Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shutter to Think

Although I haven't re-read it in years, I would still say that The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker, is one of my favorite books of all time. In my fiction writing classes, I sometimes mention it as an example of a book without a plot—although it actually has more of a storyline than some of Baker's other novels such as Room Temperature or A Box of Matches.

Baker uses a series of mundane events during the narrator's day at the office as a chance to ruminate, often in gloriously extended footnotes, about the tiny details of the world. There's a great section in which the narrator demolishes the rhetorical claims made by the bit of text bolted to the bathroom hand-blower extolling its superiority over paper towels. There's another section in which the narrator weighs the relative merits of two different methods of putting on one's socks—bunching them vs. pulling their entire lengths over the feet. There's a mini-history of the design of drinking straws, and one that compares the evolutionary design of staplers to that of locomotives. This is a novel in which the narrator asserts that one of the key moments in his attainment of adulthood was when he realized that, if necessary, he could put on his deodorant even after he had already buttoned and tucked in his Oxford shirt.

In short, it's a novel that finds wonder and delight in details that might commonly be overlooked.

Toby Weiss, in this recent post (and this even more recent one) at her blog B.E.L.T., does something worthy of Nicholson Baker at his best: she unpacks the history of shutters, with great local examples, explaining how they have evolved from something necessary to something vestigial, and suggesting the atavistic desire some homeowners satisfy by installing them.

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