The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

On Beauty by Zadie Smith is an astoundingly good book. It’s more controlled than the excellent White Teeth and just as funny. It’s modelled after Howard’s End, so you have to give her the benefit of the doubt for a couple pages as she begins ‘with Jerome’s e-mails to his father,’ but once the story gets going it’s trully amazing to watch as two very different families come crashing together. As I wrote to my wife after finishing it at two a.m. this morning, it’s so good it makes me jealous.

Disappointment

What is the worst possible thing that can happen upon finishing a book (i.e. a book you’re reading)? Disappointment.

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker has been recommended to me several times over the years, so finally I read it. It’s about a lunch hour. It’s about the mundane thoughts and happenings of one corporate lunch hour. Reading it, you begin to understand why Stephen King (no great hero of mine) brushed another of Baker’s novels aside as a “meaningless little fingernail paring.”

I was worried from the beginning because of the footnotes (extensive, small type). I soldiered on. It took me weeks of putting it down after reading a page on the toilet or before falling asleep. (I was reading plenty of other, better stuff at the same time.)

And what’s the payoff? Nada. The final image is of a maintenance man polishing the rubber handrail of the escalator leading up to the mezzanine of the title.

I will say this: Baker’s ability to write, publish, and receive acclaim for these descriptions of the perfectly mundane is in itself astounding.