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The Mezzanine

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Although most of the action of The Mezzanine occurs on the escalator of an office building, where its narrator is returning to work after buying shoelaces, this startlingly inventive and witty novel takes us farther than most fiction written today. It lends to milk cartons the associative richness of Marcel Proust's madeleines. It names the eight most significant advances in a human life —beginning with shoe-tying. It asks whether the hot air blowers in bathrooms really are more sanitary than towels. And it casts a dazzling light on our relations with the objects and people we usually take for granted.

135 pages, Paperback

First published October 15, 1988

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About the author

Nicholson Baker

38 books783 followers
Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. He was born in Manhattan in 1957 and grew up in Rochester, New York. He has published sixteen books--including The Mezzanine (1988), U and I (1991), Human Smoke (2008), The Anthologist (2009), and Substitute (2016)--and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, the New York Review of Books, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Essays. He has received a National Book Critics Circle award, a James Madison Freedom of Information Award, the Herman Hesse Prize, and the Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1999, Baker and his wife, Margaret Brentano (co-author with Baker of The World on Sunday, 2005), founded the American Newspaper Repository in order to save a large collection of U.S. newspapers, including a run of Joseph Pulitzer's influential daily, the New York World. In 2004 the Repository’s holdings became a gift to Duke University. Baker and Brentano have two children; they live on the Penobscot River in Maine.

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Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,326 reviews11.6k followers
August 19, 2022

A jaded, young wealthy aristocrat in French author Joris-Karl Huysmans’ slim novel À rebours (Against Nature) retreats to a country villa to construct a custom-made artificial world where he can live his entire solitary life on his own aesthetic, highly refined terms.

In many ways, the main character in this slender Nicholson Baker book is the complete opposite of Huysmans’ - rather than being a jaded aristocrat, Baker’s narrator is an ordinary guy supremely attuned and energized by commonplace things and events; instead of retreating to a country villa, he commutes to a routine office job in the city; rather than seeking the extraordinary in fine arts and exotic tastes, his experiences the extraordinary in the ordinary, so much so that I see him as the perfect instantiation of one who appreciates "everyday aesthetics."

So, with this in mind, here are my observations on Baker’s novel coupled with quotes on everyday aesthetics articulated by Thomas Leddy, a leading thinker in the discipline:

"We are thinking of everyday aesthetics in the context of the world-wide city-based culture within which most of us live."

First page to last page, this is exactly the subject for our pleasant, perceptive twenty-five-year-old officer worker as he encounters and recollects during the hours of his workday in the city, as when we read in the opening paragraph “On sunny days like this one, a temporary, steeper escalator of daylight, formed by intersections of the lobby’s towering volumes of marble and glass, meet the real escalators just above their middle point, spreading into a needly area of shine where it fell against their brushed-steel side-panels, and added long glossy highlights to each of the black rubber handrails which wavered slightly as the handrails slid on their tracks, like the radians of black luster that ride the undulating outer edge of an LP.”

As readers we are given a unique opportunity to concurrently experience with the narrator not only what he sees but the various feelings he derives from his seeing. Take my word for it here: Nicholson Baker’s novel is a jewel – a narrator particularly sensitive to life’s minute details, those objects and events usually overlooked and underappreciated by the rest of us.

"Everyday aesthetics emphasizes how objects can take on an “aura” when perceived aesthetically."

The narrator reflects while walking down a city street: “It seems that I always liked to have one hand free when I was walking, even when I had several things to carry: I like to be able to slap my hand fondly down on the top of a green mailmen-only mailbox, or bounce my fist lightly against the steel support for the traffic lights, both because the pleasure of touching these cold, dusty surfaces with the springy muscle on the side of my palm was intrinsically good, and because I liked other people to see me as a guy in a tie yet carefree and casual enough to be doing what kids do when they drag a stick over the black uprights of a cast-iron fence.”

He derives pleasure on two levels: 1) the fact that his hand is free, and 2) the feel of his hand being free - free to slap against a mailbox, bounce off a steel pole, feel the cold, dusty surfaces, pleasures having no greater aim or purpose beyond the intrinsic goodness of the feeling itself. And it is the second level that is aesthetic – taking pleasure beyond the “fact” of things to taking pleasure in the “feel” of things. And by being open to the “feel” of things, in this case hand and mailbox and steel pole, these very things take on a certain “aura.”

Actually, in addition to 1) and 2) above, he values: 3) the social benefit of being seen by others as a man who has retained a kid’s aliveness and freshness when interacting with the world. For me, this is so charming- a simple happening providing our narrator with triple-decker pleasure as if savoring a slice of triple-decker strawberry cake.

"Everyday aesthetics is a category separate from the fine arts and the natural world."

Although the narrator notes how there are Edward Hopper prints in the office hallways and observes the blue sky out his office window, his focus is not on the fine arts or the natural world but rather on things like the difference between working in an office with a linoleum floor and ones with carpets: “Linoleum was bearable back when incandescent light was there to counteract it with a softening glow, but the combination of fluorescence and linoleum, which must have been widespread for several years as the two trends overlapped, is not good.”

"Everyday aesthetics studies the whole field of human experience, not just the high points."

There really isn’t any drama here in the conventional manner of storytelling, such thing as a runaway spouse or the loss of a parent or a psychological crack-up or artistic, spiritual or life-shattering epiphanies, not even close; on the contrary, we read about episodes in the narrator’s life leading to revelations about shoe-tying, brushing tongue as well as teeth, applying deodorant after being fully dressed, the virtues of sweeping with a broom made with straw rather than plastic and the time-saving benefits of owning your very own rubber stamp imprinted with your home address. Sounds like fun? Actually, these subjects make for great fun presented in Nicholson Baker’s breezy, frequently humorous, carefully crafted language.

"Everyday aesthetics appreciates how artists are close and constant observers of everyday life."

Case in point – here is our young office worker/narrator entering the corporate men’s room: “I negotiated the quick right and left that brought me into the brightness and warmth of the bathroom. It was decorated in two tones of tile, hybrid colors I didn’t know the names for, and the sinks’ counter and the dividers between urinals and between stalls were of red lobby-marble.” This bathroom sequence, complete with observations about towels, hot-air blowers, toilet paper, the habits and sounds and sights of other company men goes on for several pages. I don’t think I have to include any more quotes as I am sure you get the idea.

"Everyday aesthetics is immensely important for our lives."

Important in the sense you can use the realm of everyday aesthetics to gauge how awake you are to your everyday world. If you are like Howie (yes, we learn the narrator’s name in the closing chapters when his fellow-workers address him directly), then you will have the feel for what it is to be reading this review, a feel for not only the language and ideas contained herein but also the size and font of the letters and words on your screen. And what is the level of brightness of the white behind the words? What color is the border around your screen? Black? White? Silver? What is the texture of your keypad? Is your computer making a pleasant hum? If your desk is made of wood, does the grain have small groves? . . .

Nicholson Baker at age 31 in 1988, publication year of this, his first novel.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,094 reviews3,836 followers
March 17, 2017

At almost 6:45pm, I approached my house, noticing with annoyance that the bin men ¹ had left the bins obstructing the driveway. I got out of the car, leaving the engine running ² , put the bins in their proper place, and drove the final few metres, parking in the shade of the laurel. I noticed it needed pruning, and worried that if we didn’t do it soon, our delightful neighbours might be put to the embarrassing inconvenience of having a quiet word.

As I walked to the front door, I spotted a weed, optimistically pushing through a gap in the block paving and I made a mental note to zap it before it exhumed some of the underlying sand, making the surface uneven. The geometric precision ³ of the blocks makes any such imperfection especially irritating.

I disentangled my jingling keys and put the first of two in the front door, and turned it: it was the heavier, mortice lock, with a pleasingly confident thud as the weight of the bolt was withdrawn. Then I swapped to the smaller key to open the sprung Yale lock. This is trickier as I have to decide whether to quickly remove the key or leave it in place as I dash to the keypad to disable the alarm. I’m always anxious of setting it off, especially since we mislaid the quick-disable plipper.

As the alarm made its reassuring beeps of disablement, I was free to turn and look at the pile of post. Even though there is rarely anything interesting (birthdays and Christmas excepted), it’s always a thrill to see something waiting . And there was.

Between several ordinary brown and white business envelopes was a small padded one. The edges had been slightly bent to fit it through the letterbox - but better that than a soggy parcel or a note to fetch it from the misnamed Delivery Office. It was the size and shape of a small book, though I wasn’t expecting one. But I recognised the handwriting immediately - something my mother trained me to attempt before opening any letter or parcel, though I’m not sure why. It was addressed with black felt tip pen, in capital letters that were slightly slanted, though written horizontally across the envelope. It was prefixed by a charmingly angled - and redundant - “To”.

I picked it up, noting the weight of what did indeed feel like a book, cushioned by the smooth lumpiness of a Jiffy bag. There’s always the temptation to pop the bubbles , but first, I had to open it, gently squeezing my little finger under the seal, in the hope of being able to reuse the envelope. Inside, there was a postcard, a DVD - and a book. A distinctively perfumed book. I felt a shadow of guilt at not remembering the conversation which must have given rise to this unexpected gift. I opened the pages…

I opened the pages and read a whole stream-of-consciousness novel (if "novel" is the right word) like this, describing the minutiae of a single lunch hour, during which the nameless narrator has to buy shoe-laces. He documents “the undocumented daily texture of our lives”, and textures feature strongly. Everything he sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches is recorded, triggering rambling diversions about office etiquette, seminal childhood experiences, and the aesthetics, usability, and impact of the design of simple, quotidian tools and machines (milk cartons, paper towels versus a “hazards of disease machine”, staplers, vending machines, shoe-laces, escalators, ear-plugs, paper versus plastic straws). It's rather like observational stand-up comedy. Everything is described with reference to at least two senses. In contrast, the time he was mugged is worth only a few words.

In some chapters, a single footnote covers several pages - as long as the chapter itself - an original and creative conceit that I mostly enjoyed. The joke grew a little tired towards the end, but Baker saved it by the chutzpah of a lengthy footnote about the “luxuriant incidentalism of the footnotes” .

If you enjoyed this review, read the source that inspired it.


¹ This may be 2016, but I have only ever seen bin men. I feel I ought to use a more gender-neutral term, but the word is firmly embedded in my mind from childhood excitement(!) at watching them come and go. For now, it seems accurate, despite the advent of wheelie-bins lessening the physical demands of the role. I wonder if the continued use of such a term serves to entrench the apparent male-exclusivity of the role, albeit one that few women might want.

² I never know whether it uses more fuel to switch off and restart the car, or to leave it running for a few moments. Perhaps I should investigate. There must be websites and apps for such things. (In this specific case, at the end of a quiet residential cul-de-sac, I never worry about someone leaping into my car and driving away.)

³ Smugness is a nasty emotion, but I indulged it a little when I recalled my suggested design, at 45 degrees to the house, which would also be parallel with the street, being dismissed by the paver, only to be proven right when he checked the angles. I like the finished result.

Excessive excitement at seeing post is, I think, related to boarding school. Away from home, before the internet, with phone calls brief and rare, any missive from the outside was a thrill. My mother’s enthusiasm probably sprang from that, and was infectiously instilled in my brother and me even before we were despatched to discover its importance for ourselves.

Three possible reasons come to mind:
1. To build the anticipation (boarding school again?).
2. To hone detective skills (which raises the question of when and why they might be useful).
3. As practice, because so many family members have barely legible handwriting.

Popping the bubbles of a Jiffy bag is far less tempting than those of a sheet of bubble wrap: the paper backing makes successful squeezing harder to achieve and dulls any resulting sound. A secondary factor is that popping a few bubbles of a Jiffy bag condemns the whole thing to the dustbin (I wonder if bin men are ever tempted to pop things), whereas popping the corner of a piece of bubble wrap merely means cutting off a small piece, and keeping the rest.

Footnotes are necessary because “the outer surface of truth is not smooth, welling and gathering from paragraph to shapely paragraph, but is encrusted with a rough protective bark of citations, quotation marks, italics… the anticipatory pleasure of sensing with peripheral vision… a gray silt of further example and qualification waiting in tiny type at the bottom.”



• “Shoes are the very first adult machines we are given to master.”

• Creases in shoes “like the line of the heart and the line of the head in palmistry”.

• “Since the pervasion of carpeting, all you hear when people walk by are their own noises - the flap of their raincoats, the jingle of their change, the squeak of their shoes, the fficient little sniffs they make to signal to us and to themselves that they are busy and walking somewhere for a very good reason.”

• The pleasure of sweeping, “as if I were putting each chair leg and caster and doorjamb in quotation marks, made me see these familiar features of my room with freshened receptivity”.

• “The nuances of signature placement” on a card for a colleague, when working in a hierarchical company.

• Traffic “nicely spaced: close enough to create a sense of fellowship and shared purpose, but not close enough to make you think that you couldn’t swerve exuberantly into another lane at any time”.

• A milk carton “gracefully uses the means of closure as the means of dispensation”.

• “Trigger vibratiuncles of comparison.” (Vibratiuncle = A minuscule or slight vibration.) I also learned tribology (the study of friction, wear, lubrication, and the design of bearings; the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion) and opusculum (a small or minor literary or musical work).

• Mugs have replaced cups because mugs have “larger handles allowing a pluralism of grasps” and “have become places for people to proclaim allegiances”.

• “This renewing of newness” as a vending machine operates, “is one of the greatest sources of happiness the man-made world can offer”. Hmm.

• “Individual white fulsomenesses” of popcorn (I like the fact the final word is plural).

• CVS pharmacies: “a whole chain dedicated to making available the small, expensive, highly specialized items that readied human bodies for human civilization… Mixing so many kinds of privateness together in one public store.”

Final Thoughts

• Being alone in an elevator is “a unique moment of true privacy” in an otherwise public space. When it occurs, why not take creative advantage of it?!

• Maybe it's no coincidence Baker chose a foot-related theme (shoe-laces) for a footnote-heavy book?

• The trademark attention to detailed sensations that works so well here, was more of a distraction in his sex-chat novel, Vox, which I've reviewed HERE.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,374 reviews3,191 followers
August 4, 2021
The head of the main hero is fraught with such outright trash and garbage he keeps mentally digesting that he has no time to live his life.
…the pursuit of truth doesn’t have clear outer boundaries: it doesn't end with the book; restatement and self-disagreement and the enveloping sea of referenced authorities all continue.

When truth is bleary, the pursuit of truth becomes even blearier…
One has enough time to consume merchandise and information but one hardly has enough time to start living.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,162 reviews9,030 followers
August 24, 2010
As I read/battled with/was exasperated by/yelled at/finally accepted/was tickled pink by/was strangely transformed by Nicholson Baker’s utterly brilliant not-really-a-novel various thoughts went off in my brain and made snapping cracking noises like ice breaking. It’s one of the world’s thoughtiest books, even though it’s really quite tiny, but they’re not thoughts like Einstein or Wittgenstein or Stephen Hawking, they're all eensy-weensy thoughts, it’s more like being attacked by a slow but relentless army of tiny little geeks with pincers like red ants all over everything geeking everything to bits, in your desk drawer, in your stationery, in your toilet, all these thoughts everywhere but at the same time very statelily expressed, very demure, with many graceful clauses, like Henry James osmosised a technical manual, a kind of iciness and a charm, particularly when talking about his inability to urinate if another man is standing next to him in the office urinal, and straws and pencils, O God all these things you really never wanted to think about much.

I’ve had to buy about four copies of The Mezzanine because I lend them and I don’t get them back. This book made me break one of my two rules of book lending, which are :

1. Never lend anyone a book. Don't do it.

2. Never borrow a book from anyone. Don't do it.

Number 1 is easily explained – you’ll never get it back and if you do this person who eagerly seized it and claimed that she wished to do nothing other than devote her next waking moments to reading it six months later will not only not have done so but will have forgotten that she borrowed it and where she put it. And maybe forgotten who the hell you are, too. As for rule number two, I have met a few people who read one book a year and then wish to immediately lend it to me because they know I like books – yes, I do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I like all books, and I really don’t want to read Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab.

Anyway, yes, The Mezzanine. Lovely.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
1,996 reviews3,971 followers
March 7, 2011
Whenever I get onto a train I look for the seat farthest from other passengers as possible. If I’m going to read, I need silence, or near silence—I need at least five or six seats distance. Finding the right seat is an exact science. This night, coming home from a concert, I enter the car and there are people spread at an infuriating equidistance apart, almost positioned on purpose at four-seat gaps to upset my four-to-six gap rule. I walk past a few shaggy night-people, including a man lurking at the back who wants to rape me.

Once I’ve passed people walking up the aisle, I don’t want to turn around and go back if the seat situation is more favourable where I came from. I don’t want my behaviour to appear to these passengers, who watch you out of boredom, as odd, and I don’t want it to seem as though I’m dithering because I’m somehow repelled by their presence.* It’s important to have this sensitivity on a night train, when all passengers are potential rapists and murderers, until proven otherwise.

So I find a seat on the left row in between two solo passengers, with a gap of about three seats in front and two seats behind, with another man two seats ahead on the right row. There’s a group of women conducting a conversation up ahead, their voices quiet at first but getting louder from time to time, competing with the rattle of the train as it speeds up. This will pose the greatest threat to my undisturbed reading of the Nicholson Baker.

The Mezzanine requires concentrated reading and is not ideal for trains. It’s ideal front room reading.* The book’s protagonist discusses the exaggerated minutiae of certain trivial aspects of his life, from shoelaces to escalator etiquette, to the value of paper towels over hand driers, each topic getting more and more detailed until it becomes absurd comedy, Flann O’Brien style. I read for a few moments before a large giggle hits my ears from across the train. The women misled me. I had expected late-night sleepy train talk, instead I got a rowdier bunch, with one blonde shrieker the ringleader.

I push on, but it becomes impossible. My ears are picking up threads in the conversation, following the repeated half-drunk drivel about some bloke being a dick and someone needing to phone someone and tell him something about being a dick or something because he shouldn’t have said that, whoever he is, the dick. It becomes useless to keep reading knowing this will go on and on, this dick and this phoning of. There are frustrating lurches in the conversation when the woman shuts up, but almost invariably, she will start talking again when I get into a long sentence, forcing me to backtrack and read it again.

There are further dilemmas. I don’t have the greatest eyesight, and the lights on Scotrail trains are diffuse and dim. So reading the footnotes becomes a chore for me, trying to follow these complex sentences in the tiny font under appalling lights, and the darkness outside offers no additional help. I don’t want to bring the book right up close to my eyes, as that can effect my long-range vision, so I have to squint a little or focus really hard. If I’m focusing my eyes, I’ll stop focusing my brain, meaning I’m reading but not taking in the words, their meaning or what’s being said. So there’s no emotional response: no laughter, merely slavish word-counting. There is no point reading like this.

As the train picks up people from other stops, the pressure of concentrating my mind and my eyes becomes impossible, so I stop reading and wait until the women get off. When they do, I start reading again. At the next stop, the paranoia that a psychopath has boarded the train and wants to rape me in the bum becomes so great, I have to look up and make a quick assessment of the new passenger, check his psycho credentials. If he sits behind me, which he does, of course, I’ll have to keep one hand on my possessions, in case he should slide a hand through the half-inch seat gap and steal my valuables. (Or go for my penis).

When the inevitable happens, and I’m alone in the train with a man behind me, I get too paranoid and start thinking about rape and how terrible it might be to get raped tonight. I start thinking how awful it must be to be a woman and be paranoid about getting raped, but here I am, an ugly man, thinking about getting raped, so I’m there already. All I need are the breast implants. There’s no point reading now, not with rape and death on the cards. I start to get a little dour, thinking about other problems—financial, personal, familial—making each problem into something huge and insurmountable, until I can’t stand to even hold the book, so depressed and self-involved have I become in those four minutes.

Soon it’s time to get off. My only concern then is getting away from the rapists. All fourteen of them. Fast.


* This may be the case, depending on the smell of alcohol or cigarettes coming from each passenger. If there’s an especial stink, I will make allowances and escape to the next compartment, if available, or the farther end, if not.

* There are three categories of books: those to be read with extreme patience and concentration in my front room, with next to no sounds except outside traffic or my girlfriend clawing at her keyboard. (Ideally she wouldn’t be in the room, but I read a great deal, and we do live together, so it isn’t exactly plausible to get her to leave while I read. I could try, though.) The other two are bedtime reads: books that can be read while dozing off (to help dozing off). The other can be read on trains: potboilers, thrillers, etc.

Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,648 followers
February 10, 2017
"The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principle subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book, which he has too diligently studied."
- Samuel Johnson


Too fat, fat you must cut lean.
You got to take the elevator escalator to the mezzanine,
Chump, change, and it's on, super bon bon
Super bon bon, Super bon bon.
Soul Coughing, Super Bon Bon Lyrics

This book is a literary scrimshaw of the mundane. It is basically a man breaking his shoe lace, using an office urinal, taking the escalator down to the first floor, visiting the CVS, buying a cookie and milk, and riding the escalator back up. That is it. I've totally ruined the plot for you. Sorry. The rest is just filigree and details fracturing and fractaling into discussions of straws, milk cartons, urinals, urination, papertowls, escalator etiquette, etc. This is Proust expanding on a urinal cake instead of a madeleine. This is a micro Ulysses. This is deuteroscopy of dust.

I remember first being exposed to Nicholson Baker right after I left high school. I read The Fermata and Vox, two of Baker's early literotic efforts*. Vox was made famous because, if I remember right Bill Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky a copy of Vox in celebration of their phone sex. Anyway, this novel isn't one of Baker's dirty bits. It is just an exploration of details of bits. I think it was Stephen King who once remarked that Baker book Vox was a “meaningless little finger paring.” But that is really where Baker's genius lies. All those forgotten parings, those little details can be infinitely described. Like Microcosmos, you lower the glass and look at sand, or salt, or grass and you become lost in a whole new world. Baker glances at an escalator and describes a universe.

* There was a period right after HS when I was very entertained by sexy, literary writing (Nin, Miller, etc).
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
850 reviews2,087 followers
November 8, 2016
Tantric Yank

This novella almost felt like having tantric sex with Sting.

If it had lasted any longer, it would have become tedious. So, at 135 pages, it was just the right length. Nicholson Baker set out his goals and demonstrated his ability to achieve them, but he stopped just before either he or we lost interest in the whole project.

Semen and Shoelaces

What was he trying to achieve? As often happens, Baker gave us some insight in the book itself:

"Observe, in short, how transient and trivial is all mortal life; yesterday a drop of semen, tomorrow a handful of spice and ashes."

"Manifestly, no condition of life could be so well adapted for the practice of philosophy as this in which chance finds you today!"

"Chance found me that day having worked for a living all morning, broken a shoelace, chatted with Tina, urinated successfully in a corporate setting, washed my face, eaten half of a bag of popcorn, bought a new set of shoelaces, eaten a hot dog and a cookie with some milk; and chance found me now sitting in the sun on a green bench, with a paperback on my lap. What, philosophically, was I supposed to do with that."

The Minutiae of Quotidian Life

The narrator, Howie, tells us about one day in his life at work, which is on the mezzanine floor of a city building accessible only by escalators (once you've passed the corporate bathrooms and vending machines in the hallway).

Howie is fascinated by the minutiae of quotidian life. In the "felt periphery of life", everything becomes an object of attention, scrutinised with all the enthusiasm of microscopy. It's almost as if he's trying to outnumber and supersede his childhood enthusiasms, his nostalgia-driven memories and the sentimental distortions of his youth.

The Kink in the Child

Despite his admiration for grown-up ideas, there are no real moments of sublimity. Most of the novella smacks of childish kinkiness. When I started reading it, for some reason I thought Nicholson Baker was English. As a result, I thought I detected an element of Post-Modern Lad-Lit. However, I soon realised that he was American. Nevertheless, the same comic tone is there, and maturity is only hinted at belatedly.

Still, I'd settle for humour any day. It saves the novella from sinking under the weight of its own authorial earnestness, something Howie's mother was sensitive to:

"My mother found it affected and irritating and thought I should stop."

Incentradental as Anything

Howie's preoccupation with the mundane protects him from the drudgery and demands of work life:

"While the problems you were paid to solve collapse, the nod of the security guard, his sign-in book, the escalator ride, the things on your desk, the sight of colleagues' offices, their faces seen from characteristic angles, the features of the corporate bathroom, all miraculously expand; and in this way what was central and what was incidental end up exactly reversed."

This confusion of the central and the incidental is reflected in the structure of the novel, as well as its subject matter.

The Subdued Tantalisation of Footnotes

The minute particulars of miscellanea are supplemented by extensive footnotes, some of which extend to four pages, and comprise a "luxurious incidentalism" which offers the reader a "subdued tantalisation":

"Footnotes are the finer-suckered surfaces that allow tentacular paragraphs to hold fast to the wider reality of the library...

"Let me not be censured for mentioning such minute particulars. Everything relative to so great a man is worth observing."

The Mezzanine Odyssey

Howie is no hero, or at least he is only a modern day hero, whose journey to work, "gliding up the long hypotenuse" of the escalator to his mezzanine destination, is the tongue in cheek equivalent of Ulysses' mythic Odyssey and James Joyce's Modernist tribute to it.
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
666 reviews543 followers
May 4, 2021
43rd book of 2021. Artist for this review is Andy Warhol.

I actually read a deconstruction of this novel last year in Jane Alison’s impressive book Meander, Spiral, Explode, which is about story structures (an exceptional book for any budding writer of literary fiction, I think). A friend on here then mentioned it as a favourite of hers, and indeed, we gave one another recommendations. She recommended me this, and I recommended her the stories of Bruno Schulz. I’ve been slightly slower on getting to her recommendation than I normally would as I’ve avoiding this novel: The Mezzanine is rife with footnotes and as I’ve been reading Infinite Jest, I couldn’t bear to tackle two novels with footnotes/endnotes at the same time. I recently finished the latter and could finally read this with peace of mind. And here we are again [1].

“Marilyn Diptych”—1962

The Mezzanine has a very matter-of-fact tone and the entire novel is based on a man buying shoelaces and standing on an escalator in his office and thinking about a lot of things like straws, ice cube trays, vinyl records, bags, urinating, milk cartons, etc. All mundane things of the everyday world. And Baker's prose many things at once: crisp, humorous, irritating, boring; four pages are dedicated to milk cartons, a giant footnote to ice cube trays in their minute detail and usage, straws, described in such detail, and with such care, one would think they are reading about the Battle of Waterloo from Hugo again. But that is just the point. And why I am going to call upon [2] Alison's deconstruction again.

Alison states that "The Mezzanine" is indeed a miniature mock epic with a classic storyline: our hero has a problem to solve, he goes on a quest, and by the end he is near resolution. The difference, of course, is that we're talking about a broken shoelace. Mock epic calls Ulysses to mind, for me, usually, but now we have a miniature version, which is fitting as Baker's protagonist considers so many things to proverbial microscopic size. As she also says, This book does that [elevates the ordinary objects] for daily life, defamiliarizing the ordinary, making us see the "trivial". And we can't help but wonder why we are reading pages and pages about whatever it is Howie is thinking about in meticulous detail. A lot of fiction comes down to this question—why?—as many novels are, in turn, constructed because of this question, the universe-probing, Why? Alison claims that it comes down to this:
Progression, not regression. Going upward and forward, not down or back. I think ultimately this miniature novel contains a metanarrative: our Howie as postmodern Encyclopedist, believing in mind and progress. That is why the "vehicle of this memoir" is an escalator, and why that escalator is going not down but up. This is, I think, a mock-yet-earnest document of the Ascent of Man.

I'm glad I read her thoughts before reading the novel, as something to ponder throughout my stay in Howie's fastidious mind. I was going to quote some of his detailed thoughts on straws and napkins and whatever else but they are, funnily enough, too long to try and capture in full. Even one of the most humorous bits, a table that outlines all of Howie's "Subject[s] of Thought" by the "Number of Times Thought Occurred per Year (in descending order)", is far too long. And besides, why ruin the maddening hilarity/frustration of reading it?

"Pistolas, Cuchillos, Cruces"—Date Not Known [3]

[1] It seems funny that I am writing footnotes into a review again, but there’s really no avoiding it. Using footnotes again is funny simply because I’ve just used them in my Infinite Jest review. Of course when we read footnotes, mostly, we find ourselves slightly frustrated and impatient. The footnote looks so incredibly academic and tedious. It’s also not what we are reading: the book itself continues so temptingly above as we pooter about below, feeling as if we are missing the “true” novel above. Baker defies this somewhat as the footnotes are enjoyable, and, really, not too dissimilar from the actual plot (for which there isn’t really any sign of). Footnotes can be enjoyable, I’ve learnt. But what I’ve also learnt is how fun they are to use. I’ve used them in an academic sense, yes, throughout my BA and MA, I used footnoting in my essays. One professor of mine thought they were ugly and I’ve always disagreed. In an academic sense, they are very attractive and fitting. In a novel, they take some getting used to. But using them now in my reviews is almost addictive. The brain works, in a way, in footnotes, thoughts coming off thoughts, by association. If such a thought strikes me in Word, like the root of this very footnote, I press “References” on my upper-toolbar, and then press “Insert Footnote”, a button which is adorned with the letters “a” and “b” in lowercase and then a small number “1” footnote beside them. On pressing this, the eye is snatched from said button and back to the document, where a fresh, posing footnote awaits for our use. There is no way of using footnotes properly on Goodreads and so I make do by pressing “[”, then the number, for example, “1” and finally “]” again. By favouring the footnote we are celebrating the mind’s wonderful offshoot-thoughts, the ones that ping us from memory to memory and allow us to create a giant, fully-operational, internal universe of synapses.

[2] Figuratively speaking. I won't actually "call upon" Alison. Though, "call upon" is a funny term, meaning to visit someone, rather than to "call" by telephone. There are many odd subtleties like this in the English language that one can't help but notice. For example: Why do you get into a car but sit on a bus? And why do you sit in an armchair but sit on a sofa/couch? Maybe the idea of sitting in a sofa with someone else seems a little too intimate, whereas one normally sits alone in an armchair, unless you have an overbearing significant other who insists on sitting on your lap or in the armchair with you rather than finding their own seat to sit on. Two in an armchair makes sense, with such weight, the armchair essentially does swallow you both. A sofa has less give, maybe, too. The high arms of an armchair give the impression you are somewhat in it, whereas the sofa, with lower arms, allows one to sit higher, atop it, like a bench. That of course also depends on the type of sofa. The last sofas my parents had were leather, old, peeling, and showing a light brown through the once-rich leather brown. When you sat on these, one did end up in, they sagged so much that you could almost hear an audible exhale from it. I came to think of it as sitting in them as they attempt to consume you. Then, the armchair, also worn and old leather, was even worse. You didn't sit in the armchair, you fell into it. So these pieces of leather furniture subverted the commonly accepted prepositions; you sat in the sofa and fell into the armchair. They have been replaced, and harmony prevails once more on that front.

[3] Warhol is here, really, thanks to a quote from the Independent: "Andy Warhol would have loved this book: he would have bought 2,000 copies, just for a laugh. Everybody else should make do with just the one." I agreed with the Warholian feel of the novel. It also, this quote, proved to a thought-springboard, which also, proves a point I made earlier sometime about thoughts having offshoots. As I was reading, oddly, the Lou Reed song "New York Telephone Conversation" kept pinging into my head because (1) this is set in New York so it's fitting in that way and (2) it's sort of the same silliness, I think, but both are obviously talking about something a little bit bigger than there apparent (transparent) silliness. Lou's song is about the ridiculousness of modern day life, New York life—Ooh my, and what shall we wear, ooh my, and who really cares?—and Baker's, well, we've discussed that. Also, Lou Reed knew Andy Warhol very well of course and thank goodness what with us getting The Velvet Underground out of that, and I was thinking about Warhol anyway because of the aforementioned quote and because the plasticine-looking hotdog on the cover of my edition was also reminding me of that video where Warhol just sits and eats a hamburger for 4 minutes and 27 seconds (well, not exactly, for there is some opening of hamburger and some staring at the end and the "Um, I'm Andy Warhol and I just finished eating a hamburger.") And then, thinking of musicians from Lou Reed, this Warhol piece reminds me The Beatles song "Happiness is a Warm Gun", one of my favourites because (1) it involves sex, violence and drugs all in one and (2) it's from The White Album, my favourite Beatles album and (3) because Lennon's vocals at the end are transcendent. (I said all this almost verbatim the other day to a friend in a Beatles discussion.) And besides, The White Album is a crazy postmodern album that fits perfectly with The Mezzanine, a crazy postmodern novel. Offshoots.
Profile Image for Megha.
79 reviews1,047 followers
April 14, 2011

I feel bad about giving this book only two stars. Because Baker is a good writer. No, not just good, he is quite brilliant. It can't be easy to write a book about everyday life's nothingness. But Baker pulls it off. The novel is written in a stream-of-consciousness kind of manner, except the thoughts aren't incomplete or muddled up. The writing is perfectly articulate. Baker flows from one thought to another very smoothly. You know there are times when we find ourselves thinking of something, but can't remember what train of thoughts led us there. This book too has that kind of a feel, to an extent. On the whole, I doubt if this could have been written any better.


Yawwwwwnnnnnnn. It is a very tedious read. The narrator is in awe of every not-at-all-fascinating thing that we barely ever pay a thought to. And all these mundane things are described in excruciating detail. The kind of things that he discusses at length include why plastic straws are the way they are, what makes shoe laces wear out, the art of tying shoelaces, why it is better to cut a toast diagonally, staplers, milk cartons, garbage trucks and lot more. How to put on deodorant after he was fully dressed, shoe tying etc. count as life-changing lessons for him. There might have been some pieces that I found funny or interesting. I liked how the narrator would often re-visit his childhood days and build up on his thoughts from back then. In-spite of that it was just too tiring to read, even when I started skipping sentences.

I can't help but wonder about the narrator's sanity. Such over-analysis of anything and everything can easily drive him crazy. Perhaps a career counselor should have directed him to a research lab so that he would have something to occupy his mind with. But given how easily he is fascinated, he might have died of excitement on his own discovery/invention. Had this dude been born in an older era, stuff like discovery of fire or invention of wheel would have totally blown his fuse off.

I am still somewhat curious to see how Baker concludes the novel. I found a few 5-star reviews where the readers seemed to have found it a tedious read, but ended up liking it 5-stars worth. May be I should finish it after all, but am not sure if it going to be worth the effort.
I might pick up another book by Baker in distant future, but warily. He will have to go through a more thorough background check before he gets a place on my bookshelf again.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 35 books429 followers
October 31, 2019
This is awesome!!

There was an engineering gathering at my company's business centre today. I had an enjoyable chat with my manager about why one cup shape was appropriate for coffee and another for tea. A new employee held up a wine glass and explained to me how he would go about 3D modelling it--a favourite pastime of his. (So, how appropriate is this book's cover, honestly?!)

This short "novel's" protagonist is just like the people I work with, whose main source of joy is everyday innovation. He gives a brief history of the ice tray. He gives theories on the tensile strength of his shoelaces and ponders the lastability of ice skates. He just can't get enough of everyday objects, routines and people.

I'm an engineer, and my dad, though he worked in advertising, had a civil engineering degree and loved to obsess over the perfect Post-It note, the optimised sellotape drawer, the ideal jacket pocket. His "taste tests" were legendary: are eggs best poached or baked? Scrambled or fried? Square white toast or triangular brown toast? Reading this made me feel like there was, is, always has been and always will be an international community of delighted quotidian obsessors. It made me feel like other people carry his torch in the world and are loved for the same reason I loved my dad.

All of us are beneficiaries of the obsessions of such people, whose little innovations make our days just a little easier and more efficient. Baker has given such people a voice--though they were all probably perfectly content without one <3
Profile Image for Edward.
414 reviews389 followers
January 9, 2018
Whatever happened to predictability
The milkman, the paperboy, evening TV
How did I get delivered here
Somebody tell me, please
This old world's confusing me

The corporate environment has changed a lot since 1990. These days, memos are no longer circulated in hard copy, and the stapler is something of an arcane object. The world has moved on. We no longer lament the loss of the milkman or paper straws (who knew that straws used to be made from paper!) But many things remain the same: the implicit rules of coworker acknowledgement, elevator etiquette, the bathroom awkwardness. Baker obsessively explores these minutiae of everyday interactions in an astute and entertaining way. The book is filled with observations such as this: (have you ever noticed that) while women will say "oops", men will almost always say it in the singular, as "oop". This is a 100% true fact, and something that I've never consciously noticed.

Mezzanine is a little bit Seinfeld, a little bit David Foster Wallace, maybe a little bit Gurion Maccabee, but different enough to all of those to be its own thing. A fun and unique little novel.

Note: In case you couldn't place it, the opening quote is from the theme to the 90s sitcom, Full House, which for some reason kept intermittently popping into my head while reading this book.
Profile Image for Daisy.
169 reviews56 followers
January 8, 2022
The last but one book I read Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age I disliked because I opined that I did not like the stream of consciousness narrative device and here I am giving a stream of consciousness novella a 5 star review.
What changed? Well for one thing this book is very, very funny. It owes a nod to Proust; a simple event causes a sequence of memories but I took it to be a cheeky riposte . We know the memories in Proust are set off by the scent of madeleines but Baker pricks that conceit,

“…if you open a Band-Aid box, it will exhale a smell…that will shoot you directly back to when you were four – although I don’t trust this olfactory memory trick anymore,”

They are not memories of depth, of profundity, of love and sun-dappled childhood days but more the chain reaction of mundane musings on the insignificant events that fill the majority of a life.
We share a single hour of a man’s life, a work day afternoon where like every other day he takes the escalator to and from his mezzanine office to get lunch and fresh air only this day is the day his shoelace breaks. This shoelace, his quest to buy a replacement pair and his need to understand why both shoelaces have broken within 28 hours of each other after 2 years of wear causes ruminations on all sorts of things, men’s bathroom etiquette, dryers versus paper towels, the loading of napkin dispensers in fast food chains, the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, milk containers, vinyl records, the financial fortunes of Penguin publishers to name a few. The thread tying these random thoughts together is aptly the shoe lace and his need to find out whether it is the tying or the walking that causes the wear and tear.
The layout of the book is much like the way the mind works, throwaway comments elicit long footnotes of asides. Reading them is like having your train of thought derailed and then having to find your way back onto your original track with scant understanding of how you managed to get so sidetracked but they are a pleasure to read. Take this example when Howie finds a study into the wear and tear on ropes,

“Degradation patterns were now being assembled! Iyiyi! Aside from deciding, very briefly, that I had to quit my job and apprentice myself to this exciting project…”

It’s the ‘Iyiyi’ that makes it for me and bears some responsibility for the fact that I had fallen in love with Howie in the short time it took him to pop out and get his laces.
This is an absolute gem of a book and I am in awe of the genius that produced it. Definitely in my list of greatest books ever written.
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,394 followers
April 14, 2013
This book is so good. It's about something I've wondered about and been fascinated by but have remained unable to articulate for almost my entire life: how the material culture and physical environment of our time and place shape human experience. I've been interested in that idea since I was a little kid but have never understood how to conceptualize it clearly.

At the moment I can't think of many things more exciting than discovering a novel that addresses a huge question you've had for so long that you've stopped noticing you wanted it answered. It's kind of the best thing in the world. I feel a guardedly renewed faith in fiction, and by extension, the world.
Profile Image for Christopher.
643 reviews209 followers
July 29, 2014
It is three forty-three in the morning and I stand over a changing table. My naked newborn child lays on his back on the concave cushion and I hold his feet together above him so that he does not kick himself or drag his feet through his own feces. I slide a new, clean diaper underneath the dirty one, then grab and pull the dirty one out from under him. I wrap the dirty diaper around itself, making a tight little ball that contains and prevents any leakage with some unknown combination of soft, cottony paper and an absorbant substance. I fold the yellow tabs around to seal it all in and press it into the open lid of the Diaper Genie, an alien spaceship-like thing that opens and swallows and digests within itself all the stink and mess of an infant's expulsive habits. I wrestle the new diaper around straining legs, slightly anxious over the prospect getting this far in the process and having a pale yellow stream of urine find its way onto my shirt, arms, and child and having to repeat the whole thing. I fold the yellow tabs from back to front, binding to the top of Big Bird's head with something not unlike velcro.

For it being so early in the morning, I am unaccountably awake and fixated on those yellow tabs. They are ingenious, completely practical things. The type of thing that deserves italicization in virtue of its utter importance and the general nonrecognition of that importance, like flanges or paper perforations. Nicholson Baker is the crowned king of these things, the minutiae of everyday life. There's a moment in this book when the narrator recalls a habit of his as a child: he would sweep his garage floor as clean as possible and place in its center an old, rusty, mundane object, such as a railroad spike. Within a blank field, the railroad spike became an object worthy of note and attention. This is the author's express purpose for this novel, to take the mundane and to make it an interesting object of the reader's attention. By placing shoelaces within the white pages of a book, he gives them meaning.

He can, and does, spend pages ruminating upon the production and use of drinking straws. (Which is better, a paper or plastic straw? How annoying it is when a straw floats up in a can of coke and hangs limply out of mouth's reach. How the development of the plastic straw influenced the design of plastic lids on fast food fountain drink cups.) He can, and does, dissect in tedious detail the decision to ask for a small paper bag with the purchase of a single-serving carton of milk. (Of course, this decision traces back to his years as a young man buying Penthouse magazines from a cute cashier at a convenience store, a purchase necessitating a paper bag, as well as the time he refused a freely offered paper bag, an act for which he feels a certain amount of guilt. He does not, however, tell us whether the milk was whole, skim, two-percent, soy, or otherwise.)

This might or might not sound interesting to you. For me, it's fascinating, but I'm the type of person who may sit at the breakfast table long after I've drained my cereal bowl, hand on chin, contemplating the various mechanisms used to pour liquids from their respective containers. (The gabled, folding flaps of a milk carton from my childhood, since replaced by a plastic spigot with a screw-on and -off lid, no doubt designed to create a better seal than its predecessor. The folding metal spout on the cylindrical Morton's salt box, attached by a single staple.) Much like the protagonist, I'm likely to space out on the ride up the escalator to my office, turning what could be a single paragraph or sentence (I stepped onto the escalator, which carried me up to the mezzanine and to my office beyond) into a novella-length narrative.

My sincerest concern here is how did the author get so deep into my brain? How does he know the thoughts that I've thought so many times? And how was he able to record my thought processes so very accurately, following the same mental digressions that have captivated my mind so very often?

Not everyone can appreciate a book that seriously states, "The ice cube tray deserves a historical note." I, for one, love it.
Author 3 books339 followers
October 26, 2013
Published in 1986, The Mezzanine will have special resonance for anyone of my generation and above, with its deliciously accurate descriptions of Prell commercials, cigarette vending machines, and other recently gone extinct species of our culture. As a 27-year-old experimental novel, I was afraid the style might be dated, but quite the opposite: I think readers today might feel this book's reverence for the physical world, even a late 20th-century American physical world dominated by franchises and cheesy corporate culture, even more deeply and sincerely than they did upon this book's publication.

It is probably the happiest book of literary fiction I've ever read. One can interpret the chipper tone of the narrator's voice cynically, as someone so hopped up on his meds that he claims to feel "honored" to work at a place with a working paper towel dispenser. Indeed, references to chronic insomnia and an itemized list of thoughts that includes things like "Friends, don't have any" and "People are very dissimilar" suggest that Baker is not a zen, yoga your pain away kind of fellow. But his book still left me feeling happy and connected to the world, go figure.

What is the mezzanine? Purgatory? The mortal coil? A place to work and daydream? The middle stretch of one's life, between youth and old age?

It's a funny peculiar, sporadically jeenyus book with delightful crisp prose that doesn't overstay its welcome, that's what.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 7 books1,480 followers
March 7, 2017
Wow did I love this - I think the concept, which is relatively easily understood (a man on an escalator has a series of thoughts about life's mundanities ), doesn't get across how funny this is, or how insightful. I laughed out loud at this book so often(the sharp analysis of the pleasures of vending machines, dispensers, footnotes, bathrooms, small-talk, cashiers) but I equally enjoyed the slow accumulation of facts about the protagonist's life and his constant dance across the surface of nostalgia. There's a joy to this that is too rare in writing- you can tell that Baker had a blast in writing it. And that's why I resist the Seinfeld comparison that's come up in quite a few reviews. This isn't a novel about nothing; it's about everything.
Profile Image for Debbie Ann.
Author 4 books10 followers
December 31, 2007
It's hard to rate this book, because on many levels it is brilliant. Just brilliant. Yet, lets just say, there is not much narrative tension and that is an understatement of the century.

The writer is hilarious. And the character, a complete nerd who cannot stop thinking about the most mundane daily activities that we all don't bother thinking about, is amazingly well developed in merely 120 pages.

So, basically it's about a man who leaves his office to find new shoelaces. That is the book. Along the way we read his thoughts, starting with the straw:

"I stared in disbelief the first time a straw rose up from my can of soda and hung out over the table, barely arrested by burrs in the underside of the metal opening. ....The whole point of straws, I had thought, was that you did not have to set down the slice of pizza to suck a dose of Coke while reading a paperback. I soon found,as many have, that there was a way to drink no-handed with those new floating straws:you had to bend low to the table and grasp the almost horizontal straw with your lips, steering it back down into the can..."

And on and on...We learn about shoelaces, vending machines and a lot, a bunch!, about the men's bathroom, down to the evolution of perforated toilet paper. It's hilarious, yet I found, as with all hilarious but mundane books, it could only be taken in small doses. I also found it was a great night read. If you cannot get to sleep, take a melatonin and pick up this book. At first you will laugh and laugh, then the voice (very well written) will kind of drone on and on about intricate details of nothingness, and your eyes will sag, your mind will turn off, and you will be asleeep. Your dreams will be about toilet paper, shoelaces, coffee cups and straws. You will not wake up.

It's good. Very funny. Very well written. This nerd is great, but I am glad it was short.

Profile Image for Sabra Embury.
144 reviews52 followers
May 27, 2011
The Mezzanine sent my head into over analytical floptwist; the relatable introspection, the crisp details, and oh geez god...the footnotes, from up to down to across and back up again.

Options explored with footnotes: 1) Stop mid sentence, read the footnotes, come back 2) finish the tangent, go back and read the footnotes 3) screw these footnotes.

But I never chose option 3 for fear that I might miss something crucial, regarding broken shoelaces, the buoyancy of paper straws, whistling in the men's room, or the killing of brain cells reinforcing a practical intelligence by scars and dendrites sprawled in exquisite exploration.

All on an escalator going up, in a lunch break. Nostalgia--minus the pining, which makes it pathetic. And nothing happens...aside from mild fractures resembling major breaks in epiphany. Or perhaps a noticeable glow in past and present's perception, casting a light over the reader, coupled with the odd desire to go through the voyeuristic afternoon trek all over again.
Profile Image for Hilda hasani.
115 reviews119 followers
January 11, 2020
به نظرم اگر فکر می کنید ذهن مریضی دارید که بی وقفه در حال تحلیل جزییات اشیا و اتفاقات اطرافتان و ارتباطشان با شماست حتما این کتاب را بخوانید! نویسنده کاملا بلد است چگونه خط روایت را گم نکند و چه جزییاتی را با چه وسواسی و کجا موشکافی کند. احتمالا رمانی نمی توانید پیدا کنید که پانوشت هایش هم به اندازه متن اصلی جذاب و خواندنی باشند. در نهایت فکر می کنم این کتاب رمانی همه پسند نیست. شاید اصلا رمان نیست! هرچیزی که هست یک خوب بزرگ و کمتر شناخته شده است.
7 reviews5 followers
August 23, 2007
I really loved this book. I've not read many novels since high school, and thus don't have a lot to compare it to, but I think it might now be my favorite book.

To give away the plot: Man rides up escalator, thinks about stuff. That's it -- no other characters, no "rising action," or whatever they called it in English class, but it's still dazzling and engaging. Nicholson Baker picks up little details and riffs on them, spending pages nesting digression within digression (with the aid of liberal footnoting), cumulatively highlighting how we're shaped by the minutiae of the world around us.

There was a great deal of recognizing myself in the main character's musings, and my enjoyment of this book may have been exaggerated by the fact that I could probably be diagnosed with OCD. But there are so many spot-on observations about things and people (in general), and the collision between the two, that I bet you'll like it, too. And like me, you may find you can't help but get swept up in the enthusiasm and wonder that Baker emits for everything in the world.

Anyway, highly recommended. I'll definitely be reading more Nicholson Baker.

(And, if you've read it, you'll appreciate this: A few weeks into my new job, the laces on both of my dress shoes broke in the same week! It was such a double coincidence (the laces with each other and the book) that I was almost glad they broke.)
Profile Image for Dan.
1,057 reviews52 followers
February 18, 2022
A precious novella. It is, at its core, a story about tedium. It is funny, insightful and inventive. The laughs occur at the right moments - right before your own mind wants to wander off thinking about an olive loaf.

There is something of all of us and our daily rituals that exists in this protagonist and that makes this story relatable. I should probably also say the protagonist is a bit of a sad sack. I can especially relate as I enter my fourth decade of corporate life so the trip up and down the escalator to the mezzanine is one I know well.

The reflections on the day our protagonist decides to brush his tongue to get rid of his bad breath or when he builds a chart to catalog his recurring thought frequencies were quite hilarious. For the record the brushing tongue thought came to his mind, he estimates, at least 400 times in the last year.

The detail of Baker's writing here is impressive and at times even poetic. In an odd way the story reminds me of the play 'Waiting for Godot' where the dramatic scene never unfolds and the anticipation and getting on with it is instead the story.

5 stars.
Profile Image for Mara.
81 reviews1 follower
May 23, 2010
I, too, have wondered, based on the handrail of an escalator moving faster than the steps, how often the handrail laps the steps! And I had to read the perforation footnote aloud to my puzzled husband trying to explain how perfect this book is, and how seriously funny it is and at the same time how the evocation of a texture of our lives -- like the perfect description of that satisfaction in the two-stage resistance of a stapler -- creates something that feels like nostalgia, but more substantial. I had read about this book enough times to know what to expect, I just didn't expect to find it moving. Also, bonus points for the footnote considering footnotes and talking about Marcus Aurelius and Boswell and Johnson, confirming that particular summer reading plan. I don't gush too much, right? Just, I loved this.
Profile Image for Dax.
226 reviews99 followers
September 7, 2020
Written in a manner to mimic the tangential nature of the human mind. Many of the topics covered are relatable for those of us who work office jobs, even thirty years after the book was written. I guess the corporate world has evolved very little over the last couple of decades. A little bit of dry humor (of course bathroom etiquette shows up here), but not as funny as I've heard claimed. I read a chapter here and there in the midst of a move, but I think the book would benefit from being read in a sitting or two. A strong three stars.
Profile Image for Marc Kozak.
250 reviews61 followers
March 10, 2012
Quite a brilliant little book, but possibly only because the author seems to live inside his own head as much as I do. What happens here is 120 pages of one man going to get shoelaces on his lunch break and coming back to the office. That's it. That's all that happens. The rest is commentary on just about every mundane activity that could possibly happen on such an "adventure." If you're already saying to yourself, "oh, one of THOSE books," bail out now. This isn't for you. And I certainly can't blame you.

The actual writing is excellent. Even if you were bored to tears, you could probably make it through this moderately entertained thanks to Nicholson's fantastic ability to create sentences. However, when I say this is about mundane activities, I really mean it. Nicholson gets super excited about things in life that no one ever thinks about, like the ridges on an escalator, or the evolution of straws, or even an extended hypotheses of how exactly a shoelace breaks. It's clever and hilarious and possibly profound, depending on your own ability to want to think about things like that. Like I said, I happen to think a lot about many many many pointless things, and at great length, so the fact that this was right up my alley is no surprise.

The only bad thing I can say is that a lot of this is pretty dated already, and will probably become even more so very quickly, as many thoughts are object-related, and many of the objects he is talking about either no longer exist, or I am too young to get the references. Really a minor complaint, but some parts are semi gloss overable because of it.

I never write in books, but this one made me take out a pencil and underline parts that made me smile. And there were a lot. For example:
-Concerning signing a check: I made the traditional long wavy mark after "and 00/100" on the dollar line, just as my parents had, and their parents had before them.
-The curve of incredulousness and resignation I rode out at that moment was a kind caused in life by a certain class of events, disruptions of physical routines, such as reaching a top step but thinking there is another step there, and stamping down on the landing.
-On filling an ice tray: You could fill the tray by running all the cells quickly under the tap, feeling as if you were playing the harmonica, or you could turn the faucet on very slightly, so that a thin silent stream of water fell in a line from the tap, and hold the tray at an angle, allowing the water to enter a single cell and well from there into adjoining cells one by one, gradually filling the entire tray.
-On something I myself LOVE to think about when regarding something crazy: For that short time, when but for its occupying my thoughts, it might not have been for those minutes under consideration by anyone else in the entire city, maybe even in the world.

As you can see, often times he is literally just describing something that is happening, but it is written in such a way as to make you nod and say to yourself, "yes, yes that is exactly what happens!"
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,041 followers
March 23, 2011
I am a child, according to The Mezzanine wonderer, if the end of adulthood is the end of childhood nostalgia as basis of comparison. I am a child. It was a time (it felt like the kind of forever when your mind wanders and you can't remember what you were doing before when you snap out of it. This is not a long book) before I let go of my old childhood definitions. I had a name for the "personality type" of the narrator: "Protected dork". They were awkward as I was in a way that society didn't touch. At least, they didn't seem to be bent under the pressure as I was (appearances can be deceiving, yet somehow it seems impossible they were familiar with bullying). The self concern with things like everything being just so. This guy is very much a "just so" kinda guy. Crisp shirts, underpants, the sounds of ball point pens. The importance of small talk. The ability to be made happy by small talk, as if that were the height to reach. Those are all hallmarks of the "protected dork" to me. (Related to the protected dork are people who eat tuna fish sandwiches. Check!) Maybe it isn't protected so much as it is stifled. I invented these terms because I was envious and scornful of the kids that were not bullied as I was, despite being tuna fish sandwich eaters and bug collectors. Their parents probably gave them strict bed times too. They never doubted finding a middling place in life. They'd get decent grades on tests (the only important part, right?) and never invent a story about anything.

It was uncomfortable to be in this head space. I still feel the self hatred for not being functional in day to day society as this guy is. He doesn't know the rules (more like tolerated small talk) but he's protected. They do not engage. I am forced to feel bad for the guy now. He's going to think way too much and get nowhere just as I'm getting nowhere. Sure, I like to think my stupid thoughts are better than shoelaces and straws. No way. I'm no better than he is. I'm just miserable, is all.

I don't feel normal reading other goodreads reviews of this book. Charming?! Says the book review quote on the back. I feel... squirmy.
Profile Image for Drew.
238 reviews121 followers
December 10, 2011
This is the first time I've read something that really reminded me of Wallace, without actually being something by Wallace. Baker's attention to detail is really impressive here, as it should be, since this novel is basically a celebration of attention to detail.

Ever wondered about the architectural similarities between locomotives, phonograph tonearms, and staplers? (I know nothing about phonograph tonearms, actually) How about the twilight age and slow death of bottled milk delivery? Or the inherent flaws in the logic and language of the As-I-Was-Going-To-St.-Ives riddle? Or, and this is the crux of the novel, the ins and outs of shoelace wear and tear?

Baker has wondered about all these things, and his narrator has drawn some interesting conclusions. And that's one draw of the book. The other, for me, is a richness of the everyday experience that I never got to experience, being a bit too young. I understand snack vending machines, but not cigarette machines. I've never seen paper straws. And though I do remember stapled CVS bags, plastic bags have been in widespread use for my whole life, so the minutiae concerning holding paper bags vs. plastic bags is, for me, largely academic.

I'm not making this book sound as good as it actually is. I know this because I tried to explain it to a friend, and he said, "That sounds fucking awful." But whatever. If you like David Foster Wallace, you'll most likely like this.
Profile Image for Jack Waters.
253 reviews94 followers
October 24, 2013
“I love the constancy of shine on the edges of moving objects” reads a footnote in Baker’s “The Mezzanine” and might as well describe the book in whole.

This is a novella-sized work that takes a reader far without length. Baker dives into observational consciousness and swims around just long enough to captivate without going overboard. I found myself at times laughing harder and yep-me-tooing over footnotes in a way that sometimes DF Wallace can’t even touch.

And but so that should tell you quite a bit.

Shoelaces, paper towels in restrooms, coffee mugs, drinking straws. This novel does service to these nouns in ways you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. You agree with his assessments, and in many cases credit yourself, ie “Yeah, I feel the same way!” He writes in the way that a friend can tease out the best humor in you; he knows how to access that Big Something, and he gift-wraps it for you.

Baker is thus either the master of our thoughts or the perfect conduit in which to apply attempts at brainwashed materials. It feels right, the way he writes. And reading’s an awfully enjoyable thing when it feels right.
Profile Image for Thomas.
210 reviews118 followers
December 12, 2017
I loved this kooky, obsessive book. It was like Baker was inside my brain.
Profile Image for Ian Scuffling.
140 reviews65 followers
December 29, 2020
This is one of those books that, when you're in a graduate fiction workshop, all of your fellow students and teachers boast and rave and rant about, and so, you, as a semi-petulant snobbish kind of person think, "oh, these fellow students have really bad taste, so this is probably a book I should skip," so you just go on living without reading it and being reminded of the people that were in you graduate fiction writing workshops every time you see it recommended somewhere in connection to your own reading habits, and then, some 10 years gone from graduate fiction workshops and those fellow students whose names you forget, but rather only recall the mean-spirited nicknames you had for them with your other semi-petulant snobbish kind of friends in the graduation fiction workshop program, you see the book pop up one more time, and you figure, well, it's not even 150 pages, so what harm could it do, and then you pick it up free, digitally, from your local library because there's a pandemic on, and getting physical books from the library probably isn't that risky, but it's almost Christmas and you're doing what you can to minimize contact with others before you see a truncated list of family members (who are also doing what they can to minimize contact with others before they see you), and you start reading the first few pages and go, "well, shit, I should have read this all those years ago."

Not only is Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine a hilarious, meticulously executed novel, it's a sharp-witted and incisive look into the conscious-life of an everyman, perhaps one who is a bit too obsessive, but an everyman nonetheless. And, like Proust's madeleine in his Search of Lost Time, so too does Baker's escalator kick off a long and deep exploration of memory, interrelations, correlations, compulsions, and a kind of catalogue of the mundane little everythings about all of our lives in an average, middle-of-the-road American life in a contemporary world.

The book is infectious in it's style, layering jokes upon jokes as the narrator divulges his idiosyncratic thoughts about everything from the value of paper towels in a corporate bathroom, to the types of bags you get at CVS, to the number of times a specific thought recurs over the course of a year. As far as the tastes of my former colleagues all those years ago in the graduate fiction workshop, broken clocks are right twice a day, or something?
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