mezzanine“At almost one o’clock I entered the lobby of the building where I worked and turned toward the escalators, carrying a black Penguin paperback and a small white CVS bag, its receipt stapled over the top.”

Given the size of the topic I covered last (that is, the International Space Station), and the post before that being about one of the biggest and bestselling books of all time, I figured it was time to get smaller. How about an office in America? Yeah, that’s pretty small. How about the lobby of that office? Fine, but can we go smaller? How about that lobby during one man’s lunchbreak? OK, but any smaller? How about the twenty second escalator ride a man takes during a lunchbreak in his office lobby?

Perfect.

I admire when an author takes a challenge and runs with it, but this is perhaps one of the ultimate examples of that. It’s not really a story, but a stream of conciousness piece where we follow Howie, a tiny cog in a stonking great machine, as he embarks on his journey up an escalator to his office on the mezzanine at the end of his lunchbreak. Baker allows Howie’s mind to drift and we experience all his thoughts. We all have tiny little thoughts every minute of the day, but this is what would happen if they were all allowed to continue to their logical conclusion.

So in this very short time frame Howie considers why shoelaces break at different times, why people don’t get milk delievered anymore, why straws float in fizzy drinks, why sweeping is good therapy, and how he realised he should be brushing his tongue as well as his teeth, all with the addition of long, tangential footnotes that take you on recesses of his mind that are deeper still.

Howie is almost child-like in his delight of simple things like escalators and the click of a ballpoint pen, but he seems to hold private aspirations to be a great thinker, admiring the people who have invented all the everyday little things that make up our world. He wonders why staplers are always about ten years behind other technological advances, how Kiwi make any money from shoe polish, and whether tunes whistled in bathrooms are passed on from one visitor to another or appear independently.

Given its length (135 pages), there isn’t much else to say about it. It feels like it should be a short read, but it took a fair bit of concentrating simply because Howie jumps back and forth between his thoughts that nestle between one another like Russian dolls, and the footnotes complicate matters further, sometimes taking up two or three pages, meaning you find yourself flicking back and forth through the book to find where this new idea came from. It’s not a complaint, mind, it’s actually a hugely intelligent construct with insane levels of detail. Baker allows Howie several pages to each issue as he ponders on the rise of hot-air dryers in public toilets and how he manages to hold all his belongings in one hand to keep his other one free.

Despite the surprising density, it’s a fun read and very entertaining, causing a few outbursts of unrestrained laughter. Anyone who likes to let their thoughts wander will like this book, as this is that feeling of not knowing how you reached a certain point in your mind turned up to eleven.

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