05 December 2006

Fluttering into the fray

The deliciously erudite Neddie Jingo has tossed down the gauntlet, challenging all and sundry to join him and fellow avid reader Will Divide in a book blog-salon about Thomas Pynchon’s latest, “Against the Day.”

The response from his readers to “The Chumps of Choice” is enthusiastic, if a little nervous. Pynchon is rumored to be ridiculously difficult to read, requiring at least a dictionary and desk encyclopedia at either elbow, handy. Those into that sort of thing are leaping directly into the fray while others, like me, briefly stepped back to consider the consequences.

Like, having to look up words. Lots of words. Understanding their meanings, then applying them to the sentence at hand, and then to the wider concept. Like, you know. Thinking.

I dunno, Ned, I mumbled. I don’t have time for – and then I remembered that I’m an uncaged Wren. I can spread my stubby, chubby wings and fly!

Besides, he’s only talking about reading and discussing 25 pages a week. And I have a dictionary and a magnifying glass.

I decided to do it. I joined The Chumps of Choice. Hooked into a copy of “Against the Day” through Amazon. What the hell – you only live once.

This is not the first time that ol’ Jingo has seduced me into giddy peril. Curious from his gleeful prodding some time back I bought a used copy of “Mason & Dixon,” Pynchon’s last novel. It arrived strapped to the back of a truck. The mailperson was not amused. I promised whiskey in the mailbox for Christmas and our relationship resumed its smooth, friendly tone, but I’ve since seen her looking askance at me now and then.

After doing arm-circles with two-pound weights in my hands for a few days to build up my muscles, I opened M&D. Read about four pages. My eyes crossed.

Normally, this only happens to me when the reading material is tres boring and Very Important. County General Plans and Environment Impact Reports come to mind.

But "Mason & Dixon" wasn’t boring. It was ... fascinating. The words nearly leap off the page they’re so lively. But my brain, used to reading much lighter material (literally and figuratively) was already flagging.

I'm an eclectic reader, when I'm reading for my own enjoyment and enlightenment. And I’m accustomed to reading all kinds of things as an editor. But the main thing I’m looking for in journalistic writing is truth, then clarity, then grammar and punctuation. And I’m looking to find those things fast. The last thing a newspaper editor wants her readers to do is pick up a dictionary to get through a news story.

So I put Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” into use as a doorstop. I've noticed that sometimes it swells a little. Shudders, sighs, and exudes that booky-papery smell. As if all those ideas and images, characters and concepts, dreams and fantasies are trying to get out ...

“Against the Day” should be arriving any day now.

It weighs in at over 1,000 pages. My mailperson is going to be sore again, but I’ll just bake her my famous Black Russian cake, too. It’ll get a bit squashed in the mailbox, but I don’t think she’ll mind.

I should add that since joining “Chumps” and ordering the book, then getting worried and visiting ThomasPynchon.com’s “Advice for Newbies” to reassure myself, I’ve also completely lost my mind and offered to moderate for the group. Mr. Jingo, who is no doubt wondering what the hell he’s gotten himself into, instantly took up my offer. I’ll be moderating pages 81-96 the week of Jan. 15. After that, we’ll see.

Want to join us? Pop on over to "The Chumps of Choice." It's gonna be an adventure.

1 comment:

Neddie said...

Aww, Wren, you're such a sweetie...

Please don't be nervous -- You are, after all, an uncaged Wren! "Ridiculously difficult"? No -- just challenging!

You will find that "Against the Day" is infinitely easier than "Mason & Dixon," which had that Eighteenth-Century Problem to overcome -- Pynchon's cranky insistence on sticking to "authentic" prose. "Against the Day" is in modern prose, and is eons' worth clearer that M&D's hifalutin hoo-hah.

That said, wasn't his opening sentence in M&D just utterly knee-weakingingly beautiful? "Snowballs have flown their Arcs..."

Enough to make you hit the local antiques emporium....