Postscript to Reading Gravity’s Rainbow

In the early days of our relationship, Sally asked if I had ever thrown a book. I responded that I never had, and no matter how much I may have detested a particular book after finishing it (or even while doing so,) books were too precious a commodity to be treated in such a manner. She assured me that when the day finally came, it would be an immensely satisfying thing to do.

Well, a few weeks ago I finally threw my first book. Gravity’s Rainbow provided more than enough motivation, and launching it felt as good as Sally said it would. When finally deciding to stop reading the accursed text, images of an alternate history where a V2 rocket head had fallen on Thomas Pynchon’s head before he decided to write the damn thing danced in my mind. How the never-ending hell did that novel come to be so critically well regarded? Yes, lit snobs will hurriedly shower accolades upon a particularly dense and hard-to-parse novel, but there comes a point where that kind of writing is no longer fiction. It’s literary masturbation, a style of writing for people who impressed with their own ability to slog through the grammatical equivalent of a mucus-entombed Gordian knot. Though not immune to the joys of literary fiction, I refuse to continue reading something merely because an influential subset of intellectuals label it as unimportant work of art.

The arduous slog ended at page 115 of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition first published in 2006. Pynchon’s gratuitous use of lengthy run-on sentences, stream of consciousness, sudden shifts in narrative (with no visible clue as to it happening), and ellipses to string together otherwise unconnected thoughts so utterly derailed and demoralized that it did far more than simply inspire me to toss it out the second of my home unfinished. It actually stopped me altogether from reading for nearly a month. I had started listening to the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens during that time and continued listening after a part of my soul sustained serious damage, but that’s not the same thing as reading an actual book.

I am now attempting to get myself back on track. I happily spent a couple nights this week by reading the last 80 pages of Good Omens. Furthermore, though I feel my 115-page slog earned me the right to count Gravity’s Rainbow as one of the books I read this year, it will be replaced by Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, which is already underway, as my previously unread classic for the year. It doesn’t quite meet all the criteria that I try to apply (they were outlined in the post where I originally selected GR as this year’s classic), but after experiencing Pynchon’s monstrosity, a retreat into the warm, welcoming embrace of the science-fiction ghetto felt completely justifiable.

Hopefully, a combination of Russ’s feminist SF classic and finishing Good Omens will do wonders in terms of getting back on track with my goal of increasing my books read count from last year’s total. Despite losing a month of reading time, it’s still a very achievable goal — one now dedicated to spiting Pynchon’s literary assault on the senses.