp through...I don't know what. It never seems to get to a point. I conditionally enjoyed The Fermata which I bought at the same time. I think I have now fulfilled any obligation to know who Nicholson Baker is if there is every a literary reference to him.

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  • Posted August 19, 2011

    Funny!

    The real charm of this book is the humor. Sure, it is raunchy. Definitely arousing. Probably a bit shocking. In the end, it is the humor and the creativity that keeps you turning the pages. Chapter after chapter, I found myself fascinated by the things he was dreaming up.

    You might be a bit put off by the content...but once you start reading, I dare you to put it down.

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    Posted August 27, 2011

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