Friday, July 31, 2015

Here is a list of every damn book you haven't read

Pop culture web site published one of those lists that are intended either to shame you for being culturally deprived or boost your self regard a hint by being a hipster who is in the know. It's click bait , of course, and it me this time with their head line 10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them). The awkward alliteration of "Really Read" took me aback a might, as it is sing- songy rather that snappy and confident in the qualifiers being deployed . Had they used the phrase "actually read" instead of the unconvincing break-room enthusiasm of "really", we might have a headline worthy of bookish subject. No matter.   I haven't read most of them, to be honest,  but in my defense I'll say that I never cultivated a taste for science fiction novels, which dominate here. I had the teen age fascination with rocket ships, monsters and super heroes , of course, but good lit classes in high school and college course work changed my tastes, my preferences for the style and kind of books I would be attracted to. I do love science fiction movies, of course, but over all I just can't get behind the work. I did, though, enjoy Neil Gaiman's work American Gods , think highly of William Gibson's stripped down cyber punk, and , of course, fancy some Philip K.Dick some of the time,with William Burroughs as an entree for all of them

Contrary to the articles findings , most people I know who are readers (and they are legion) are quite believable when they tell me they they've read Nineteen Eighty Four. It's not a long novel, the story is not especially dense, and the argument the novel embodies, that governments are wont to contrive excuses for wars , always in the name of grand causes and great tradition, as a powerful means of fooling a populace and so enabling the State to maintain and extend their power over them, is not opaque.It is unobscured by metaphor. It is the least fuzzy-think  of all novels that one should read. The genius of Orwell was his refusal to claim the villainy of the State against Winston Smith, the protagonist, was the doings of a political apparatus of the Left or Right.  Totalitarianism is evil and foul from whatever direction it comes from. All the same, it's amusing for to remember that there were Libertarian and Marxist study groups around the campus of the university I attended, and I happened to take a long look at the reading list for each. Sure enough, Nineteen Eighty Four  was on both rosters, left and right, and both were convinced that Orwell was on their side. Neat trick.

Infinite Jest is another matter. It's a book I got about three hundred pages into before setting it down forever , less because of it's difficulty and massive amounts of incidental information and more the fact that David Foster Wallace's seemed to be less in having each sentence and each paragraph they form advance plot, characterization and give both experimentation and exposition a frame work toward a satisfying whole than he seemed intent on exhausting the limits as to what each individual sentence, as a unit of meaning, could be exploited. The trick was in keeping his structures grammatically sound and artfully appending his nominal subjects with digressions that come seemingly from nowhere at all. I thought this approach worked well, even with brilliance,in his shorter works, like the story collection Oblivion, and his his travel collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again . Offensive though it may sound, there is an art of getting to the point in due time, and DFW's briefer pieces give you a better concentration of his wit. 

Gravity's Rainbow is something I definitely read and allowed myself nearly a year to complete. No one should lie about having read this, especially to those who have. It's a difficult book, it is funny to an amazing degree, Pynchon is a fantastically gifted prose writer and a superb mimic of the styles of other authors, and none of it comes to the reader easily. It's an attractive notion that literature should be entertaining, distracting and not at all difficult to mine for subtler implications or Moral (more often than not reaffirmations of convictions and fuzzily remembered bromides that haven't been seriously interrogated in quite some time), but there are pleasures out there from imaginations that have no intention of co-signing a potential audiences hackneyed cosmology. Maybe they don't know how.  And many of us have lost patience with the time it takes to experience something that resonates beyond the mere thrill .