Against the Day

Just over four months ago, I finished Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and did a quick read of DeLillo’s Falling Man before taking on Pynchon’s latest, Against the Day. His very short The Crying of Lot 49 aside, this is the first of Pynchon’s book I’ve read in one go, if plodding through it over 4 months can really be considered a single go. I went through start to finish with no stamina-loss-related break, in any case. My slowness was the result primarily of a paucity of time to read for long at a stretch (that reality TV’s not gonna watch itself, you know). When you’re reading in 10- to 20-page increments, it’s hard to get through an 1,100 page book very quickly.

So, what did I think of it? I’m not sure. The first 700 or so pages were for the most part very engaging, and it’s the easiest long Pynchon I’ve read yet. Whereas GR was hard to follow a whole lot of the time, AtD was pretty manageable. The next 300 pages were harder to get through because the dominant plot line just wasn’t as interesting to me as some of the others. As Pynchon closes up the book (which he really does with more tidiness than I might have expected) in the last 85 or so pages, it’s a more fun read again, though not nearly as much so as earlier parts of the book. I guess I liked it well enough. Although it’s physically heavier, it didn’t feel as content-weighty to me as GR did. Something about it doesn’t seem as important to me as GR did, though I can’t articulate what the difference is or why GR has a feel of importance (maybe I’m swayed by its having won an award?). I’m sure my enjoyment/slogging ratio in AtD was higher than it was in GR, but GR I think is the better book.

One thing that really hit home for me during this read was a difference in the way I appreciate certain books. Some authors or books make me wish the whole time I’m reading them that I were able to go out and write long fiction. They inspire creativity in me. Steinbeck in his best books and Richard Powers in The Time of Our Singing make me feel this way. An author like Pynchon doesn’t. I appreciate the complexity in his books, but they don’t inspire me to want to do my own creation. Both sorts of appreciation are valuable to me; too much of the former would continuously highlight my personal creative deficiencies and make me feel like crap all the time.

I’ve been pushing really hard for the last week or so to get through to the end of AtD because I’m traveling a week from today and didn’t want to have to carry that brick around with me the whole time. Now I’m off to do what I predict will be reading of a lighter style in Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish and Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician. I’m also picking through Best American Nonfiction for 2007 (edited by David Foster Wallace, one of my faves). From there who knows? Maybe the book-length study of Wallace’s Infinite Jest that should arrive in 30 days or maybe another reread of the subject of that study. Maybe back for a second shot at Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. Zadie Smith and Gass are on my wish list, so maybe they’ll round out my year. Or more likely I’ll punctuate hours and hours of TV with the occasional batch of poems or shorter fiction. Recommendations always welcome.

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