We make holes in teeth!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Gravity's Rainbow & Infinite Jest

I know that books are subjective, no matter what the author intends. What I get out of it isn't going to be the same thing that the other guy gets out of it. So the adage that there's a chair for every ass has some merit here, there can be no doubt about it. But sometimes I wonder what the point is. Take 2 books I have recently tried to read, Thomas Pynchon's classic, Gravity's Rainbow (or this), and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (or this).

Read the Wikipedia entries and the books sound interesting. They're not. They're both droning word collages that lull you to sleep with lack of direction and rambling prose. These books both come from the element of literature I refer to as word obfuscation. Using the expression "word obfuscation" is, in fact, word obfuscation itself. Obfuscation is defined as, " To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand." I cite that definition because I know it's pompous to use it in the context above.

Point being. Ok, right. The point being that both of these authors used this literary element, and as any well-grounded reader will tell you, this will trigger a slew of insecure literary dimwits to scream that the book is outstanding. "I can't understand it," the logic begins, "So it must be brilliant! Brilliant!"

The only interesting aspects of those books is reading someone else's take on them. Then they suddenly brim to life. Take those Wikipedia entries, for example. If you read them both, it probably took you about 20 minutes, maybe 30 total if you paid close attention. Each of these books is near 1000 pages long. You don't hammer that out in 30 minutes. No, with the circuitous path both narratives take, you read about 1 page per 4 minutes. The intrigue doesn't last long.

It's like this. If I built a road across the country where drivers had to occasionally get out and crab walk across a river and lay in cold snow for 15 minutes at a time, it would be really cool to watch an hour documentary of it on the Discovery Channel. But nobody would actually drive it and say, "Boy, that's a great road." Neither of these books are great roads, IMO. They're interesting for a small subset of people, and what those people get out of it is interesting for the rest of us to read. But that doesn't make either a great book. It makes them hard to read.


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