Striking passages from Nicholson Baker’s A Box of Matches (read on Shabbat Chanukah)

“When I lit the fire this morning, a pompadour styling of flame came forward from underneath and swooped back around a half-detached piece of bark. Right now there is one flame near the front that has a purple under painting but a strong opacity of yellows and oranges and whites: it is flapping like one of those pennants that used to be strung around the used-car lots. You don’t see those so much anymore: multicolored vinyl triangular flags on cords that hopeful sales managers hung from pole to pole to offer a sense of carnival.”

“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night?”

“Our bedroom was still quite dark when I got up. I felt for my glasses on the bedside table in the tender way one uses for glasses, as if one’s fingers are antennae, so as not to get smears on them.”

“What you do first thing can influence your whole day. If the first thing you do is stump to the computer in your pajamas to check your email, blinking and plucking your proverbs, you’re going to be in a hungry electronic funk all morning. So don’t do it.”

“‘You’ve got to get cold to get warm,’ Phoebe said. Now that is the truth. That is so true about so many things. You learn it first with sheets and blankets: that the initial touch of the smooth sheets will send you shivering, but their warming works fast, and you must experience the discomfort to find the later contentment. It’s true with money and love, too. You’ve got to save to have something to spend. Think of how hard it is to ask out a person you like. In my case, Claire asked me to go on a date to the cash machine, so I didn’t actually have to ask her. Still, her lips were cold, but her tongue was warm.”

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