Nicholson Baker’s first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), was about the 60 minutes it took an ordinary fellow to take his lunch break and buy a new pair of shoelaces. That was it, but that was also everything — the idle, intricate thoughts of Baker’s narrator yielded a complex, exciting piece of comic literature complete with footnotes about the aesthetic differences between paper and plastic straws.
Room Temperature is Baker’s slim but intensely funny and moving second effort, about a guy named Mike and the thoughts he has while sitting in a rocking chair, feeding his 6-month-old baby a bottle on a Wednesday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. The book continues its author’s interest in the small things in life, and I do mean small: a full page describing the sound a new jar of peanut butter makes when opened (”fup”); an effusion to a few inspection slips found in the pockets of a new tweed jacket; and a veritable poem to the shape of one of the baby’s nostrils (”the innocent perfection of a Cheerio. . .a tiny dry clean salty ring”).
In Baker’s novels, description is everything. The endless descriptions in The Mezzanine struck even some admiring reviewers as evidence of neurotic obsessiveness on the part of either his loner protagonist or Baker himself. As if in response to this, Baker gives Mike a wife, a sex life, and a baby, all of which he adores (in particular, Room Temperature contains some of the best musings about children since Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse). Mike is freed, in this way, to muse on and on about dust balls, the history of the comma, and the sound a felt-tip pen makes on paper: serene goofiness transcendent. Try to hear in your head Remembrance of Things Past as it might be recited by Bullwinkle J. Moose; it’s the voice of Nicholson Baker.