All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

The Mezzanine is quirky little book, short on plot but lushly if not obsessively descriptive. Howie, the book's protagonist, rides an escalator from the ground floor of his office building to the mezzanine, where his office is located. This is the plot, more or less. During the short ride, readers are treated to lavish and detailed descriptions of everyday objects or recalled occurrences that are delightful at times in their familiarity: the satisfying clunk of a staple being pushed through a stack of papers (now "one controversy" as Baker describes it, rather than separate ones), the graceful swoop of a date stamper as it traverses down to ink a new date on a page, the interlocking teeth and the efficient revolution of escalator treads. But Baker doesn't discriminate; he also spends passages describing the wear on shoelaces--what makes them break within a day of each other? Is it the mechanism of tying, or the flexing of the shoe with each step, or the gait of the wearer, or the material, or the type of the bow tied in the laces?

But his treatment of these mundane topics is often inventive. After discussing the various techniques of tying shoelaces, Baker describes the differences in knots this way:

"You could imagine a sneaker-shoelace knot and a dress-shoelace knot standing side by side saying the Pledge of Allegiance: the dress-shoelace knot would pronounce each word as a grammatical unit, understanding it as more than a sound; the sneaker-shoelace knot would run the words together."

In this passage, Baker wisely describes how new hires adapt to their office surroundings, justifying the number of bathroom trips they take:

"For new-hires, the number of visits can go as high as eight or nine a day, because the corporate bathroom is the one place where you understand completely what is expected of you. Other parts of your job are unclear: you have been given a pile of xeroxed documents and files to read; you have tentatively probed the supply cabinet and found that they don't stock the kind of pen you prefer; relative positions of power are not immediately obvious; your office is bare and unwelcoming; you have no nameplate on your door yet, no business cards printed; and you know that the people who are friendliest to you in the first weeks are almost never the people you will end up liking and respecting . . ."

This kind of detail can become tedious at times, but will also bring back clear childhood memories -- such as the way cigarette machines dispensed packs of Marlboros. This book could be a primer for budding writers who need to learn to write descriptive narratives.

Finally, readers should know that a good third of the book consists of footnootes. Long, detailed asides Baker uses to allow Howie to further explore shoelaces, for instance, or the practice of buying bandaids in all size assortments. On an eReader, this can be difficult. I'd recommend a paper copy of this book to make flipping back and forth more manageable.

The Mezzanine was originally published in 1986 by Weidenfeld and Nicholson but was recently released in paperback version by Grove Press in 2010.

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