This is a fascinating book about poetry, disguised as a wry and humorous story about a poet with writers’ block. It’s like two books in one!
The protagonist is a likeable everyman. Well not really an everyman — he’s a poet and academic rather than just a regular Joe. But he’s definitely likeable in the way that Nicholson Baker’s characters often are. (I feel that Baker’s protagonists tend to be versions of himself, even though I don’t at all know what he’s like in real life. I presume he is likeable.)
Anyway, he is supposed to be writing an introduction to an anthology of poetry, but instead spends his time doing odd jobs, wistfully trying to get back together with his ex, and procrastinating in various other mundane ways. He also thinks and muses on poetry. Reading those sections is like talking to a smart but down-to-earth friend — just fun anecdotes, opinions and observations, but about poetry and literature rather than football or celebrities. (Or football celebrities.) There are some pretty neat ideas — I am convinced by his argument that so-called “iambic pentameter” (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”) actually has three beats to the line, not five. There’s potentially an academic paper in there, but that would be less compelling than the present book.