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Saturday, February 10, 2007
Department of Book Reports Volume 5
Posted by SeattleTammy
Why You Don't Have to be an English Major to Read Thomas Pynchon.
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, The Penguin Press, 1085 pages, $35.00
Because the Words! the Concepts! the Conceit will carry you beyond your borders. The words sparkle. They gleam. They resonate. They remind.
As I read Against the Day, I must pause, to reflect, to consider. Pynchon is a slow read. I need to digest, to absorb, to scratch out the meanings.
As I think on the fantastical panorama, the real world spins around me. I am on the dirigible, the balloon christened the Inconvenience, cruising the Aethernets pursuing anarchist bombers. The crew of this craft are the Chums of Chance, their mission is to help the down trodden the world over. The crew's exploits are hinted at in the litany of titles, during a confidential assignment in Our Nation's Capital (see The Chums of Chance and the Evil Halfwit) they rescue a dog, Pugnax, a large beast from the packs of wild dogs that roam the District. This is a very well read dog, preferring sentimental tales of his own species, rather than the dime novel exploits of the human race, preferably in French. The recurring book titles along with the assorted odd song breaking out amidst the cast and crew. These echo the call and repeat Pynchon has sprinkled in his other works, the obscene Rocket Limericks of Gravity's Rainbow or the many faces of the elusive V. The tightly drawn tension here is again reminicsient of the tenor of The Crying of Lot 49.
At one point, reading late at night, I skipped over the bit about Melungeons. Didn't know the word at all, or the race of people it was purported to be. A few days later, perusing publisher catalogs, I came across Lisa Alther's new book, Kinfolks. I had read Kinflicks back in 1985 when the Signet edition came out. So, what is Lisa up to now? Turns out, she is a Melungeon, the side of the family that her mother never spoke of or to, reside in East Tennessee and they purportedly have 6 fingers and steal small children, she was able to trace her ancestral roots. That's what I love about Pynchon. These little concepts that imbed themselves, only to bubble up when you don't expect them.
I do feel the snobbery surrounding Pynchon is unfair. You can read him and take away your own rewards, as little or large as you can carry. In this most celebrity-driven society that we are in, the message seems to be "You are TOO dumb for this". I can't believe that. As a bookseller, I strive to put the most challenging reads into hands & eyes that might not have noticed and I sure as Hell don't want anyone skerred off because it's Too Hard, Too Literary, Too Obscure. Every new Thomas Pynchon release brings forth the same cry from the critics. "Sniff, yes it's an ok book, but doesn't show the brilliance of his last work. sniff". And what was it they had said about that previous book upon it's release? "Sniff." It isn't until his next book is out on the market that the previous volume is declared His Best, and that this one simply doesn't measure up.
Pynchon uses dazzling kaleidoscopes of words to remind us of what needs to be remembered. Beyond all our life experiences, Thomas Pynchon will remain a puzzle, the reclusive author has only been on television three times and never grants interviews. But it needs to be realized now- this is an important book- and scholars will much later expound upon it's virtues. In about 10 years.
Enjoy it now, before the rush.
Why should you read Against the Day? Because it's fun! Because the passage which garnered the book a nomination for the Bad Sex in Fiction award, gives a whole new meaning to the term "Lapdog"!
Against the Day is available at Jackson Street Books and fine independent bookstores everywhere.
This book report may have had help from democommie™™™™®©, it remains to be seen if the bank decides the paperstock is legitimate on that money order...
at 2:10 PM