Saturday, January 20, 2007

How to read Pynchon?

I haven't started Against the Day yet -- I spent two months reading Mason & Dixon last fall and I haven't been ready yet to do it again. I'm going to start this evening, because the Pynchon-L crowd is starting a group read this week, and I figure I'll get quite a bit out of participating, even if only passively. So I've been thinking about how I'm going to read the book. Steven Shaviro just finished it, and he gave the question some serious consideration:
It took me two months. I only read it in the late evening, just before going to bed. Sometimes I would only read for 15 minutes or so, sometimes for an hour and a half — it depended on how tired I was, and how late it was. But I read at least a few pages every single night.

The phenomenology of reading is important, when it comes to a novel that is 1085 pages long. (This makes it, I think, the third longest novel I have ever read cover to cover — after Proust, of course, and Marguerite Young’s Miss Macintosh, My Darling). With a very long novel, you need to sink into the rhythms of the prose; these rhythms have to insinuate their way into your dreams. If a long novel doesn’t put me into an altered state, there is no way I will ever finish it; but if it does, then I will go on reading it, in a sort of trance, and — when I finally reach the end — feel regret that there wasn’t even more. One way to read a great long novel is to take a vacation from the rest of your life — reading it all day, picking it up and putting it down, and picking it up again — doing nothing else in between the bouts of reading, except for household chores and physical exercise. There was no way I could do this with Against the Day, given how busy my life is at the moment — so the only alternative left was reading it at bedtime, when I was already starting to slip into an oneiric state, and when I could let all the concerns of the day just concluded slip away…

I started Mason & Dixon on vacation, so I read a big chunk of it all at once, but once I returned to my usual life I didn't want to pick it up if I was only going to be able to read a few pages, with the result that sometimes my interludes between my time with it ran to days. This time around, I'm going to work harder to carve out a chunk of time for it every evening -- closer to an hour and a half, I hope, than 15 minutes.

The best laid plans . . . .

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