I’ve started reading Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon’s masterwork. I tried to read it many years ago, and gave up after 100 pages. This time around, I’m familiar enough with Pynchon’s themes and style of writing that I don’t think I’ll run into the trouble I had before. I’m reading it with Steven Weisenburger’s Companion as well as Zak Smith’s page by page Pictures, which are helping to make it easier to discern the narrator and location of the action in each episode. Smith’s illustration for the following quote appears to the right. Page 49 of the book, which takes place during the Nazi V2 rocket attacks on London:
All over this frost and harrowed city…as once again the floor is a giant lift propelling you with no warning toward your ceiling—replaying now as the walls are blown outward, bricks and mortar showering down, your sudden paralysis as death comes to wrap and stun…and the sight of your blood spurting from the flaccid stub of artery, the snowy roofslates fallen across half your bed, the cinema kiss never complete, you were pinned and stared at a crumpled cigarette pack for two hours in pain, you could hear them crying from the rows either side but couldn’t move.
So far I’m really enjoying the book, despite the investment I’ve decided to make in trying to understand everything I’m reading. Pynchon, as always, writes like a brilliant madman.
Here’s a brief conversation, overheard on the Pynchon-L mailing list, for those of you on the fence about reading GR:
M.R. I am a new member to this list, and in fact to Pynchon’s writing. What would folks recommend as my first read?
K. You don’t want to die without having read Gravity’s Rainbow, so why take chances?
After reading Richard Powers’s Capgras Syndrome novel The Echo Maker, I figured I should read Rivka Galchen’s take on the same disorder. The main character is hilarious (he believes his wife has been replaced by an imposter and frequently refers to her as “the simulcrum”):
Sleep did not visit me, but stray strands of of the simulacrum's hair gave me the continual illusion of fleas mutely festivaling on my body.
The book is written in first person, from the perspective of the person with Capgras, and it’s a particularly effective technique for the story. We know that his wife hasn’t been replaced, but we experience the rationalizations and logical contortions required for the main character to believe his delusion. If the book were longer, or if Galchen wasn’t such a good writer, it might have gotten tiresome, but I found it to be a very entertaining and refreshing read.
Probably a good book to read in advance of Gravity’s Rainbow…
Once again, I’ve neglected my blog. My new job, the pressures of getting all our work done this summer, and the rest of life has kept me away.
Events: We’ve taken to swimming in the Creek. During the warmth of early June (which hasn’t returned since…) the Creek temperature rose to 65°F, and swimming was actually quite nice. I’m hoping we’ll get a few more warm days before fall so we can swim out there again.
Projects: I’ve made no progress at all on the new shed, but have repaired the bridge and got our digital antenna installed on the roof. I also replaced our chimney cap with the variety our chimney sweep prefers. Things left to do: Build the shed!, repair the glycol line that keeps the septic pipe thawed, fix and insulate the sewage treatment plant discharge pipe, reinforce the shed roofs, obtain and chop two more cords of firewood, install a heat shield behind the wood stove, get curtains for the two large downstairs windows and the sliding glass doors, and (finally) consider hiring a plumbing and heating company to replace and upgrade our system.
Books: I’ve read quite a few. Here’s a summary judgement on each:
- McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Volume 26: Enjoyable fictions, interesting format, no real standouts for me.
- The Rest is Noise: Fantastic look at the music and history of the 20th century. Alex Ross is one of my favorite New Yorker writers and this book doesn’t disappoint.
- Ambitious Brew: Interesting history of beer brewing in the United States. It dispels many of the classic beer myths (the most classic being that the big super-brewers ruined American beer, only to be “saved” by the micros), and tells a great story. Prost!
- Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A very enjoyable book with a very memorable female lead. Vida has a great abbreviated and expressive way of writing that was refreshing.
- The Echo Maker: I’ve been looking forward to this one for so long, that I think the reading of it couldn’t be anything but a disappointment. I enjoyed it as a meditation on brain injury, but I felt like the characters were a little overwrought and stiff.
The rest: Andrea continues to progress toward her goal of running the Equinox Marathon. She’s out running sixteen miles (16 miles!) right now. I’m super proud of her. Meanwhile, I’ve been bicycling to work almost every day (13 miles round-trip) and the two of us are working toward doing 100 push ups in six weeks. Maybe by the next photo of me in the Creek, I’ll be ripped.
I wish there were stronger ways than words to express how ruinous George W. Bush has been to our country. From McSweeney’s Where to Invade Next:
So I came back to see him a few weeks later [a few weeks after 9/11], and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, ‘Are we still going to war with Iraq?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s worse than that.’ He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, ‘I just got this down from upstairs’—meaning the Secretary of Defense’s Office—‘today.’ And he said, ‘This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years.’
—General Wesley Clark.
The seven countries Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to “take out” are: Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan and North Korea. This book, edited by Stephen Elliot lays out the case the Bush Administration would like to have made had their plans in Iraq not gone so horribly wrong (“Mission Accomplished”, jackass). It’s quite sobering reading, because these really are bad places, and in the case of Sudan, something really needs to be done. But most of these countries (all of them?) were made far more dangerous by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s clear (to me anyway) that this is pretty much our fault. We elected Bush (sort of). Frigging twice (kinda). We elected the Congress that rubber stamped everything he did. We allowed the media to become a corporate shill for the Administration. And now all of the good will we might have had to effect change in the world is lost. To help in Sudan.
Another busy couple weeks, but I did manage to finish John Brandon’s first novel, Arkansas. I wasn’t as impressed with it as I have been with many of the McSweeney’s books introducing new authors, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a good book. It’s about small time crime in Arkansas, and sitting here recalling the characters and plot, it suddenly occurs to me that the Cohen brothers could make a great film out of it. I hadn’t drawn that connection while I was reading it, but now that I’m done I realize the book has a genuine sense of place that’s part of the good Cohen movies, and the two main characters often talk right past each other in a way that reminds me of the characters in Blood Simple. Plus: odd violence that’s not necessarily expected at the time it happens.
It’s probably not going to stick with me the way Icelander or The Children’s Hospital did, but I can certainly recommend it. And not insignificantly, it’s a beautifully produced hardcover with a sewn binding and some nice gold leaf on the cover.