Thursday, February 7, 2008
Years ago, in journalism school, I learned that “there are no boring stories - only boring reporters.”
I’m sure this phrase was intended to motivate us to be creative writers, even when we were writing about the new sewer plant or the renovation of city hall. It was supposed to make us not hate our jobs while we yearned for greater journalistic heights.
I just finished a book that reminds me of that expression: “The Mezzanine,” by Nicholson Baker. It’s a short novel about one man’s lunch hour, and his trip on an escalator from the ground floor of his office building to the mezzanine.
If there’s a book that better conveys the richness of our day-to-day lives, I’m not sure what it is. Baker writes about going to a drug store, buying a bag of popcorn, developing a dependence on earplugs. And in all of those themes he finds essential kernels of humanity, beautifully complex descriptions and interrelationships.
All around us, life is so rich. Lying in bed as I write this, I see innumerable layers of detail that my mind ordinarily glosses over. The softness of my blanket, for example -- its faintly detergent smell, its sandy beige floral design, its origins in the Moroccan market where I bought it 15 years ago. The smell of my coffee -- the distinct sharp aroma of these beans brought to me by a coworker from Colombia, so much richer than my standard supermarket brand. My purring cat, with her half-closed green eyes and dubious genetic origins -- the lucky result of a union between two street cats in Tampa, Fla., 13 years ago, and both feline parents probably now long dead.
“The Mezzanine” is an exercise in seeing all of this, and seeing the ways our minds process detail, diverging from the main narrative in side-trips of description and fantasy (expressed in the book by expository footnotes). Check it out. It’s a great read.
(Photo: Reflections on E. 28th Street, Jan. 2008)