Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

I read it. Cover to cover. I was 19 and people said it was a work of genius, so I gave it a go.

Did I understand it? No.

Was it pure hubris to think I could understand one of the pivotal works of this difficult author with no background what so ever? Yeah, possibly.

But I was a kid, so I said fuck it and plowed along. Much of it went over my head, even the plot (such as it is) was difficult to grasp. I knew the writing was beautiful, and some of the jokes amusing, but more than that — it’s hard to say.

Seems silly to even write a review of a book I have to admit I didn’t really understand, but these reviews are about more than the books themselves. They’re about me and where I was when I encountered them.

So there I was, a nineteen year old kid living in Brooklyn, working in a bookstore with fellow bookstore clerks who ran the gambit from barely functioning junkies to PhD in English from Brown. I was desperate to pile as much knowledge and “culture” into my life as I could… and multiple people kept name dropping Pynchon. So I struggled through, on the train, in cafes all in isolation, too embarrassed to admit to anyone that I didn’t really understand much of what I was reading. Laughing occasionally at a joke, but generally just riding along, taking what I could.

When I finished the book some co-workers were eager to discuss it, but I demurred. I’d change the subject, embarrassed by how little I got out of it. It was a silly exercise, from start to finish, and not the last time I’d read something I didn’t understand.

But that was young Sean, eager, often grasping beyond his means. I’ve tempered that as the years have gone on, and I’ve learned (and read) a lot more. I should probably read this one again.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Ellison’s Invisible Man

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

It always feels a bit absurd to review a classic, especially one with the profound emotional and political resonance of Invisible Man. I could leave it at this – you need to read this book – but I’ll say a little more.

I came to Invisible Man with a bit of hesitation. I often feel this way with classics. I’m worried it won’t be as good as described, or that reading it will be a slog. Neither of these fears were justified here. Invisible Man, the story of a black man in America attempting to make his way through a horrific, though often darkly comedic and surreal, world of racist America, is an incredible work of fiction. It is compelling entertaining, and moving. Is it challenging? Emotionally, yes, the horror of race in America is in your face here. Technically, its a brilliantly written, but accessible read. Unlike many classics, the pages turned themselves here.

What else is there to say? Of course you must read it.