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am 21. Mai 2000
The narrator of this novel is nuts.... but don't let that stop you from reading this wonderful book! Just be aware it might take you a little while to get comfortable with the quirky way the protatgonist has of thinking about things. After the first ten pages I was laughing out loud but after thirty pages I almost put it down because I didn't know if I could keep handling 2 page footnotes on, say, the physics of what makes shoelaces break! But I stayed with the book and I was glad I did. It is a pleasure to keep up with the narrator as his mind meanders through the minutiae of everyday life. He has a childlike curiosity about the world. Everything fascinates him! He is a lucky man because he enjoys understanding the little things in life and life presents a neverending supply of little things to think about. This is a guy who will never be bored! I also get the feeling that this is the way the mind of a really good scientist works, analytical but childlike as well. Want to know if you will like this book? Here is one sentence, expressing the narrator's admiration for the way the old-style packages of Jiffy Pop popcorn were engineered: "Jiffy Pop was the finest example of the whole aluminous genre: a package inspired by the fry pan whose handle is also the hook it hangs from in the store, with a maelstrom of swirled foil on the top that, subjected to the subversion of the exploding kernels, first by the direct collisions of discrete corns and then in a general indirect uplift of the total volume of potentiated cellulose, gradually unfurls its dome, turning slowly as it despirals itself, providing in its gradual expansion a graspable, slow-motion version of what each erumpent particle of corn is undergoing invisibly and instantaneously beneath it." Whoooh! I can see where this book would be the type of thing you either love or hate, so if the above sentence made you squirm, stay away. But if a smile emerged while you read it I think you will enjoy "The Mezzanine" as much as I did.
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am 19. Juni 2000
Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine (Vintage, 1988)
availability: in print, available through the usual suspects

Nicholson Baker's first novel gives us a day-- okay, half a day-- in the life of an ordinary office worker. It's pretty close to being the typical eighties novel. It's not really about anything. No one makes great personality changes anywhere in the novel. There's only one other character, aside from a few minor ones, sales clerks and the like. The book opens with the main character walking into the lobby of his office building, and ends with him stepping off the escalator onto his office's floor about a minute later. So what is it that differentiates this particular eighties novel from the hundreds of others, and what makes this one better?

The devil, of course, is in the details. While Baker seems as fond of brand names as the rest of his Ellis-McInerney-Janowitz-etc. cronies, they take a backseat to the generic, everyday revelations of life, and
it's amazing that Baker has managed to come up with so much of this stuff that most people never think about. The history of shoelaces. The development of footnotes from the middle ages. The archaeology of the drugstore. Whether you should drink your milk while chewing the chocolate chip cookie, or after swallowing it. This is less a novel than it is a compendium of silly, trivial facts and opinions, and if you gain pleasure from wandering through trivia websites and the like, this book
is going to be a short, easy pleasure trip through things that no one else has thought to write about. If you demand plot, theme, and action, though, this is probably not a book for you. I found it wonderful. *** 1/2
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am 14. März 2000
I've wondered that every Christmas for most of my life. It's a jolly song about "tidings of comfort and joy" that sounds, due to the minor key, like it should be on the Schindler's List soundtrack. How can Nicholson Baker have known? I've never been inspired to write an on-line review, despite having read many books within the past few years that I've judged to be excellent. This book, however, has affected me like none other that I can remember. It's the kind of book that you will either WORSHIP or DETEST. I don't think there can be any in between. You either get why it's pure genius, or you don't. This book is hysterical in a supremely intelligent way. One other reviewer compared it to Seinfeld. It's like Seinfeld with the intelligence factor cranked up to a thousand, and the subject matter magnified by a million. I've never read anything more fascinating and truly gripping. Baker has a way of describing things so eloquently and differently, that I often thought, "What on earth does he mean by--" just as the beautiful revealing moment occurred and I got it. For example, a sentence from p. 97: "I polished the lenses [of his glasses] with the fifth paper towel, making bribe-me, bribe-me finger motions over the two curved surfaces until they were dry." Those four words, "bribe-me, bribe-me" describe perfectly the motion that most of us undertake several times a day. Has anyone in the history of the world ever described that act in such a succint, clever way? I doubt it. Poetry. Read it immediately, but savor it.
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am 26. April 1999
I think that anyone who can take thoughts we all have (to some degree, at least) and word them so gracefully deserves the cheer the narrator directs toward perforation. Takes the phrase 'contemplating one's navel' and makes it something I can finally identify with. Who doesn't have brief thoughts about the best way to put on socks or the irritating absence of paper towels in a public restroom? Maybe all you losers who don't wash yourselves don't think about such things, but it does me good to know others do besides me. And it isn't just that Baker voices such thoughts, but he made reading about real life fascinating and browsing through footnotes was finally exciting for me. Typically, running across that little number in the middle of the page made me groan and skip the small writing at the bottom of the page. I read all of Baker's works and each one satisfies me. Think what you want of me...Baker some of the freshest writing I have read in years.
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am 8. September 1997
In this short, funny, and thoughtful novel, Baker portrays a fully-examined life in a single escalator ride.

As the narrator rides up from the ground-floor to the mezzanine where his office is, his thoughts seem to free-associate over issues & incidents, each stylishly-rendered in Baker's precise & wondrous prose.

But, as wide-ranging as the narrator's thought-flow is, the book is actually a tightly-controlled (even contrived) construction that never fails to delight. (After all, how long can one escalator-ride be?)

A genius at squeezing sensuous prose from the smallest detail, Baker is a brilliant stylist and thinker who has created a miniature masterpiece, a small book with a lot on its mind.
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am 27. Mai 1996
At least the way that Baker does it. In this book he describes
coming back from a lunch time trip to get shoe laces and manages
to wander through extremely long and mostly very funny descriptions
of his thoughts about various topics.

Many of the long thoughts are given as footnotes to the main text,
footnotes that can ramble for several pages in some cases.
I know I've had similar thoughts about some of these 'important'
topics he covers (though not to the level of depth he goes to).

Reading the book to my wife I night, we were both brought to fits
of laughter in several places. Very recommended.
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am 31. Juli 2000
I could not put down this freaking awesome book! This author has a winning combination of lyricism and insight. One might describe him as an autistic poet. It has immediately become one of my three favorite introspection books. (The two others are The Fall by Albert Camus and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka).
Reading this book is like eating candies. The author comes across as a gentle, perspicacious, fact filled, strange, observer that will change your view of the world forever. Isn't that what the best books can do?
Try it out, you won't be disappointed.
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am 14. Oktober 1997
I first started reading this book when it was in the New Yorker magazine and I remember after reading a few paragraphs and then starting to read the longer, more detailed sentences, I was enthralled and delighted. What amazing detail! What an eye for the minutiae in life. I have made a point to read everything else he has written. Certainly one of the best new young writers around. Frankly, it is good to read these other reviews since I hardly know anyone who has read him.
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am 10. März 1997
This quirky book provoked a former housemate of mine, a writer, to remark, "Thank God Nicholas Baker wrote this book so I didn't have to." It's a tour-de-force that sometimes seems unreadable because of the incredible heaping minutiae that he devotes his attention to. All human habits become distorted and weird, in a Gulliver-in-Brobdingnabia sort of way -- using a restroom is like looking at one's pores magnified 10,000 times
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am 15. Februar 1999
To call this a novel is a misnomer. It's a catalogue of Baker's at times anal reflections on the ephemera of modern life, such as escalator etiquette and how corporate carpeting feels underfoot, conveniently hung on the frame of a day at the office. As such, it's a curious combination of delight and tedium. Given the many, many subjects he covers and the plethora of footnotes, I'm surprised there is no index. The book needs one.
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