Book Review: The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

I picked up this book (via the Book Depository. At $12 it’s a bargain) after seeing somebody mention it in passing in a thread on a forum somewhere in the Interwebs. It intrigued me.

Not a lot happens. It documents an hour in the life of Howie, a cubicle jockey. The hour is his lunch time – and perhaps more appropriately his coming and going from the office to buy new shoelaces. The only tension in the narrative is the exploration of the tension in his shoelaces.

This may not sound like your cup of tea – but he digresses in a fascinating manner in to realms of thoughts and tangents that feature insights into the minutiae of life – everything from the aforementioned shoelace dilemma (and the correct method for tying one’s shoes) to office bathroom etiquette. It’s a steady stream of consciousness account. It’s good stuff. I’ve not read a piece of fiction that has resonated more deeply with my personality and quirks for a long time… do you find yourself running your hand over different objects in your path as you walk – in a bid for some sort of tactile interaction with your environment? I do. I always have. I wasn’t sure if it was normal until this book discussed such behaviour.

Here’s Wikipedia’s synopsis:

“Baker’s digressive novel is partly made up of extensive footnotes, some several pages long, while following Howie’s contemplations of a variety of everyday objects and occurrences, including how paper milk cartons replaced glass milk bottles, the miracle of perforation, and the nature of plastic straws to float, vending machines, paper towel dispensers, and popcorn poppers.”

And here’s a quote from the book itself (not my favourite, just one I found online).

“I stood, rolled my chair back into place, and took a step toward my office door, where my jacket hung all day, unused except when the air-conditioning became violent or I had a presentation to give; but as soon as I felt myself take that step, I experienced a sharpening of dissatisfaction with the whole notion that the daily acts of shoe-tying could have alone worn out my shoelaces … still, I reflected, if it were true that the laces frayed from walking flexion, why did they invariably fray only in contact with the top pair of eyelets on each shoe? I paused in my doorway, looking out at the office, with my hand resting on the concave metal doorknob, resisting this further unwelcome puzzlement.”


Gav says:

My mum read a book that sounds alot like this once.

The guy was just thinking about every day life. In it he said his tongue was yellow so he cleaned it with his toothbrush, and now he can’t stop cleaning his tongue every morning. He gave the advice that you shouldn’t start cleaning your tongue bcse you will never be able to stop.

He was right.

Nathan Campbell says:

It’s the same book. He advocates tongue cleaning as a great way to treat bad breath.

Gav says:

Thought it sounded familiar, although don’
t remember anything about the shoe laces. Mum laughed alot, I recall.

Gav says:

PS – your background is much more earthy and blokey, altho not very metro

[…] Baker wrote the Mez­za­nine (the book I reviewed yes­ter­day). He also wrote this arti­cle about Wikipedia, where he details time spent pro­tect­ing obscure […]