On Rick Bailey’s ‘Get Thee to a Bakery’

Rick Bailey
Paperback | 228 Pages | 5.5” x 8.5”
978-1496225511 | First Edition | $19.95
University of Nebraska Press (March 1, 2021) | BUY HERE

This book is a fun read made up of forty-two brief essays written in a well-paced voice that converses with you on a variety of topics. If Seinfeld was the show about nothing, this collection might be the book about everything. Bailey’s style was also captured by the subtitle of his first book: American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance. I like that: Small Subjects of Great Importance. Bailey has nailed this approach. His essays are very peaceful on the reader’s brain. The Great Importance here is not in an overly serious way, or an over reaching way, but in a slow conversational , entertaining, and introspective way.

Here, he tells the origin story of his interest in words and the great importance of the small subjects:

When I was eighteen I was in a car wreck and broke both legs. I had to spend four months not walking, mostly confined to a hospital bed. It was like house arrest. This was pre-Kindle, pre-tablet, pre-computer, pre-cable TV, pre-VCR; pre-pre. To kill time I read a lot of books. While I read, I decided to work on my vocabulary. I fancied myself becoming bookish. Of necessity, my approach was old school. Set the book down, pick up a dictionary, look up the word and its definition; go back to the book and resume reading. It was a long interruption.

Chapter 14 / Do the Work

The essays rotate the small around the large and it’s all connected not by answers but in spending time with the questions.

More complex brain meant, eventually, more complex language. Forest and figs. And, thousands of years later, filigree and falafel. We may be at another inflection point today, with the device-ification of human thought. What will the long-term impact of digital technology be? Maybe Google is making us stupid. Or maybe, as Andy Clark, at University of Edinburgh, and David Chalmers, at the Australian National University, argue, computer and tablet and smartphone and Google are all part of “extended mind.” Mind, as they characterize it, is a “system made up of the brain plus parts of its environment.? Your diary is extended mind.

Chapter 14 / Do the Work

These essays look at travel, food, relationships, aging, how words work and in turn how the world works.

Chapter 24, Stand Up, is a good example of how the brief essays do multiple work. It ultimately is a tale about trees on the property lines and the shared ideas around maintenance, saving or giving up on a tree. In brief interludes from the central line, we see his relationship with his son, “Why don’t the trees fall down? Don’t they get tired? What if they decided to lie down and take a rest?” We see the relationship between husband and wife. The wife, normally the most loyal to the trees, ready to give up on these ones in the face of un-aesthetic maintenance options. The narrator reflecting on the difference and similarity of the difficulty men have with being short and women have with being tall. Remembering a star student, a tall young woman, and his wishing society hadn’t bent her towards making herself smaller on purpose, his wanting her to stand tall, to be full sized. These individual reflections, that gain more meaning as a whole, when they are brought together, demonstrate that time is well spent reflecting.

You can determine the pace of how you want to read this book. You can set it down for a while if the fast world intervenes, and you can pick it right back up, and you will have the friendly voice reminding you that its ok to slow down, its ok to think about how things are ticking.

One thing that is absent from the collection, completely out of Bailey’s control due to when these were written, is the worldwide pandemic. How this impacted the idea of travel. The idea of small talk. In many ways I am happy it is missing from the collection. It is like reading time capsules seeing our own writing and reading and thinking of what the world was like before. I enjoyed getting to know his thought processes enough to guess that he has been reflecting on the new world as well, similar to the hospital stay of his youth, strike the abundance of technical devices and the global connectivity of the internet, it was named world wide for a reason, and so I picture the pandemic, at least a bright side in there somewhere, as an opportunity for us to slow our minds down. To reflect. Because as he says in his final sentence, in a different context of course, “Sometimes that’s all we’ve got.”

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