I first heard of Nicholson Baker two or three years ago, when he was interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel for CBC Radio’s Writers and Company. But, despite my interest, I never really got around to properly read anything by him till now.
The Mezzanine is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s 130 or so pages use an escalator ride as the pivot point for an analysis of everyday objects and actions that will leave you giddy. Or, completely bored. It’s definitely the kind of book that you’ll either love or hate. I’m in the former camp.
Here’s an exerpt from Chapter Five:
It isn’t right to say, “When I was little, I used to love x,” if you still love x now. I admit that part of my pleasure in riding the escalator came from the links with childhood memory that the experience sustained. Other people remember liking boats, cars, trains, or planes when they were children-and I liked them too-but I was more interested in systems of local transport: airport luggage-handling systems (those overlapping new moons of hard rubber that allowed the moving track to corner, neatly drawing its freight of compressed clothing with it; and the fringe of rubber strips that marked the transition between the bright inside world of baggage claim and the outside world of low-clearance vehicles and men in blue outlives); supermarket checkout conveyor belts, turned on and off like sewing machines by a foot pedal, with a seam like a zipper that kept reappearing; and supermarket roller coasters made of rows of vertical rollers arranged in a U curve over which the gray plastic numbered containers that held your bagged and paid-for groceries would slide out a flapped gateway to the outside; milk-bottling machines we saw on field trips that hurried the queuing bottles on curved tracks with rubber-edged side-rollers toward the machine that socked milk into them and clamed them with a paper cap; marble chutes; Olympic luge and bobsled tracks; the hanger-management systems at the dry cleaner’s-sinuous circuits of rustling clothing that looped from the customer counter way back to the pressing machines in the rear of the store, fanning sideways as they slalomed around old men at antique sewing machines who were making sense of the heap of random pairs of pants pinned with little notes; laundry lines that cranked clothes out over empty space and cranked them back in when the laundry was dry; the barbecue-chicken display at Woolworth’s that rotated whole orange-golden chickens on pivoting skewers; the rotating Timex watch displays, each watch box open like a clam; the cylindrical roller-cookers on which hot dogs slowly turned in the opposite direction to the rollers, blistering; gears that (as my father explained it) in their greased intersection modified forces and sent them on their way. The escalator shared qualities with all of these systems, with one difference: it was the only one I could get on and ride.
With my highest recommendation.