Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Reading List Monthly Update: February

Books completed in February 2011:

"Brigit" (Andrew Champagne) 2/15/11
"Gravity's Rainbow" (Thomas Pynchon) 2/25/11

2011 Reading List total:

1. "Welcome to my World" (Johnny Weir) 1/12/11
2. "Cold Hand in Mine" (Robert Aickman) 1/14/11
3. "The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse" (Lonely Christopher) 1/20/11
4. "Illuminated Shadows" (James Champagne) 1/20/11 *
5. "Eat When You Feel Sad" (Zachary German) 1/23/11
6. "The Marble Index" (James Champagne)
7. "Brigit" (Andrew Champagne) 2/15/11
8. "Gravity's Rainbow" (Thomas Pynchon) 2/25/11

*= book I've read at least once in the past

currently reading:

"Demons by Daylight" (Ramsey Campbell)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mini-book review: Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"

For many years now, I've desired to read Thomas Pynchon's classic 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow, which I believe I first purchased maybe in the year 2005. Over the years I've tried to read it a few times, but was never able to make it past the first 100 pages or so (unsurprising, as it's considered by many to be a difficult, almost unreadable book). But recently I finally finished it. It's kind of hard to summarize a novel this large in one mini-review (after all, the book is 760 pages long and features a cast of well over 400 characters, many of whom vanish just as quickly as they appear). But I'll take a stab at it.

The novel takes place over a period from Christmas season 1944 to September of 1945, though there are flashbacks to earlier eras. The action takes place mainly in Europe during the closing days of World War II, and the book is divided into 4 parts (the longest of which is part 3, which is around 336 pages). The book doesn't have all that much of a plot, and what little plot it does have doesn't start to kick in until over 200 pages into the book. The story revolves around a promiscuous (and somewhat paranoid) United States Army lieutenant named Tyrone Slothrop who is stationed in London. Various military organizations (including one dubbed "The White Visitation," which consists of a number of nutty psychics, mediums and occultists), gradually notice that at locations where Slothrop has sex with woman, a V-2 rocket lands at that same spot a few days later. Slothrop begins to fall under surveillance from these aforementioned organizations, and eventually finds himself racing through "The Zone" (Pynchon's name for lawless postwar Europe), trying to avoid a shadowy conspiracy he sees forming all around himself (the people behind this conspiracy usually being classified simply as "They" or "Them") while at the same time trying to unlock the secrets of a mysterious weapon called the "Schwarzgerät" that is to be installed in a rocket with the serial number "00000." As the book progresses, things become increasingly hallucinatory: an octopus named Grigori attacks a female bather, one chapter is written from the perspective of a sentient light bulb named Byron, characters take a trip to what appears to be Hell, and so on.

Like most of Pynchon's novels, the characters have very colorful and inventive names (such as Milton Gloaming, Ernest Pudding, and Miklos Thanatz). Pynchon also employs quite a few evocative words, some of which are probably made up (I especially liked dracunculiasis, glyptic, tulipomania, noctiluca, proscenium, travalency, necropolism, sodomistical, and lycanthropophobia). The mystic in me also liked all of the references to the Tarot, Jewish mysticism, and the Hermetic Qabalah. And even though I'm not crazy about long books I liked the density and impenetrability of this one, the sense that one was literally immersing oneself into a labyrinth of words, and it got to the point where it even began to invade my dreams. Upon completing it, I initially felt a bit confused and dislocated, because I had spent so long prowling the book's WW II territory that it had almost become a sort of alternate reality for me. Granted, the book has some flaws: portions of it kind of meander, it's hard to care all that much about the characters in question, the constant "songs" can get irritating, and I detected a slight homophobic subtext (a constant comparison of homosexuality to Nazism, or anti-life/death in general) that kind of lessened my enjoyment of it a tad. But when all is said and done I'd probably rank it in my top 50 novels, and in terms of experimental/postmodern/post WW II literature it's certainly required reading. And once you finish it, you become part of that elite club that can brag, "I read Gravity's Rainbow," which makes it worth the effort. A difficult book, but in the end a rewarding one. I'm glad I was finally able to read it all the way through.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

RIP Kenneth Grant


"In the Aeon of Horus, physical life is recognized as a sacrament. Death is the disintegration of the gross body, but there is no interruption in the continuity of consciousness that once bound the bodily particles together. Death is the liberating kiss; the dissolution and release of the inmost particle of dust which is Hadit, eternally radiating energy at the heart of Nu: 'Feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter. There is the dissolution, and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu.'"

"Death is to be understood as the invisible arc of a curve that disappears beneath the horizon of limited consciousness to reemerge, like the Sun, with its essential identity unimpaired."

-quotations from Kenneth Grant's The Magical Revival.