Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

_Against the Day_ (II)

BACK IN THE 1970s when I was reading Gravity's Rainbow, it seemed like a lot of other people were as well, or had already read it, or were planning to. When Vineland arrived, I knew at least a few people who read it. I knew one other person beside myself who read Mason & Dixon. So far, no one else in my circle of acquaintance has mentioned taking up Against the Day.

"What's that you're reading there?"
"Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day."
"Whew! Good luck!"

Well, reviews were mixed. And the length is intimidating.

This era of the blog post, the YouTube clip, and the Tweet seems wholly unpropitious for the large-scale 800-1000-page novel -- yet they keep popping over the horizon: Against the Day, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, Alexander Theroux's Laura Warholic, Joshua Cohen's Witz, and a new one by William Vollmann every six months. Who is reading these? Are even the reviewers reading them (see Jack Green's Fire the Bastards!)?

There is an Against the Day readers website -- , part of a larger Pynchon website -- with acres of helpful annotations and indices, so obviously the book has its devotees, length notwithstanding.

I recall that my daughters were not dismayed as the later volumes in the Harry Potter series grew longer and longer -- if you're reading the book just for the sheer pleasure of reading it, more is better, perhaps, as three scoops of ice cream are better than two. Likewise, Stephen King's readers seem not at all put off by the length of The Stand, say.

But -- when a book is reputed to be complex, ambitious, intellectual, important, and so on, and it clocks in at, say, 1,087 pages, even serious lit folks (e.g., my faculty colleagues) will probably give it a pass.

Yet writers still read them, publishers still publish them... someone is reading them, in some Anti-Terra inaccessible to me.

No comments: