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Somehow, Cleveland has survived, with her gray banner unfurled -- the banner of Archangelsk and Detroit, of Kharkov and Liverpool -- the banner of men and women who would settle the most ignominious parts of the earth, and there, with the hubris born neither of faith nor ideology but biology and longing, bring into the world their whimpering replacements.

Gary Shteyngart


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Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

(...and speaking of Waiting)

I dreamt of frozen detectives in the great
refrigerator of Los Angeles
in the great refrigerator of Mexico City.

-- Roberto Bolaño

I'm getting really excited and champing at the bit to read Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Inherent Vice, which will be coming out one week from today (if my fingers are accurate). Here are some preparatory links I've been collecting over the last little while:
  • Louis Menand's review in the New Yorker is to my way of thinking, a model for how book reviews ought to be written. Every other review of this book I've read has contained the same superficial, thoughtless (and in some cases debatable) bits of information -- that the novel is a detective story set in Los Angeles, the main character "Doc" Sportello is a stoner and gumshoe, that the story is more straightforward and plotted than your archetypally cryptic Pynchon novel, that Hollywood is talking about optioning rights, a first for the famously unfilmable TRP... Menand goes much deeper, pulls in Pynchon's other work in specific ways rather than general, really thinks about the consequences of what he is saying.
  • Tim Ware of thomaspynchon.com has created an Inherent Vice Wiki, initialized with his page-by-page notes. It's just waiting for other people to read the book and start contributing.
  • Wired has published The Unofficial Pynchon Guide to Los Angeles, an interactive map of the city marked up with references from Inherent Vice. Useful for finding your way around as you read.
  • Update: And furthermore: the mysterious Basileios (of the Against The Day weblog) will be keeping an Inherent Vice weblog as well. This seems like good news to me.

Speaking by the way of excellent book reviews, Giles Harvey has a very nice take (and cleverly titled!) on Bolaño's The Skating Rink in the Abu Dhabi National. Thanks for the link, badger!

posted evening of July 28th, 2009: Respond
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Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Is Thomas Pynchon a great novelist?

...I think he's not, really, though some of his books have affected me profoundly. A "great writer," certainly. Thinking about my experience reading Gravity's Rainbow I don't say as much "What a beautiful book that is!" as "There's a whole lot to think about there if you can get your head around it..." -- it is more like reading philosophy than like reading a novel, though obviously it's not a whole lot like reading philosophy either.

I'm prompted to consider this by reading Inherent Vice -- it's a lot of fun, and more novel-like, probably, than either Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day. But it's not seeming like a "great novel"; more like a fun book that is hampered by trying too hard to be a novel. So far I've read the first several chapters three times; each time I like the ideas and the bits of profound prose better, and each time I am more annoyed by the plot points that don't work and in particular by the ridiculous scene between Doc Sportello and Hope Harlingen. Time to move on I think and read the rest of the book... It's funny, I'm recommending this to people! It is a lot of fun! But also pretty flawed. Also I think it may be time soon to go back and reread Mason & Dixon, I think realizing I don't need to read it "as a novel" might be key to enjoying it.

posted evening of August 12th, 2009: Respond
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Gordita Beach

Fun to see it confirmed that Mr. Pynchon is the voice-over narrator of this trailer video. Groovy, maybe you'll just want to read the book... ($27.95? That used to be like, 3 weeks of groceries! What year is this again?...)

posted evening of August 12th, 2009: Respond

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Walking through a gallery

My resolution not to look for an (ill-defined) "normal novel-reading experience" in Inherent Vice is bearing fruit I think, at least in the sense that I'm enjoying the book a lot more. This reading is feeling sort of like walking through a large art gallery looking at a master's paintings -- short flashes of brilliance ranging from less than a page to a few pages -- and not dwelling too much on the meaning of each painting or on the linking narrative arc, just getting a sense of the exhibition's atmosphere.

It is fun and liberating to approach the reading without telling myself that I have to "appreciate" it -- it's allowing me to get a lot of pleasure out of some of the jokes and phrasings and constructions of scene. I am not following the story-line very closely however. I'm a little surprised by this because of all the build-up this novel received as (approximately) Pynchon-lite, a quick summer beach read; I think in fact, it requires a lot of focus.

Hm -- something sounds wrong about this argument -- I am saying I'm enjoying the book more by reading it in a less focussed way, and then that it requires a lot of focus. I think what I mean to say is, to get the full force of this book is going to require a more focussed second read, after I familiarize myself with the atmosphere of the book.

posted morning of August 16th, 2009: Respond

Random 10 while reading

Another difference between Inherent Vice and my standard category of novel-reading experience is, I like the reading a lot better if there is music playing in the background. Normally I have a hard time reading when I'm listening to music, here they seem to enhance one another. From my iTunes shuffle today:

  1. It ain't nobody's business, Mississippi John Hurt
  2. La-Do-Dada, Dale Hawkins
  3. What Goes On, Robyn Hitchcock and Grant Lee Phillips -- this was a very nice coincidence because it came on just as I was starting to read the lyrics to the Spotted Dicks' new single "Long Trip Out" (which is on the radio in Doc's car), and suddenly I am singing them to the tune of "What Goes On", and they are fitting pretty well. Here is a verse of it:
    Long trip out, from the Mekong Delta...
    It's a last lost chance, when you need a friend,
    And you're flyin on out of
    Cam Ranh Bay at midnight,
    And you won't know how, to
    Get back home again.
    Then I spent a little while distracted, trying to find out more about "What Goes On" -- turns out it is a Velvet Underground song.
  4. The Birds Were Singing, Carter Family
  5. There'll be Joy, Joy, Joy, Carter Family -- the Carter Family threatening to distract from the novel, they do not quite work together.
  6. Floater, Bob Dylan -- now this is more like it --
  7. Till the End of the World, Ernie Tubb
  8. Salty Dog Blues, John Hurt
  9. Knockin on Heaven's Door, Dylan and the Band -- I was not actually participating in the music-listening/reading activity here, "Salty Dog" had reminded me that Lola needed to go out --
  10. I Something You, Robyn Hitchcock.
The book? I'm dying to recommend it to you but having trouble with what to say about it... I am bursting out laughing about once per page.

...and later on in the shuffle, Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra plays the "What-cha-call-'em Blues" which go very nicely with the lyrics I am reading at this moment, to Carmine and the Cal-Zones' "Just the Lasagna". Conclusion, when there's music playing it's much easier to imagine Pynchon's lyrics being sung.

posted afternoon of August 16th, 2009: Respond
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Monday, August 17th, 2009

Shaggy Dog Stories

The clock up on the wall, which reminded Doc of elementary school back in the San Joachin, read some hour that it could not possibly be. Doc waited for the hands to move, but they didn't, from which he deduced that the clock was broken and maybe had been for years. Which was groovy however because long ago Sortilège had taught him the esoteric skill of tellig time from a broken clock. The first thing you had to do was light a joint, which in the Hall of Justice might seem odd, but surely not way back here -- who knew, maybe even outside the jurisdiction of local drug enforcement -- though to be on the safe side he also lit up a De Nobili cigar and filled the room with a precautionary cloud of smoke from the classic Mafia favorite. After inhaling pot smoke for a while, he looked up at the clock, and sure enough, it showed a different time now, though this could also be from Doc having forgotten where the hands were to begin with.
I am not sure if this will sound like weak tea, recommendation-wise -- this is a nice compact example of the bits I am loving in Inherent Vice -- if it made you laugh, read the book for a lot more... The story is coming a bit more into focus for me towards the end of the book, but I'm definitely reading primarily for Pynchon's games.

posted evening of August 17th, 2009: Respond

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Vice

I keep finding myself wanting to compare Inherent Vice and The Wire -- funny they don't seem at first glance all that similar, beyond some superficial notes like a lot of characters being police, lawyers, or drug users -- and look how much I have to abstract to even get this superficial similarity to apply! But Bjornsen's plot to get Doc involved in (oh wait, careful about the spoilers) his personal grudge reminds me somehow of McNulty's subterfuge to get more money for the department. I would love to see Dominic West playing Bjornsen, and indeed for a while I was picking out actors from The Wire for all of the parts...

There may be nothing at all to this juxtaposition. With both works, I had trouble being drawn into the plot and identifying with the characters, but had a good time with the watching/reading.

posted evening of August 18th, 2009: Respond

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Inherent Vice soundtrack

Amazon is really doing some cool stuff with promoting Inherent Vice -- I'm not sure exactly what the business structure of this is, it looks like it is coming from Amazon rather than from the publisher, it looks like Pynchon is actively involved. Anyway, today I found a playlist of tunes featured in the book: Soundtrack to Inherent Vice. Not sure why they did not put multimedia players on the page, but there are links to mp3 files for a whole lot of the songs. (Alas, not for the fictional ones... Who's going to record "Just the Lasagna"?)

(Something I ought to do: make a YouTube playlist containing the subset of songs on the list that are freely available... Update: here it is!)

posted morning of August 29th, 2009: 2 responses

...Inherent Vice playlist

I was able to find a lot of the titles from the soundtrack at YouTube. Not complete, but respectable... Index here.

...And I just noticed, these songs are in alpha order rather than in the order they appear in the book. That seems like something that ought to be corrected.

posted evening of August 29th, 2009: Respond
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Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Annotations and Flow

...And maybe the best thing yet about Inherent Vice: it appears to have cured me of the intimidation I've felt towards Mason & Dixon, allowed me to really start digging that book! (Backstory: I read M&D when it came out 12 years ago, participated in the pynchon-l's "Mass Discussion of Mason & Dixon", tried my hardest to understand it and to love it, and sort of dropped the ball (or whatever sporting analogy is appropriate) -- and ever since it has been sitting on my shelf beckoning me to reread it, to try again.) So on Friday night, with Inherent Vice fresh in mind, I picked it up and opened it -- and found myself transported! It is a work of beauty. I'm following the pair's peregrinations around South Africa and St. Helena with bated breath, where my memory of reading it before is that this section was something to be gotten through so I could read the story set in America...

I'm a little annoyed with my younger self's pencilled annotations -- there are a whole lot of them throughout the book and they are pretty unbearably earnest -- looking at a scribbled cross-reference with question mark I can see myself at 27 reading the MDMD, trying to make a point in the discussion, hoping for praise from the other participants... (Some of the notes are useful of course but they do break into the flow of the text and they are difficult to ignore entirely.)

posted morning of September 6th, 2009: Respond
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