Archives for posts with tag: The Mezzanine

This has been a tremendous year for me. This project has reset the equilibrium of my life, and I am amazed and grateful.

A thank-you is very much in order. I don’t often address you, reader, but here I am now, to extend my enormous gratitude. Thank you for being here; without you my work would have a very different meaning.

When I started this project in January, I had trouble settling into my voice. I thought that because Bookside Table was a blog I had to use cute, conversational conventions. You can see it in my first post for the project, on Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes. You can see it in my original about page, where I recklessly absolved myself of the responsibility of criticism, telling you that “I’m not a reviewer: I’m a reader. I’m in this purely for love.” I think I’ve been a mostly phenomenological reader, looking to the book itself and evaluating my experience of the thing. Only rarely have I tried to ‘situate a work,’ and for the most part I haven’t explicitly said ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ But you can tell, probably, which were the ones I loved best.

My year in reading post, over at The Millions, makes clear the two books that ‘lit me up.’ The ones I was compelled to read twice.  But, to be fair, I also went back to sections or stories from The Odious Child, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, The Mezzanine, and Ghosts. I’ve also opened The Obituary at random to revel in its enlightened weirdness, to feel my eyes trying to stitch together the violent, beautiful fragments. Re-reading is one of my greatest pleasures, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I dip back in now and then. There is no great intimacy built without familiarity, even if strange  limerance is its own reward.

I will tell you that sometimes this little hobby was troublesome, and there were a few rough patches. After I finished Nightwood I didn’t much feel like reading another book, more fiction. I wanted to let it simmer for a long time. It was a feeling like the strange sickness I had in 2009, after finishing Infinite Jest for the first time, when I couldn’t force myself to read fiction for a full ten months afterwards. Nightwood was like that, I felt ruined on books because here was something so dark and perfect in it’s power, so claustrophobic and complex that I needed to breath on it. I felt such a sense of readerly justice being miscarried that I couldn’t stew on it, that I had to keep going. I sat on it for a week, and read the next book, Memories of  my Melancholy Whores in a single sitting on the Sunday afternoon before the post went up. I wrote about it immediately after I put it down.  I figured it would be okay, because it’s ‘minor’ Marquez, and now the post on it makes me cringe. I was so ungenerous and clumsy. But the project contains itself, so it stays where it is.

While regret is too strong a word, at times I wish I had been a little less gentle, just a little harder on some of these books. I really wish I’d told you that only 65% of The Fortress of Solitude was worth much more than the paper it was printed on. I liked it a lot, that 65%, and it more than justifies the miss steps Lethem made there. Sometimes I think I was a little bit cowardly, a little too unsure. But I hope I never let you down.

I think that the major responsibility of a book reviewer, of any cultural critic, is to inspire hunger in other people. To stir up the public appetite for better and more nourishing things. I think I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do this, so I hedged my bets and tried to shirk that responsibility. Thankfully, I couldn’t always escape that harness.  Some of the feedback I’ve received through out the year, from reader (and occasionally author)  emails, new and not so new friends, and on twitter has been from people kind enough to encourage me to keep going, to tell me that my little corner of the internet makes them hungry for more and better books. I couldn’t be more grateful for this kind of connection. Reading these books has made me a little better than I am, but telling you about them has changed my whole life.

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Bedside Table Books To Date

I’ve read 13 books so far this year, which is slightly more than 1/4 of the way to the 50 I’ve set as my resolution. I wanted to take a little minute here to go over some observations about what I’ve read so far:

  • five outta thirteen are authored by women, and maybe a half, if you count Lydia Davis’ translation of Madame Bovary.
  • Four of these are translated books: Three from French, one from Italian. None of the translated works were originally written by women.
  • Four of these books are autobiographical or memoir, as opposed to novels.  I think it’s fair to count How Should A Person Be? in this category.
  • Three, actually call it three and a half,  of these include main plots or subplots that feature characters dealing with their own identities as Jews  in American, Canadian, and European contexts. (The half refers to Tassie Keltjin’s fascination with her Jewish mother and goyish secular father in A Gate at the Stairs.)
  • Of the thirteen books, I only read two that I wouldn’t gladly read again (American Pastoral and My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist).
  • One of these books was about the reproductive system of a dog.

My top five so far, in order of first remembrance:

1. Tracks, by Louise Erdrich

2. How Should A Person Be?, by Sheila Heti

3.The Mystery Guest, by Grégoire Boullier

4. The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

5. Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi

Although honestly I really want to put Madame Bovary and A Gate at the Stairs, and To the Lighthouse and My Dog Tulip on that list. I guess that’s ’cause I’m not really one for playing favorites. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to have chosen, for the most part, pretty damn good books so far.

I’m always on the lookout for good books.

If you’ve got any rad recomendations, drop me a line in the comments, or even send me an e-mail at see.emily.read[at]gmail.com.

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.