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Slow Learner

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  3,369 Ratings  ·  200 Reviews
Long before Thomas Pynchon published his famous novel V. and radically changed the shape of literature in our century, he was writing stories—inventive, wonderfully imagined short fiction that startled and delighted readers fortunate enough to find them among the pages of Kenyon Review or The Noble Savage. Now, for the first time, five of these stories have been collected ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 240 pages
Published April 1990 by Bantam Windstone Book (first published 1984)
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While not essential to the Pynchon canon, these stories provide insight into how Pynchon started created his stories and his universes. We even get to see a few characters that appear in Gravity's Rainbow and Against the Day later on. I would say this is for the Pynchon-addicts like myself who are waiting impatiently for yet another Pynchon masterpiece.
Mattia Ravasi
Oct 18, 2016 Mattia Ravasi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2016:

Worth its price for the introduction alone, the five stories in Slow Learner show a writer trying his hand at different things. Paradoxically enough, the least Pynchonian stories in the collection (1st and 5th) are also the most effective if you ask me, but even in the less elegant middle stories one can find sparks of true genius. Must read.
Jun 30, 2009 Bram rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pynchon-loving young writers in need of a confidence boost
Shelves: 2009
My first reaction, rereading these stories, was oh my God, accompanied by physical symptoms we shouldn't dwell upon.

This, from the opening paragraph of Thomas Pynchon's introduction to his earliest published stories, appears at first to be a self-conscious oversell of false modesty. Even after watching him pick apart the stories for the first 25 pages, one by one and with an assiduous efficiency, you still don't believe they are going to be bad. But then you read the first story, and you start t
Mar 02, 2007 erock rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who hate their sad, sad lives
Any book that starts out in the preface saying that what you are about to read sucks and then makes a series of apologies about how bad it is and how much he learned and how smart he actually is and on and on with the pretentious 'I really am one of the greatest writers in the 20th century, you just won't be able to tell from the shit you are about to read' litany.
That is just self indulgent and embarassing.

But, he was right, it all pretty much didn't do a lot except bore.

I bought an Elvis Co
Worth it for the introduction alone. This was my 4th Pynchon, and probably a good time for it. Would probably be a bit anticlimactic if I had saved this for last.

Highlights: "Entropy" and "Under the Rose". Also, a Slothrop relative, wart Doctor makes an appearance.

Good enough writing, but experience enhanced if you're all-in with Pynchon, natch.
Daniel Chaikin
Jun 15, 2016 Daniel Chaikin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
31. Slow Learner : Early Stories by Thomas Pynchon
published: 1984 - stories originally published 1959, 1960, 1961 & 1964
format: 193 page paperback
acquired: March 13
read: May 30 - Jun 4
rating: 4 stars

A much nicer reading experience than I expected. The self-deprecating introduction really sets the tone, downplaying expectations and welcoming the reader to just relax a bit and enjoy the flawed stories. These five stories include the first four stories Pynchon published. They were apparently
Borderline juvenilia. Introduction by author dismisses the collection ab initio as “illustrative of typical problems in entry-level fiction” (4). Explains that “when we speak of ‘seriousness’ in fiction ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death” (5) which I regard as probably philistine. Nevertheless, author suggests “one of the reasons that fantasy and science fiction appeal so much to younger readers is that, when the space and time have been altered to allow characters to trave ...more
May 04, 2013 Tosh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
The most interesting aspect of this volume of short stories is the introduction by its author Thomas Pynchon. He's very funny and there is a certain amount of charm in how he looks at his work when he was young... and before he became the icon that he is now. The only book I have read all the way through is his last novel "Inherent Vice" which I loved, because it reminded me of my youth in Southern California and all the references both culturally and actual stores in actual locations are just p ...more

Not an ideal Pynchon introduction, so stalled for now. I need a screaming across the sky I guess.
Mar 28, 2016 Gauri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thomas-pynchon
Oh, Thomas Pynchon! The only author who has fully convinced me of two polar opposite things at once: 1) that I am terribly stupid and 2) that he is terribly stupid.

I think the only reason you would want to read this compilation of short stories would be to study Pynchon's work further than you already have. This is not a good introductory book to read to understand Pynchon's writing. There are five stories in this novel, written from 1959 - 1964, from when he was in college at Cornell, to a coup
Dec 22, 2008 Jimmy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I recently felt motivated to actually read this thing cover to cover. It sort of confirmed my opinion that Pynchon's ideal format is the novel. While they aren't poorly written, these stories will probably disappoint anyone who has read one of his more epic novels. Most of the endings seem abrupt, and Pynchon has always seemed like an elaborate architect when it comes to storytelling, so I often felt like the pace was too fast and the length insufficient.

His rather self-deprecatory introduction
Insomma, io ce l'ho messa tutta. L'ho letto fino alla fine, sperando sempre in un riscatto, che però... niente, non c'è stato!
Non sono riuscita ad entrare in risonanza con la frequenza di Pynchon. Non mi ha preso. La lettura mi sfuggiva di mano. Leggevo, ma i personaggi non mi trattenevano. Mi giravano intorno e non si fermavano.
Sembra che P. sia un grande della letteratura americana. Ma io non l'ho capito.
E così le stelline si sono spente un po' alla volta...
Al racconto 'Entropia', che ho lett
Jack Waters
May 08, 2013 Jack Waters rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Worth the read for Pynchon's introduction to the book and the story "Entropy." I think the best introduction to Pynchon is "The Crying of Lot 49" followed by "V." I'd say read this if you are a completionist. As for a starting point, it could work, but I still think his novels outpace any of his stories.

I read this because Gravity's Rainbow has claimed me as a victim five times now. I've yet to get past page 250. One day.
Vittorio Ducoli
Dec 09, 2010 Vittorio Ducoli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
L'apprendistato di un grande narratore del caos

Dopo la lettura di un'opera come V., la cui complessità e vastità sorprende e per certi versi sconcerta, leggere i cinque racconti contenuti in questo ottimo volume delle edizioni e/o porta a conoscere un Pynchon sostanzialmente diverso, più convenzionale (se mi si passa il termine, da intendersi comunque compreso entro più serie di virgolette). I motivi di questa convenzionalità sono a mio avviso essenzialmente due. Il primo è che si tratta di racc
I read Pynchon's intro weeks ago on a sample. That's pretty much the best thing in this book; still it's interesting to watch development in style and motifs through these stories, which were first published 1960-1964.

The Small Rain A lot of this is a pretty conventional short story, not a bad one though, about an army battalion sent to clear up after a natural disaster. Presumably a semi-autobiographical element: some of the main characters are rank & file soldiers their comrades think are
Review #7 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"

The following is a recently recovered collection of notes and feedback given to Thomas Ruggles Pynchon from his writing workshop classmate [redacted] at Cornell University. In the case of "The Secret Integration" the story was completed after his undergraduate years and the response is actually mailed ~1962-1963.

The Small Rain
I was liking the Hemingway tone of it until you ruined it with the self-referential dig at him. Also felt like the charact
J.M. Hushour
Jul 28, 2016 J.M. Hushour rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pynchon is a little too hard on himself in his estimation of these five stories, all but one published before his first novel. We can forgive this, since he wrote the goddamn things, but we can just as easily argue with him since we're reading the goddamn things.
I'd read "Lowlands" before, in one of those baffling, half-turgid little small-press limited runs and quite liked it, but it's in "Under the Rose" and "The Secret Integration" where Pynchon begins to stake his claim in those weird nooks
Nov 10, 2007 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own
This might change later, but right now, I'm less interested in What Pynchon Has To Tell Me than I am in How Pynchon Became Pynchon. I'm sure I'll eventually get around to the Boners & Bombs book, but I'm burningly curious about how one wills oneself into the person that writes that sort of book. The issue is all the more curious when reading "Slow Learner," a collection of five of Pynchon's earliest short stories, four of them written while still in college, and annotated in the present day ...more
Feb 06, 2017 Reuben rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
PDFs of The Secret Integration are readily available on Google so no one should ever have to pay money for this book.

The first four stories range from OK to pretty terrible, but the fifth, The Secret Integration, is brilliant and the only one--in my opinion--worth reading.

I honestly don't think Ruggles' intro where he claims he's embarrassed by these is false modesty.
Lisa gave me this collection of short stories for my birthday a few years ago. I feel badly that it took me so long to get around to reading it, but it just didn't look like it'd be my sort of thing. It kind of wasn't. I've never read any Pynchon before. These were his early stories, all published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They felt... thicker... than the sorts of stories I usually read. I did like the bit of a flair of fantasy that runs through a few of the otherwise perfectly ordinary ...more
‘Un lento aprendizaje’ recoge los primeros relatos de Thomas Pynchon, que escribió entre 1958 y 1964, y en ellos se aprecia esa esencia pynchoniana tan típica. Ya en la larga introducción, Pynchon nos comenta los errores que contienen estos cuentos, típicos en un autor nobel, y de su manía a la hora de documentarse con la lectura de otros libros antes que con la experiencia. En esta introducción, Pynchon también nos habla de las tramas y sus personajes, del humor inherente en ambos, del germen d ...more
Feb 07, 2011 Σς rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Very interesting stuff. I'm a bit surprised Pynchon even published this; one would think that if he were really as embarrassed as he professes to be in the preface, that he wouldn't collect them--perhaps (perhaps!) this modesty is false?

As for the stories, they are very rough and I found myself getting distracted and falling asleep while reading them. They required a real force of will to finish them, something I didn't have on most attempts. There are, however, flashes of brilliance scattered t
Dec 03, 2015 Brandon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories, pomo
The introduction is definitely an important part of the Pynchon canon, and the stories themselves, though Pynchon discounts them as juvenilia, are pretty good in their own right. "The Small Rain" is the weakest of the lot, and oddly the most fascinating part is the one Pynchon is most ashamed of; the sex scene between Levine and the country girl may reek of the sort of flowery prose belonging to many an amateur author, but it hints at the greatest to come in V. and GR. "Low-lands" is good as a f ...more
I love Pynchon. However, I think the greatest satisfaction I got from this story collection was two-fold:

1) the introduction, by the man himself! In a way, he lost a little of the glamorous sheen of anonymity he heretofore possessed, but otherwise, it was kind of thrilling to catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. It hasn't ruined the magic of any of his previous works, though being able to hold tenable the hypothesis that he is just as human as any other meatbag with a keyboard is excit
Apr 05, 2011 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So as not to reiterate what many reviewers said already, I will just give some very brief notes on Slow Learner.

Most critical is that one read the introduction after (it should absolutely be an afterword). Beyond that, most of the stories feel like test runs with ideas and genres and characters that Pynchon later brought to captivating life later in his career. My favorite, by a long shot, has to be "The Secret Integration," in which we discover that Thomas Pynchon has feelings.

Other fun facts
Swarnadeep Banik
pynchon is funny. no, no, he's very funny. no, no, no, actually, pynchon is mocking-funny. yes, he's a mock-comic writer. but, this book as a high form of pynchonesque mocking art topples even his expectations. no, seriously. he's just so good at it that he surpassed himself in this book. there are five early short stories of pynchon in this book, but, imho, that introduction is actually the best one. yes, real events as story. he catered it like that. and, in a very funny way, goddamn him! now, ...more
Sean McBride
So I picked up this book because I've never read Pynchon and everyone says he's the greatest. I'm torn between starting with this book because the meaning of the title didn't dawn on me until I started it. Slow Learner (Early Stories).

The essay at the beginning of the book was probably the best part about it. He describes the struggles of what it means to be a writer and what it meant to be a writer in the wake of the beats.

You can see glimpses of greatness inbetween poor form and pretension (
Only actually good story the last one ("Secret Integration"). I actually got this because I wanted to see if I got Pynchon early enough whether I could understand him. Have decided it really doesn't matter. His stuff all sounds the same: plodding, pointless and dull. Like so much of that fatuous picaresque '60's crap. Not helped any either by a smirking, posturing intro--wherein he criticizes himself for all sorts of inane trivial egghead reasons. And how can somebody who gets their stuff publis ...more
Oct 16, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good Ol' Ruggles. Perhaps only for Pynchon completionists. Certainly there's nothing here that isn't found in one of his brick books. Interesting to see Pynchon become himself over the course of the 5 or so years these were written. His first story "The Slow Rain" being his sloppiest - dragging its feet to nowhere. And "Entropy" annoyingly doing the "hey, I'm an artist. I know art." thing. The final two stories of the collection being the most freshly Pynchonian. Also includes a fantastic introd ...more
I want to like T. Pynchon. I really do. So I keep reading his books. Gravity's Rainbow is next. I enjoyed these stories, especially The Secret Integration, which I find to be very much not how Pynchon writes, in general. So I don't know what that says about me liking Pynchon, the fact that I like it when he writes stuff that doesn't sound like him. But come on, how awesome is it that the only picture that Google can come up with is his Navy mugshot from the 1950's? Google can see my apartment fr ...more
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Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American writer based in New York City, noted for his dense and complex works of fiction. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known today: V. (1963 ...more
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“Everybody gets told to write about what they know. The trouble with many of us is that at the earlier stages of life we think we know everything- or to put it more usefully, we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance.” 152 likes
“It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol or other abstract unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it.” 28 likes
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