25+ quotes from The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

Quotes from The Mezzanine

Nicholson Baker ·  135 pages

Rating: (5.7K votes)


“The neurons that do expire are the ones that made imitation possible. When you are capable of skillful imitation, the sweep of choices before you is too large; but when your brain loses its spare capacity, and along with it some agility, some joy in winging it, and the ambition to do things that don't suit it, then you finally have to settle down to do well the few things that your brain really can do well--the rest no longer seems pressing and distracting, because it is now permanently out of reach. The feeling that you are stupider than you were is what finally interests you in the really complex subjects of life: in change, in experience, in the ways other people have adjusted to disappointment and narrowed ability. You realize that you are no prodigy, your shoulders relax, and you begin to look around you, seeing local color unrivaled by blue glows of algebra and abstraction.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“That was the problem with reading: you always had to pick up again at the very thing that had made you stop reading the day before.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Perforation! Shout it out! The deliberate punctuated weakening of paper and cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired pills or tuftlets on each new edge! It is a staggering conception, showing an age-transforming feel for the unique properties of pulped wood fiber.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“A bee rose up from a sun-filled paper cup, off to make slum honey from some diet root beer it had found inside.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“There is no good word for stomach; just as there is no good word for girlfriend. Stomach is to girlfriend as belly is to lover, and as abdomen is to consort, and as middle is to petite amie.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“…you almost believe that you will never come to the end of a roll of tape; and when you do, there is a feeling, nearly, though very briefly, of shock and grief.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“The whole point of straws, I had thought, was that you did not have to set down the slice of pizza to suck a dose of Coke while reading a paperback.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Though simple, the trick was something that struck me as useful right now. Thus, the 'when I was little' nostalgia was misleading: it turned something that I was taking seriously as an adult into something soupier, less precise, more falsely exotic, than it really was. Why should we need lots of nostalgia to license any pleasure taken in the discoveries we carry over from childhood, when it is now so clearly an adult pleasure? I decided that from now on I wouldn't get that faraway look when describing things that excited me now, regardless of whether they had first been childhood enthusiasms or not.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“The fact that we had independently decided to sweep our apartments on that Sunday afternoon after spending the weekend together, I took as a strong piece of evidence that we were right for each other. And from then on when I read things Samuel Johnson said about the deadliness of leisure and the uplifting effects of industry, I always nodded and thought of brooms.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“In old stapled problems, you can see the TB vaccine marks in the upper left corner where the staples have been removed and replaced, as the problem - even the staple holes of the problem - was copied and sent on to other departments for further action, copying, and stapling.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“The damage that you have inflicted heals over, and the scarred places left behind have unusual surface areas, roughnesses enough to become the nodes around which wisdom weaves its fibrils.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“I ate a vendor's hot dog with sauerkraut (a combination whose tastiness still makes me tremble), walking fast in order to save as much of the twenty minutes of my lunch hour I had left for reading.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Subject of Thought Number of Times Thought Occurred per Year (in descending order)
L. 580.0
Family 400.0
Brushing tongue 150.0
Earplugs 100.0
Bill-paying 52.0
Panasonic three-wheeled vacuum cleaner, greatness of 45.0
Sunlight makes you cheerful 40.0
Traffic frustration 38.0
Penguin books, all 35.0
Job, should I quit? 34.0
Friends, don't have any 33.0
Marriage, a possibility? 32.0
Vending machines 31.0
Straws don't unsheath well 28.0
Shine on moving objects 25.0
McCartney more talented than Lennon? 23.0
Friends smarter, more capable than I am 19.0
Paper-towel dispensers 19.0
"What oft was thought, but ne'er" etc. 18.0
People are very dissimilar 16.0
Trees, beauty of 15.0
Sidewalks 15.0
Friends are unworthy of me 15.0
Indentical twins separated at birth, studies of traits 14.0
Intelligence, going fast 14.0
Wheelchair ramps, their insane danger 14.0
Urge to kill 13.0
Escalator invention 12.0
People are very similar 12.0
"Not in my backyard" 11.0
Straws float now 10.0
DJ, would I be happy as one? 9.0
"If you can't get out of it, get into it" 9.0
Pen, felt-tip 9.0
Gasoline, nice smell of 8.0
Pen, ballpoint 8.0
Stereo systems 8.0
Fear of getting mugged again 7.0
Staplers 7.0
"Roaches check in, but they don't check out" 6.0
Dinner roll, image of 6.0
Shoes 6.0
Bags 5.0
Butz, Earl 4.0
Sweeping, brooms 4.0
Whistling, yodel trick 4.0
"You can taste it with your eyes" 4.0
Dry-cleaning fluid, smell of 3.0
Zip-lock tops 2.0
Popcorn 1.0
Birds regurgitate food and feed young with it 0.5
Kant, Immanuel 0.5”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“one above their individual homes about a quarter of an inch, and most would fall back in place; but some, the loosest, would loft higher and often land irregularly, leaving one graspable end sticking up—these you used for your drink.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“The feeling that you are stupider than you were is what finally interests you in the really complex subjects of life: in change, in experience, in the ways other people have adjusted to disappointment and narrowed ability. You realize that you are no prodigy, your shoulders relax, and you begin to look around you, seeing local color unrivaled by blue glows of algebra and abstraction.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Used with care, substances that harm neural tissue, such as alcohol, can aid intelligence: you corrode the chromium, giggly, crossword puzzle-solving parts of your mind with pain and poison, forcing the neurons to take responsibility for themselves and those around them, toughening themselves against the accelerated wear of these artificial solvents. After a night of poison. your brain wakes up in the morning saying, “No, I don't give a shit who introduced the sweet potato into North America.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“When you leave a job, one of the hardest decisions you have to make on cleaning out your desk is what to do with the coffinlike cardboard tray holding 958 fresh-smelling business cards. You can’t throw them out— they and the nameplate and a few sample payroll stubs are proof to yourself that you once showed up at that building every day and solved complicated, utterly absorbing problems there; unfortunately, the problems themselves, though they once obsessed you, and kept you working late night after night, and made you talk in your sleep, turn out to have been hollow: two weeks after your last day that already have contracted into inert pellets one-fiftieth of their former size; you find yourself unable to create the sense of what was really at stake, for it seems to have been the Hungarian 5/2 rhythm of the lived workweek alone that kept each fascinating crisis inflated to its full interdepartmental complexity. But coterminously, while the problems you were paid to solve collapse, the nod of the security guard, his sign-in book, the escalator ride, the things on your desk, the site of colleagues’ offices, their faces seen from characteristic angles, the features of the corporate bathroom, all miraculously expand: and in this way what was central and what was incidental end up exactly reversed.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Abelardo, my manager, emerged from a stall. “What do you think, Howie?” he said; it was his standard greeting —one I was fond of.
“Abe, I don't know what to think,” I said; my standard response.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“At that age I once stabbed my best friend, Fred, with a pair of pinking shears in the base of the neck, enraged because he had been given the comprehensive sixty-four-crayon Crayola box—including the gold and silver crayons—and would not let me look closely at the box to see how Crayola had stabilized the built-in crayon sharpener under the tiers of crayons.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Will the time ever come when I am not so completely dependent on thoughts I first had in childhood to furnish the feedstock for my comparisons and analogies and sense of the parallel rhythms of microhistory? Will I reach the point where there will be a good chance, I mean a more than fifty-fifty chance, that any random idea popping back into the foreground of my consciousness will be an idea that first came to me as an adult, rather than one I had repeatedly as a child? Will the universe of all possible things I could be reminded of ever be mostly an adult universe?”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Perforation! ‍‍‍Shout it out!‍‍‍ The ‍‍‍‍deliberate punctuated ‍‍‍‍weakening of paperand cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired white pills or tuftlets on each new edge! It is a staggering conception, showing an age-transforming feel for the unique properties of pulped-wood fiber. Yet do we have national holidays to celebrate its development? Are‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍festschrift volumes‍‍‍ pu‍‍‍blish‍‍‍ed honoring the dead greats in the field? People watch the news every night like robots thinking they are learning about their lives, never paying attention to the far more immediate developments that arrive unreported, on the zip-lock perforated top of the ice cream carton, in reply coupons bound in magazines and on the "Please Return This Portion" edging of bill stubs, on sheets of postage stamps and sheets of Publishers Clearing House magazine stamps, on paper towels, in rolls of plastic bags for produce at the supermarket, in strips of hanging file-folder labels. The lines dividing one year from another in your past are perforated, and the mental sensation of detaching a period of your life for closer scrutiny resembles the reluctant guided tearing of a perforated seam.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“I am not proud of the fact that major ingredients of my emotional history are available for purchase today at CVS.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“As it happened, the first three major advances in my life—and I will list all the advances here—

1. shoe-tying
2. pulling up on Xs
3. steadying hand against sneaker when tying
4. brushing tongue as well as teeth
5. putting on deodorant after I was fully dressed
6. discovering that sweeping was fun
7. ordering a rubber stamp with my address on it to make billpaying more efficient
8. deciding that brain cells ought to die

—have to do with shoe-tying, but I don't think that this fact is very unusual.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“Boswell, like Lecky (to get back to the point of this footnote), and Gibbon before him, loved footnotes. They knew that the outer surface of truth is not smooth, welling and gathering from paragraph to shapely paragraph, but is encrusted with a rough protective bark of citations, quotations marks, italics, and foreign languages, a whole variorum crust of "ibid.'s" and "compare's" and "see's" that are the shield for the pure flow of argument as it lives for a moment in one mind. They knew the anticipatory pleasure of sensing with peripheral vision, as they turned the page, gray silt of further example and qualification waiting in tiny type at the bottom. (They were aware, more generally, of the usefulness of tiny type in enhancing the glee of reading works of obscure scholarship: typographical density forces you to crouch like Robert Hooke or Henry Gray over the busyness and intricacy of recorded truth.) They liked deciding as they read whether they would bother to consult a certain footnote or not, and whether they would read it in context, or read it before the text it hung from, as an hors d'oeuvre. The muscles of the eye, they knew, want vertical itineraries; the rectus externus and internus grow dazed waggling back and forth in the Zs taught in grade school: the footnote functions as a switch, offering the model-railroader's satisfaction of catching the march of thought with a superscripted "1" and routing it, sometimes at length, through abandoned stations and submerged, leaching tunnels. Digression—a movement away from the gradus, or upward escalation, of the argument—is sometimes the only way to be thorough, and footnotes are the only form of graphic digression sanctioned by centuries of typesetters. And yet the MLA Style Sheet I owned in college warned against lengthy, "essay-like" footnotes. Were they nuts? Where is scholarship going?”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


“The great scholarly or anecdotal footnotes of Lecky, Gibbon, or Boswell, written by the author of the book himself to supplement, or even correct over several later editions, what he says in the primary text, are reassurances that the pursuit of truth doesn't have clear outer boundaries: it doesn't end with the book; restatement and self-disagreement and the enveloping sea of referenced authorities all continue. Footnotes are the finer-suckered surfaces that allow tentacular paragraphs to hold fast to the wider reality of the library.”
― Nicholson Baker, quote from The Mezzanine


About the author

Nicholson Baker
Born place: in New York City, New York, The United States
Born date January 7, 1957
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