Thomas Pynchon discussion

Thomas Pynchon
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How did he hook you?

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message 1: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments I was working at a bookstore, and I came across a copy of The Crying of Lot 49. I remembered friends from a comics messageboard talking about Pynchon, so the name rang a bell, but I knew nothing about the book or what I was getting myself into. I see this slim thing and I've got a five-hour flight in a few days, so I figure, what the hell.

I read it from front to back on the flight. Didn't have a single clue what happened. Knew I needed more, right then and there.

Now, he's one of my favorites of all time.

So: how did he hook you?


message 2: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ingraham | 5 comments Read the Front Page Review of GR in the NYTBR. Sounded very creative and interesting. My favorite book Now . Like his attitude, references, word play ( can you do better than a spa named Bad Karma?) and political attitude. Found Mason and Dixon a bit of tough sledding with the archaic language, but everything else is not as hard as people make it out to be.


message 3: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments Benny wrote: "A friend was reading Mason and Dixon, he challenged me to read it as well. I knew nothing about Pynchon except he was a "recluse" and his work was difficult.

Well, it was an absolute pleasure to ..."


I do what I call The Mason and Dixon Challenge to people. I see how many words the given reader can get into the book before they give up.

I've given it kind of a broad flip, but man, that thing is not only dense, but the language is just brutal. There are beautiful portions of it, but it hasn't quite hit me hard enough to motivate me to a full read.

Reminds me of Infinite Jest in that way; any time Wallace tried to write dialect, my eyes rolled so hard they fell out of my head.

Pynchon's a little more deft and a lot less insulting, but a language barrier is a language barrier.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, I occasionally tell people to flip to a random page of M&D and start reading. They are usually lost within a few paragraphs, if not immediately.

I don't claim to understand everything in M&D, and at certain points the key for me was to just keep digging until I found some thread to hang on to. Still for me it was worth the effort, but Its not a labour of love, if you don't dig it, read something you do.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I haven't read Infinite Jest but the recent film "The End of the Tour" has piqued my interest.


message 6: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments Benny wrote: "I haven't read Infinite Jest but the recent film "The End of the Tour" has piqued my interest."

Jest is interesting because it's the work of a master, but it's also tremendously unfocused and maybe TOO experimental, if there is such a thing. There are portions of it that'll make you cry, they're so good, and there are portions you'll want to take out of your brain with a blowtorch.

If you want to get into Wallace (providing you haven't already), I'd recommend his short fiction -- which is deeply and shamefully underrated -- and his essays. If you're really into those, crack open Jest.


message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 03, 2015 02:41AM) (new)

I've heard good things about Hideous Men, might give that a try.

To be honest the older I've gotten the less interested I am in tackling really difficult fiction. When it delivers it's one of the best reader experiences you can have but when it fails it's a frustrating waste of time.


message 8: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments Benny wrote: "I've heard good things about Hideous Men, might give that a try.

To be honest the older I've gotten the less interested I am in tackling really difficult fiction. When it delivers it's one of the ..."


Hideous Men is a great place to start, in that case.

His books kind of rise in difficulty and experimentation as he goes along (in short fiction, at least): Girl / Curious has pretty simple stories, and then he starts to show his ambition in the novella.

Hideous Men is straightforward and contains some of his absolute best work (Forever Overhead floors me, every time).

Oblivion is where he starts to go a little gonzo; Incarnations of a Burned Child is one of the best and darkest things I've ever read, but the title story -- even though he's trying to get Something Particular across, gets really tedious. You have to fight for the payoff.

Getting back to Pynchon: I always feel like there's so much payoff in what he gives to you. Especially these days, when he's writing things so much less complicated, but still so Pynchonian. Inherent Vice has some of his best descriptions of landscape and some of his cutest character moments, and it's looked at as "lesser Pynchon."


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael | 5 comments I loved Mason & Dixon. It's become one of my favorite Pynchon novels. Initially I thought the arcane language would be a barrier, a bridge too far. However, to my surprise it didn't take long before I stopped noticing it. It became second nature, just part of the flow of the novel. Not saying everyone would have this experience.


message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I see you've read the Sot-Weed Factor as well. Another favourite of mine. I don't know which one I prefer to be honest.


message 11: by Michael (new)

Michael Joseph | 6 comments Not sure if by "how" you mean what specifically in Pynchon's work made me want to keep reading him, or what were the circumstances in which I discovered him. I was in college when I got hold of The Crying of Lot 49. I wasn't specifically reading contemporary fiction, or experimental fiction. I liked an assortment of contemporaries, Mailer, Elkin, Bruce Jay Friedman, Heller, Calvino, Salinger, Roth, Malamud, Vonnegut, Barth. I heard Pynchon was a friend of Richard Farina's, whose book I liked a lot, and whose album with Mimi I also liked. I have to confess, Crying impressed me as being cute and clever--Pynchon seemed a hipper, more powerful, more sinister Richard Brautigan. I wasn't going to invest the time required in reading V. A few years later, I picked up Gravity's Rainbow. By then Pynchon was a full-fledged celebrity and I knew I would have to read him if I had any pretensions to being a serious reader. It was somewhere between page 200 and 300 that I had that exploding head moment, and for the rest of the book I felt as though I was on a really good LSD trip. I've read every Pynchon novel since then, beginning them as soon after they came out as I could. Often when I can't sleep at night, I lie in bed listening to Jeanie Berlin reading The Bleeding Edge (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3p4C...), or Michael McClarty reading Inherent Vice. Taking, or mistaking, myself for a serious reader has given me a lot of reading pleasure. Thank you, Goddess, for my vanity and insecurity!


message 12: by Angelo (new)

Angelo D Vita (advta) | 2 comments I was living in London a couple years back and a friend of mine came up with Gravity's Rainbow. Somehow, the title got my attention and after reading the first line - "A screaming comes across the sky" - I was completely hooked.
I bought V. and it got me good. The way he describes the scenes and characters still blows my mind.
After that, it was one book after another...still have to read M&D and Vineland and I got the absolute certainty that they are as good as any other...but not quite like Gravity's, that one was something out of this world.
Long live Pynchon


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Gravity's Rainbow is a masterpiece. The premise alone had me hooked.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHc6y...


message 14: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ingraham | 5 comments Benny wrote: "Gravity's Rainbow is a masterpiece. The premise alone had me hooked.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHc6y..."


Very cool! Do you know who reads/sings this and where you can get a copy of more of these songs? I don't see any answer in the youtube comments. I know it's not George Guidall. I'm pretty familiar with him


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

No sorry, I couldn't find a source either.


message 16: by AleXander (last edited Dec 08, 2015 07:51AM) (new)

AleXander Hirka | 13 comments Great books - Mason/Dixon (after a dozen pages it just became the language I was reading in; as any other book), Gravity's Rainbow (4x on that one over the years) and oh yes: Against The Day!
Following decades of Pynchon being at the top of my list, in the last 2 years David Foster Wallace has joined him, A good place to start is with a book of essays and book of short stories to enter the mind of this master. Infinite Jest is a brilliant work with so many wondrous interconnected layers - a true adventure of the mind. Just finished his unfinished symphony The Pale King, which has also joined the few dozen books with my 5 star ratings.


message 17: by AleXander (last edited Dec 05, 2015 04:01PM) (new)

AleXander Hirka | 13 comments Michael wrote: "I loved Mason & Dixon. It's become one of my favorite Pynchon novels. Initially I thought the arcane language would be a barrier, a bridge too far. However, to my surprise it didn't take long befor..."

My experience exactly. A few dozen pages in and it had me and held me. Mason & Dixon and Against The Day are my favorites - with Gravity's Rainbow sharing the shelf.


message 18: by Michael (new)

Michael Joseph | 6 comments it's been years since I read M & D and I'm tempted to re-read it. The time commitment is formidable. I started rereading Against the Day last year, but couldn't finish it before life intervened. I think I might just skim pieces of it, instead. With Vineland, Bleeding Edge and Inherent Vice, re-reading is relatively easy. Can't imagine how I found the time to read GR, M&D and AtD. I'm 63 now. I wonder if I'm running out of steam, reading more slowly, or reading more widely.


message 19: by Michael (last edited Dec 06, 2015 04:40AM) (new)

Michael | 5 comments Alexander, also my favorite three Pynchon -- Against the Day, Mason & Dixon, and the one that started it all for me, Gravity's Rainbow. GR is what hooked me way back in the 1970s -- I read it, liked it, but didn't understand much. However, it was a mind-worm, which worked its way through my brain over the years, always drawing me back to reread it. And so I did, and each time I understood more, enjoyed and appreciated it more.


message 20: by Angelo (new)

Angelo D Vita (advta) | 2 comments Have you guys read The Tunnel, by William H. Gass? That was some intense reading and I got a lot of Pynchon style on his writing. I truly recommend it, although it's a heavy book with a dark plot.
Some parts are just beautiful. Here's a quote:

"Outside the sky is a hard blue as though glazed. It won't let a cloud cross, a bird in. Leaves are landing with the sound of sand. The sun has scissored its shadows out of the earth and walls and sold the silhouettes...
...It is a day of definition, of clean and crisp distinctions like the dance of a fine mind. It is another day."


message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Joseph | 6 comments Great quotation. Gass is one of our greatest prose stylists, and The Tunnel deserves more attention than it has received, imho. Wonder what you think of as being like Pynchon. You might enjoy his Middle-C (Gass's), which came out last year. Some of the musical discussion did remind me of the famous comparison between Beethoven and Strauss in GR, and there are what seem like small homages throughout--bits of brief impersonations of admired writers, Camus, Elkin...


message 22: by AleXander (new)

AleXander Hirka | 13 comments Michael wrote: "it's been years since I read M & D and I'm tempted to re-read it. The time commitment is formidable. I started rereading Against the Day last year, but couldn't finish it before life intervened. I ..."

63 also and with mortality looming ahead I am eating up books as fast as I can. Luckily I am on public transportation here in NYC for an hour or more a day so that provides reading time. After the last year of everything by David Foster Wallace I am heading outward with "The Seducer" Jan Kjærstad, which after 70 pages has me completely captured (which means two others since it's one of a trilogy). So much out there to read . . . The Lost Scrapbook, The Recognitions . . . and Against The Day and Mason & Dixon at least one more time around in the next year or so.


message 23: by Ohenrypacey (new)

Ohenrypacey | 16 comments I had been aware of TP for many years before being stuck waiting for a friend at his apartment, where I picked up his copy of Vineland and began reading. This was a quirky tradition I had begun years before when I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in one sitting waiting in the same manner.
30 or so pages was enough to convince me to pick up my own copy. I read CoL49 next, followed by GR, and by then AtD was published so I grabbed it right away. I filled in the rest of the canon over the years, re-reading both Vineland and Lot49. I'm not much of a re-reader, but i will likely read M&D, AtD and GR again. V is my least favorite.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Alexander: "it was a mind-worm, which worked its way through my brain over the years"

That's the perfect way to describe it.


message 25: by AleXander (new)

AleXander Hirka | 13 comments Benny wrote: "Alexander: "it was a mind-worm, which worked its way through my brain over the years"

That's the perfect way to describe it."


Actually it was Michael so said that. :-) and yes, it's good.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

My bad.


message 27: by Michael (new)

Michael | 5 comments Angelo wrote: "Have you guys read The Tunnel, by William H. Gass? That was some intense reading and I got a lot of Pynchon style on his writing. I truly recommend it, although it's a heavy book with a dark plot.
..."


Just started reading The Tunnel -- it's been on my to-read list for a few years now.


message 28: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments I'm on the opposite side of the age conversation here: I'm trying to stretch the Pynchon catalog as far into old age as I get.

Since we ended up on Gass, I flipped through In The Heart of the Heart of the Country and loved it. I'd read scattered pieces here and there -- he seemed pretentious in a symposium with Grace Paley (a SAINT!), Walker Percy, and moderator Donald Barthelme (a guy Pynchon loved), and I'd caught a short piece about exile that was brilliant. He's talented, but Middle C and The Tunnel are just unspeakably dense.

And let's not even start on The Recognitions...


message 29: by AleXander (new)

AleXander Hirka | 13 comments Funny thing about "a guy Pynchon loved" . . .
I have not had great success with liking books recommended by authors I love.
Stone Junction by Jim Dodge and Zeroville by Steve Erickson, both recommended by Pynchon I gave up by page 50 (my break-off point) because they were so sophomoric - and very ditto for Tom Robbins work.
To be fair, to counter those three, I did love The Glass Ocean by Lori Baker and Warlock by Oakley Hall, both of which Mr Pynchon also recommended.
(I also abandoned Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson, which David Foster Wallace recommended.)


message 30: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments Alexander wrote: "Funny thing about "a guy Pynchon loved" . . .
I have not had great success with liking books recommended by authors I love.
Stone Junction by Jim Dodge and Zeroville by Steve Erickson, both recom..."


I don't like to dismiss authors outright, but everything I've read by Robbins is t r a s h (not even WASTE). The others, I haven't looked into.

Pynchon wrote forewords for Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina, and The Teaching of Don B., a collection of Barthelme odds-and-ends, and I think they're both worth a look. That introduction to Barthelme served as an introduction to one of my favorite authors.

He also blurbed DeLillo, not that he needed another feather in his cap.


message 31: by Ohenrypacey (new)

Ohenrypacey | 16 comments The Recognitions is Gaddis, not Gass. Similarly dense, however, so your point is very valid.


message 32: by Phillip (last edited Dec 17, 2015 10:42AM) (new)

Phillip | 57 comments funny, i thought i responded to this, but i guess i haven't

my room-mate was reading GRAVITY'S RAINBOW in 1982 and passed it on to me. i read it quickly and came to the end and thought, damn, i maybe got a 1/4 of that. i enjoyed the language, but at the time i was starting out on what became a good deal of research on joyce - went on to write a grad thesis on him - and a few years down the line i felt that that i wanted to go back and take my time and dig into it.

it took a while to get back to it but the pay off was extraordinary. saw the novel in its entirety (in my head) and was keen to read everything else. that led to CRYING OF LOT 39, and, having grown up in southern california, it was a real treat. that led to VINELAND - also lived in humboldt county - so the local references were rich. that reading wrapped up around the time AGAINST THE DAY came out - that was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences ever - so MASON AND DIXON, which i had purchased but left on the shelf for some unexplained reason, was next and yeah, the language was a bit thorny, but nothing like the OXEN OF THE SUN episode of ULYSSES, actually really loved that book almost as much as ATD, so at this point INHERENT VICE came out - again, having grown up in los angeles and came of age during the period depicted, i couldn't think of another novel that touched upon my hometown and the culture and etc. so well - loved it - i know a lot of people turn their nose up at "pynchon lite", but really - if beethoven had only composed symphonies we wouldn't have the piano works or the string quartets, so ... ok, maybe that was a bad example! - so then i re-read CRYING OF LOT 39 and went back to V, because it seemed like time to return to a dense pynchon novel and yeah, that delivered, obviously. THE BLEEDING EDGE came out and i have had a hard time with that one. i think if i had lived in nyc at the turn of the century it would have had more impact. just kind of felt that he wasn't in top form in terms of language and twisty-turning narratives. but i will go back and read it again - it's often me that is the problem. that's my journey with mr p. at this point i want to re-read ATD because it seems like it would be so nice to get a better picture of that enormous form in my head. i also composed some music inspired by characters in the book and want to continue composing in that cycle, so ... there's my next homework assignment.

one wants to read things other than pynchon, so i get distracted, like everyone else. i dedicated a good 12 years of my life to understanding joyce and it was well worth the effort. pynchon seems like the only living writer these days whose work warrants such inquiry.

i think before i get around to returning to ATD, i want to read some critical writing on pynchon. that's a good goal for 2016.

cheers!


message 33: by Adam (new)

Adam Witt (adamwitt) | 7 comments I knew Gaddis did The Recognitions, my sentence structure was just blown to bits. i'm no Pynchon. :)


message 34: by Phillip (last edited Dec 17, 2015 10:44AM) (new)

Phillip | 57 comments Adam wrote: "I don't like to dismiss authors outright, but everything I've read by Robbins is t r a s h (not even WASTE). The others, I haven't looked into. ."


i think robbins is one of those guys whose work remains planted in the 70's and had a bit of cultural resonance for those times. his work doesn't really transcend that decade. i read him in my early 20's, most likely with ganja in one hand and EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES in the other ... i think it worked for that moment in time. there are much better uses of one's time today.


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