Why you should read Pynchon (part 1)

A few weeks ago I was trying, unsuccessfully as always, to get Rainey to read my favorite book – Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon. A paraphrase of our conversation:

Rainey: I’m the one who actually read The Crying of Lot 49,1 and it was a bunch of rambling nonsense with no plot. The critics just like it because it doesn’t make any sense.

Me: I think that critics like Pynchon for the fecundity 2 of interpretive options in his novels.

Rainey: Hmph.

This is a highly paraphrased version of our conversation except for the fact that yes, I used the word fecundity, and yes, it was a poor choice in the context of that evening’s events. But, it does get to the heart of our particular disagreement about the relative merits of reading a 773 page of dense prose written in an affected dialect. Which is to say, that you don’t read Pynchon for the plot.

What you do read Pynchon for is lines like this [from the novel V.]:

It takes, unhappily, no more than a desk and writing supplies to turn any room into a confessional. This may have nothing to do with the acts we have committed or the humours we do go in and out of. It may only be the room – a cube – having no persuasive powers of its own. The room simply is. To occupy it, and find a metaphor there for memory, is our own fault.

This passage tells us so much about ourselves, and the way we are compelled to shape our reality, that it’s hard to believe he’s done it in four relatively short sentences. To be fair, there is also much of Faulkner in Pynchon’s writing – his sentences can range far from home and span quite few lines of print.3 But his novels are full of such wonderfully written insights that the tough slogs are frequently rewarded with these rays of light.

So, without the inclination to turn this into another two thousand word graduate school essay, I’ll leave it for now. But this will be an ongoing series in this webspace. And maybe someday, somewhere, someone will take me up on my recommendation and spend the better part of two months reading something by one of my favorite authors.

1 Yes, in college I failed to read this particular work in its entirety. Most likely because it had been assigned. Sue me.
2 A particularly jackass choice of vocabulary on my part, having corrected her definition of this word on an online IQ test earlier that evening.
3 To be fair, also, I’ve not found The Crying of Lot 49 to be my favorite Pynchon. It’s convenient on a number of levels for the critics to trot this out as canonical, brevity being not the least of these. Suffice it to say that I always recommend either V. or Mason & Dixon to Pynchon neophytes. If you’re going to jump in, start at the deep end.

4 Responses to “Why you should read Pynchon (part 1)”

  1. Rainey Says:

    I think my reply to this post would be far too rambling to fit neatly into the comments section. Much like a Pynchon sentence.
    The post was just so damn chock full of fecundiliciousness that I wouldn’t know where to start.

  2. Perm Says:

    I think that, not having read any Pynchon heretofore; always looking for new and interesting literary pursuits by which to whittle away my leisure time and keep me off the internets as much as possible; having read way too much nonfiction and not nearly enough fiction in recent times; and, not least importantly, valuing the judgment of my friend Conan (even though I DON’T think that Stone Smoked Porter should be likened to the burnt end of a cigar), it should behove [Brit. spelling, of course) me to look into Mssr. Pynchon and his oeuvre. I’ll check out the library. Just as soon as I finish this Caucasian.

  3. walter Says:

    I made it through half of M&D, all of Vineland, all of Lot 49, read some random shorts, and through about half of V. Phenomenal, all, I just can’t seem to slog through these mostrous tomes. Same problem with Delillo’s Underworld. Laughable, really. I should saw the things in half and treat them as two separate works! Metanarrative is lost on poor walter…. And what’s with all the feces talk?? Ok, that’s a stretch, but really, Conan, fecundity? We _know_ you’re smart already!

  4. Conan Says:

    Rainey – touche.

    Perm – I hope yet to make you a convert. And well played with the overlong and far ranging sentence.

    Walter – Having finished Underworld I found only the bits about the graffiti artist and the opening baseball vignette to compare with what I love of Pynchon. You should take another shot at V. sometime. To my shame I have only climbed about half of his most acclaimed work – Gravity’s Rainbow. And, unfortunately, my first attempt at Against the Day left me cold.

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