This discussion on The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker was selected by Daniel Olivieri.
About the Book
The Mezzanine tells the story of a single lunch break in such exquisite, enthusiastic detail that it manages to become a paean to everything from escalator rides to electric fans to earplugs. Published in 1988, the book won critical praise for its unusual subject and ingenious descriptions. The Mezzanine ensures that you will 'never drink from a can of coke the same way again,' as author Sara Levine put it. With an endlessly digressive style and plenty of footnotes, it follows in the footsteps of literature's most harebrained visionaries: Joyce, Sterne, Proust.
About the Author
Born in New York City in 1957, Nicholson Baker briefly studied bassoon before earning a BA in English at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. The Mezzanine, published in 1988, was Baker's debut novella. Since then, he has published everything from collections of essays to a pacifist history of World War II, to erotica to an extended conversation on ways to assassinate George W. Bush. He has received a Guggenheim fellowship and his non-fiction book of investigative reporting Double Fold won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Two interviews to watch:
Some questions posed by Daniel:
- After I read this book, I always find myself paying more attention to the little details of my life. Which mug I choose for my tea, what time I set my alarm, the smell of my apartment's hallway. Did this book have a similar impact on anyone else? If not, what books do change the way you think?
- What message do you take away from this book's fascination with simple objects like staplers, paper bags, and bathroom sinks?
- This book has almost no drama or stakes whatsoever. The closest it comes to a climax is the main character riding an escalator. What are the implications of a book which does away with so many elements that are fundamental to so much literature?
- Are there any other books you've read that take place over a brief period of time? How are they similar or different from The Mezzanine?
- This book also has very few characters. What does the absence of characters allow for?
- How would you write the story of your afternoon?
- How is this book similar or different from the other ones we've read? Água Viva, Empty Words, The House of the Sleeping Beauties?
- While this is a book about the objects that fill our physical surroundings, it's also a book that's keenly focussed on consciousness. How does it diverge from other books that render mental life and what realities does it manage to capture?