Sunday, February 18, 2007
AGAINST THE DAY
"Are you kind deities? or wrathful deities?"
So I got the new Pynchon novel. In the weeks leading up to the publication date, I had been clearing my literary calendar, not getting too involved in anything too big or long. I’d re-read THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, for example, a good clear direct and above all short little book that was just what I needed. Then a few days before the Pynchon was released, I was killing some time in a chain bookstore and found myself checking out a series of detective thrillers by Ian Rankin, who’s been on my radar for quite some time now. I picked up one called RESURRECTION MEN, and soon realized that I’d been standing there reading the opening chapter and feeling no desire to stop. I went ahead and got the book, and was enjoying it a lot.
I managed to get my hands on a copy of the new Pynchon a couple of days early, an accommodating local indie bookstore offered to sell me the copy that was behind the counter. Evidently a staff person had gotten the book out early and had been paging through it. I started reading the book on the subway home, and have had an odd reaction to it. Basically, there are parts of it that I’ve liked a good deal, and there have been parts that I’ve not liked a good deal. I’ve come close to putting it down altogether a few times, but I know myself well enough to know that it would be better for me to complete one reading that I didn’t like very much than to stop completely. This way, if I ever decide to read the book again I’ll have a better chance of getting more out of it.
I’m not sure there is going to be a second reading, though. I’m just not feeling enough excitement about the book to make me terribly enthusiastic about going through the effort a second time. There are plenty of big old books that have made considerably more sense on a second or third reading, things like JR and DAVID COPPERFIELD (most of Dickens, actually) and INFINITE JEST and GRAVITY’S RAINBOW and MASON & DIXON, but all of those books had me in their grip in a way that AGAINST THE DAY doesn’t have me. I’m looking forward to being through with AGAINST THE DAY so I can move on to something just plain shorter.
I never did finish the Rankin book. It started well, but I was getting impatient with it long before I had to put it down to concentrate on AGAINST THE DAY. I’ve got a couple of other Rankins, and will be getting to them at some point.
I’m having to do some serious examination of my possessions. There’s just way too much stuff in that apartment. I overheard a woman in a bookstore discussing her personal library, and she said something that has stuck with me ever since, something about how you have to ask yourself if you own the books, or if the books own you. Soon after I did some pruning of my accumulated VHS tapes, and was brought face to face with the Folly of Pure Ownership for Ownership’s Sake. After all, how many copies of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE does one man really need?
FYI – I had four copies. On VHS. Taped from a variety of sources over the years.
I don’t have so many multiple copies of books, but I do seem to pick stuff up. Occasionally I purge long-unread stuff, like those copies of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE that seem to pop onto my shelves every few years when I decide that maybe I’ll give the book One Last Shot. I’m still not sure how on earth a copy of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY got onto my shelves, or even into my apartment, but it won’t be there much longer.