The Mezzanine

Author Nicholas Baker
Published 1988
Rating 9/10
Status Finished on 2020-11-09

What a glorious book that I loved despite it being thirty pages too long (which is a thing to say, given that the book comes in at a tidy one hundred and forty.)

My love of the book, I think, is better captured in the highlights I made than in my talking about it, so I’ll be brief — but what a thing this is, In Search of Lost Time by way of American Psycho, a paean to the insanity and brilliance every modern person carries with them.

I was turned onto this book via Matt Levine’s profile in the NYT, who mentioned it as a revelation — as a kind of book one read’s and thinks “oh, so this is what books can be?” And that is fitting; I think if I read this in high school my mind would have been blown. I’ve read enough modernist prose to not be overwhelmed by the sheer concept, but the writing here is still beautiful and masterful and only a little overlong.

Read this book! It is very fun and, even if your defenses are a little worn-down by the last third (as mine were) it is very much worth your while.

Highlights

The feeling that you are stupider than you were is what finally interests you in the really complex subjects of life: in change, in experience, in the ways other people have adjusted to disappointment and narrowed ability. You realize that you are no prodigy, your shoulders relax, and you begin to look around you, seeing local color unrivaled by blue glows of algebra and abstraction.

Will the time ever come when I am not so completely dependent on thoughts I first had in childhood to furnish the feedstock for my comparisons and analogies and sense of the parallel rhythms of microhistory?

Come to your senses, World! The tone of authority and public-spiritedness that surrounds these falsehoods is outrageous! How can you let your marketing men continue to make claims that sound like the 1890s ads for patent medicines or electroactive copper wrist bracelets that are printed on the Formica on the tables at Wendy’s? You are selling a hot-air machine that works well and lasts for decades: a simple, possibly justifiable means for the fast-food chains to save money on paper products. Say that or say nothing.

We came in to work every day and were treated like popes—a new manila folder for every task; expensive courier services; taxi vouchers; trips to three-day fifteen-hundred-dollar conferences to keep us up to date in our fields; even the dinkiest chart or memo typed, xeroxed, distributed, and filed; overhead transparencies to elevate the most casual meeting into something important and official; every trash can in the whole corporation, over ten thousand trash cans, emptied and fitted with a fresh bag every night; restrooms with at least one more sink than ever conceivably would be in use at any one time, ornamented with slabs of marble that would have done credit to the restrooms of the Vatican! What were we participating in here?