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Chance's Take on Books

I'm a novelist who loves to read and discuss all things word-bound.

Currently reading

Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style
Virginia Tufte
The Chicago Manual of Style
John Grossman, Margaret D. Mahan
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Steve Earle
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon

Years ago, the retina of my left eye detached and I underwent major surgery. Since then, the annual eye exam has brought a certain amount of anxiety, and yes, paranoia over every flash and floater. A week ago, the eye doctor identified a hole in the macular of my left eye. If a V-2 nano-rocket hit the the retina, it might look like this macular hole:


The macular hole has an interesting effect on my vision:


Fortunately, my right eye is dominant so I can read well enough, for now. The surgery is scheduled in a couple weeks. It is an out-patient procedure under a local anesthesia, but recovery requires I spend 2 weeks with my face kept parallel to the ground.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is to to garner sympathy explain how I 'saw' Gravity's Rainbow and why I've given it only one-star and deter a skewering by Pynchon lovers who wouldn't kick a girl while she'd down—would they?

Some scenes were all too clear: S&M acts including consumption of shit and urine, the sad plight of an adolescent sex slave (enjoyed by Slothrop, a major protagonist), bad 'poetry', bizarre appearances of what could be described as slapstick or burlesque acts out of nowhere, etc. However, amidst all the drugs, sex and despair were concise and interesting nuggets of wisdom, such as:

If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.

Paranoia is perhaps the major theme.

No doubt, Pynchon is brilliant, and some passages were inspirational, but I felt I had to sift through lots of...sand. At times, my comprehension of an idea felt as exciting as panning for gold—if one tiny morsel sparkled, I was thrilled.

Despite the difficulty reading Gravity's Rainbow, I continued to the end in hope of pumping up my linguistic muscles and cleansing my linguistic palate. I understand that patterns in what we read or write prime us to repeat those patterns automatically in our own writing. Psycholinguists refer to this influence as structural priming or syntactic persistence. Priming occurs at the subconscious level. It is very powerful, and for that reason, I will not finish novels that strike me as poorly written.

But writing isn’t just about forming varied and understandable sentences. It is about creating syntactic delights that thrill the reader, most of whom find pleasure in encountering language that departs from what they are primed to expect. I admire writers who find new ways to employ language.

I did not enjoy Gravity's Rainbow; it deviated so much from my own priming that I often found it incomprehensible. Although I used a reader's companion guide, many of the references were unrecognizable as vocabulary--just not on my personal map. Reading GR was as frustrating as trying to read with my bad eye, through which straight lines are wavy and letters in the middle of my vision collapse into a blurry gray hole.