A person gains attention on the internet mainly by talking about themselves. To that end: here are the books I read this week, and how I feel about them. Why would you be interested in this? I have absolutely no idea.
This week I read:
The Rings of Saturn – Thanks to Stark Holborn for suggesting this/making for a melancholy Friday. A walking tour of the coast of England gives Sebold's nameless narrator the opportunity for flights of fancy centering, in a grand if oblique way, on entropy, on the collapse of all human endeavor beneath the implacable weight of time. Also on imperialism, war, evil, lots of shit. There's not really a plot per se but it makes for lovely, haunting, unhappy reading.
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon – wow, two negative reviews in two weeks, what a misanthropic prick I am becoming, I mean more so than usual. Then again, Pynchon hardly needs my praise.
Which is just as well, cause he ain't gonna get it. Bleeding Edge really crystallized to me a lot of the things I haven't liked about the other Pynchon books I've read. There's no denying he's got talent as a writer – the breadth of his erudition is impressive, and he's pretty funny. Some of his other tics –the oversize casts, his penchant for abruptly switching scenes – I find less impressive. But that's not my essential problem with Pynchon. My problem with Pynchon is, quite simply, I don't think he has fuck all of value to say.
Pynchon's abiding concern is with these infinitely vast conspiracies and the individuals who, consciously or unconsciously, struggle against them. The first time I read this, in Vineland I think or maybe Inherent Vice, I thought, that's pretty funny, haha, he's got a real talent for this wheel within wheel thing. The second time I read it I thought, OK, I got where you're going, not a fan of the CIA, Republicans are bad, we're all clear here, let's move along. The third time (I'm not counting V or Gravity's Rainbow which are a bit less on the nose) was Bleeding Edge, and I really fucking hated it. Unlike the top two Bleeding Edge deals directly with contemporary political events (the book is set around 9/11) and in doing so it revealed the fundamentally hollow nature of his worldview. Of course, Pynchon never goes so far as to outright posit that 9/11 was a conspiracy hatched by some faction of the US government, but then, Pychon never explains the underlying nature of any of his conspiracies, preferring to leave the reader with a vague soupy murk of suspicion that leaves the moral decency of his characters in sharper relief. He hints at a conspiracy behind the destruction of the twin towers, however, which is a) kind of insulting if you take it all seriously, but b) even if you don't, still highlights the unseriousness of Pynchon as an author.
Because here's the thing – Pynchon's conceit is bullshit. I wish there was some evil fat white man in a room somewhere dictating human events! It would mean there's a hand on the tiller, and someone has the power and incentive to keep the world humming along in its imperfect, flawed, cruel fashion. But there isn't, and no one does. Our leaders (yes, even the leaders of your disliked political party!) are not secret geniuses, nor are they being ordered around by shadowy men who are themselves secretly geniuses. It's just a bunch of arrogant, flawed, foolish men, making ill-considered decisions that don't benefit anyone because they misjudged the circumstances on the ground at the time. The US didn't go into Iraq in some secret double blind to bump up Haliburton stock, we did it because Bush had an image of himself as being the second coming of Churchill and he was too arrogant to spend some time reading up on the political history of the region he was about to invade. And we all went along with it because we were scared and angry and wanted to hit someone, especially if it actually wasn't so much us hitting someone as it was members of our all volunteer army – we got the best of both worlds, the feeling of self-righteous strength without all of that having to stumble around in the desert and get sand in our eyes.
Enough with the politics. My point being, this recurring theme of Pynchon is a lazy, inaccurate vision of humanity and human existence, doing nothing to further our understanding of the political order or of the reality in which we live. Sometimes it takes five books to realize you don't like a writer – it took me that long for Pynchon, but I'm tapping out here.
Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon – Yeah, fun. I mean it was OK. Maigret is tough and mean and fun to follow along with, but the story itself is kind of nothing and there are a lot of evil Jews running around doing their evil, Jewy business, and at points the whole thing got a bit too Bulldog Drummond for me. God I hate those books. Anyway. Still not entirely clear on why these are held in such immense esteem. Do they get stronger?