Thursday, January 29, 2015

Beaten myself into all the colours of the rainbow;

As I make my way through #78, Wide Sargasso Sea, I can't help think ahead to the next book, which I plan to be Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I'm not sure where my fears originated, but I think I've had them for as long as I've been reading through this list.

My first mention of these fears on this blog was on October 1, 2010, when I admitted I was intimidated by the book's 750+ pages. I've since read several books that were 750 pages, and some quite a few more, so I don't think that really turns me off anymore. Unless, of course, it's 750 pages of something I'm not enjoying (see The Recognitions). It could turn into a disaster if I'm not enjoying it.

It was soon after that post, that I first started to think I might not enjoy the book, when I heard from a couple of people, who I would describe as 'advanced readers,' that it was complicated and difficult to follow/understand. One person said they had to keep notes just to avoid getting lost. While I often make notes while reading, it isn't because I can't follow the book; frankly I don't think a book should require that much effort.

In August of 2011, in an effort to quell my fears, I decided to first read Pynchon's other book on the list, The Crying of Lot 49. The idea was that as it was only around 150 pages, it would be a good way to wet my beak with Pynchon; and maybe I'd like it, which would put all my fears to rest. Now I'll admit I enjoyed it on a certain level, but it was difficult to follow. And it was pretty strange. I finished it thinking it was alright at 150 pages, but I might not have been able to handle it at 750 pages. So I didn't overcome my fears.
"You're reading Gravity's Rainbow?"
"Re-reading it."

Then I remembered an episode of "The Simpsons," where Lisa, pretending to be a college student, commented that a classmate was reading Gravity's Rainbow, a sign of her sophistication. I went to University, and nobody read Gravity's Rainbow. I can only think that this book was used because it's so utterly complicated, and nobody other than a college student, who is obligated to read it for a class, would.

The next nail in this literary coffin was when I read Chuck Barris' "un-authorized autobiography," Confessions of a Dangerous Mind last May. A self-proclaimed avid reader, who described the many classics he has enjoyed reading, confesses that he didn't understand Gravity's Rainbow. Now I'm not going to say that if Chuck Barris didn't understand it, nobody will, but I think it's telling that of all the books he could have mentioned, he chose this one.

If you go to Time magazine's website, where my quest to read through this list began, there is a brief description of each of the 100 All-TIME novels, and an explanation as to why each is on the list. Richard Lacayo, literary critic and co-author of the list, starts his review off with this nugget: "No, it is not unreadable." There is only one kind of book that people start off a review with a declaration that the book is in fact, readable; books that are unreadable. Stating that a book is not unreadable is totally unnecessary, unless there are legions of people who think this is so. Gone With the Wind was not unreadable, and I have yet to see a review that mentions this fact.

All of this brings me to this week, as I was listening to the New York Times Book Review podcast. It included an interview with George Guidall, who recently recorded the audio book for Gravity's Rainbow, for the second time. I was eager to hear what George and interviewer Pamela Paul had to say about this book. Pamela makes the statement, "This is not an easy novel to read." And she asks, "is it important to know what the author is talking about when recording the audio book?" This is something very few books cause one to ask; as good writing usually tells the reader what the author is talking about. George replies that if it weren't for a companion book he read, he wouldn't really have any idea what Pynchon was talking about. Great.

He also mentions that there are many mathematical equations in the book, which he had to call a family member who is a professor of mathematics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, to explain them. Sadly for me, I don't know any mathematicians. Nor should I need to in order to get through a novel.

You can listen to the interview here. It starts at about the 20 minute mark.

What all of this means is that I'm sort of dreading reading my next book. Seeing as how I should be finished Wide Sargasso Sea in the next couple of days, I should be starting this beast next week. Somehow I'm going to have to overcome nearly five years of apprehension if I'm ever going to get through 750 pages of a not unreadable book.

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