The Mezzanine book cover, Nicholson Baker

Today I rode the escalator at Yonge and Bloor, up from the North bound platform, which I do almost every weekday, without fail when the weather’s poor, though not like I did today. I felt like I was glowing, a total exuberance, swept up up and away by the gentle rhythmic machinations.  I was suddenly smiling so wide that my cheeks almost hurt, and I placed my hand on the black rubber rail and measured its motion, the tiny delay with respect to the grooved steel of the tall steps.

I had just finished Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine. That man is a bad ass in the department of banalities. With clear and thoughtful language this small novel unfolds over the course of a single lunch hour, and with astounding clarity offers meditations on the quotidian pleasures and displeasures of drinking straws, of popcorn, of office bantering, and even corporate restrooms. This is a small book that deals in small things, yet the cumulative effect of a lifetime of  tiny wonders is hugely moving.

The Mezzanine dances on the border between inspired and banal, and hits you full on in the face with something powerful: Life is more than work, relationships, lunches and paper cuts. Howie, the narrator, is attempting to slog through Aurelius‘ Meditations, one of the oldest Self Help books, and at times Baker’s extremely detailed and pedantic prose  made me commiserate with Howie. I mean, it’s cool and all, but it is honestly difficult to read over 1000 words of footnooted text. But of course, Baker knows that. The physical challenge of small text, the difficulty of maintaining mental alertness through a four page in depth discussion of the different stresses on shoe laces and the possible systems that may be able to measure wear and tear are totally worth it in the end. In fact, in dealing so seriously and at length with these minor details of life, they are made into new fascinating things. This devotion to fleshing out the meaning of small and practical objects imbues the world with a freshness that is absolutely intoxicating.