Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tome After Tome

In high school, there was a poster near the staff room that featured beloved televisual stereotype Con the Fruiterer appealing to the community, in his inimitable and rather irritating way, to care for their backs. "Bad Backs!" read the text above Con's head. "Watch out for him!"

It seems I haven't been watching out for "him" as well as I should have been, because this week I have been struck down with an achy breaky spine that has pretty much killed my enthusiasm for anything beyond slumping on the couch in front of the cricket. And now that the cricket is over I have nothing to do but fan myself with the tv guide and try not to think about all the work I'll have to do when my summer semester starts next week.

Obviously I need a project. I contemplated beginning my long-awaited novel (the semi-fictionalised story of my time as a transexual cabaret dancer in pre-WW2 Berlin), but that seemed too much like hard work so I turfed the idea. But what to do, what to do...

I know! On my book shelves are a number of big books. Big, motherfucking books that I fully intended to read when I bought them, but that have sat there unmolested for several years, collecting dust as only books large enough to have their own gravity wells can. The solution is clear: read one of these behemoths and blog about it as I go. Or until I get sick of blogging about it, or sick of the book. Given my predilection for books under 300 pages, the latter seems a likely outcome.

The question is, which book to read? Well, who better to decide than you, the loyal Sterne reader? (The answer is: anybody. But you'll do.) It's a toss-up between the following:

1. Underworld by Don DeLillo. Modern classic or turgid housebrick?

2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Modern classic or even turgider housebrick?

3. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Turgid? Housebrick? What's a Gödel? (As if I'm ever going to understand this book...)

Cast your votes and seal my fate!

(I just know this will be one of those posts that nobody comments on. So fuck you in advance.)


JPW said...

'Underworld' is a turgid housebrick. It takes the kid 60 pages to get to a baseball game, and it's downhill from there. Find a copy of 'A Reader's Manifesto' by B.R. Myers if you can as he quite comfortably elucidates (and, indeed, enucleates) my opinion on DeLillo (the short of it is not that he's a hack, but that he's yet another in a long and sorry line of po-mo tricksters with nothing to say and no clue about how to say it).

'Gravity's Rainbow' is good, but you have to be patient. Or maybe it's not so good - I read it quite a few years ago. No, I'm pretty sure it was good. Or maybe just okay. Or am I thinking of 'V'? One thing's for sure: 'Vineland' sucks. I've also heard that 'Mason & Dixon' is a bit of a wank as well.

Like most decent God-fearing people, I have Hofstadter's book on my shelf. Have I read it? Well, not exactly. I've skimmed it and it looks pretty good, I guess. Certainly daunting. I'm reading 'Labyrinths of Reason' by William Poundstone at the moment to ease me into 'G.E.B.', not that it matters, as I probably still won't read it. Ah well, at least it's there.

TimT said... long-awaited novel (the semi-fictionalised story of my time as a transexual cabaret dancer in pre-WW2 Berlin),

Which bit wasn't fictional?

TimT said...

The only one of those books I have read, btw, was Hofstadter. As far as witty romps through several mind-boggling scientific and literary ideas go, it's alright.

Tim said...

I will almost guarantee that I'll never get around to reading any of these books. But I'd still like recommendations of which one I ought to read. So far, none of them sound particularly promising. It may be that all three end up on a park bench somewhere.

Tim said...

Which bit wasn't fictional?

The transexual bit. (So to speak.) I was actually a transvestite. Named Helga.

bruce said...

All duds! Try Lines of Beauty by Hollinghurst.

JPW said...

If you really want to read a big thick book, try 'The Gormenghast Trilogy' by Peake. Or 'Tales of a Dying Earth' by Vance. Or take Andrew McGahan's first three books and connect them using one of those industrial staplers.

Out of the three you have, I'd certainly encourage you to ditch the DeLillo and never again waste any of your time with him. Pynchon and 'G.E.B.'...well, the Pynchon was very much a product of its times and a lot of it is quite quaint and mystifying today. Further, it is as though he is writing strictly for an audience of mechanical engineers. The comparisons between 'Gravity's Rainbow' and Neal Stephenson's 'Cryptonomicon' are not entirely unfounded, and I would certainly recommend the latter over the former (don't waste your time with the so-called Baroque Trilogy, unless you already have - it's mostly namedropping of dead royalty).

'G.E.B.' might potentially come in useful one day in the future, when you reach true enlightenment.

Nah, fuck it. Honestly dude, get rid of the lot. Do yourself a favour and head over to Border's or Reader's Feast and pick up the Penguin 'Great Ideas' box set. Each volume is very beautiful and wonderful and fits right in your pocket. Ruskin's 'On Art And Life' or Seneca's 'On The Shortness Of Living' or Hazlitt's 'On The Pleasure Of Hating' or, in fact, any one of them, taken alone, is more beautiful and enlightening and refreshing and invigorating than any of those three housebricks you mentioned could ever hope to be.

Alternatively, BUY MY BARTHELME! I might be interested in swapping if you've got anything good you're considering getting rid of.

Man, I love to hear myself talk.

Nick said...

The Pynchon is ok; don't waste your time with DeLillo. Isn't 'That 70s Show' back on TV, anyway?

Rigo Bear said...

I've not read any of them. Just wanted to add my number to the comments and prove your "fuck you" was unwarranted. So nya!

Anyway, from what I know of those three, I'd be going with Pynchon.

Tim said...

Yes, apologies for the pre-emptive aggression. But hasn't this been fun? I mean, now I don't want to read any of the books I listed. I should have made the list longer!