This week is a sprint to the end of Cat’s Cradle, in which I’m sure that everyone will live happily ever after.
Today is 9/11. Tomorrow is 9/12. By 9/19, I hope to be at the end of Chapter 88 of Cat’s Cradle, which comes on page 131 of the American Library edition. I hope to see you there, where “…he was no good at facing the public, and neither am I.”
And we’re off.
Let’s meet up next Monday at the end of Chapter 43 of Cat’s Cradle, where we’ll learn that “he hadn’t murdered his son after all.”
Here’s some music to march by:
A few people have asked for clarification about how a Deathmarch works. So here’s the deal:
Every Monday I will post a new entry here giving the target for that week. Usually in the past we have done about 50 pgs/week, but given the relative simplicity of Vonnegutian prose, we’ll probably up that a bit this time. For instance, I think we’ll try to knock off Cat’s Cradle — 188 pages in the Library of America edition — in three weeks.
Throughout the week people will discuss that week’s reading in the Comments thread. No spoilers, please, assuming spoilage is even possible here.
If at the end of the March you have commented every week, there is some sort of prize. Sometimes it is just the knowledge of a job well done, and sometimes it is some piece of swag like a mug or magnet. This time, we’ll see how it goes.
Any other questions?
11 years ago (!), my sibling Cecil Vortex introduced the concept of the “Deathmarch,” in which a group of brave souls work together to tackle some formidable piece of literature. In this way we conquered tomes including Gravity’s Rainbow, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote, and many (OK, several) more.
The Deathmarch has been dormant since the 2011 battle of Infinite Jest, which resulted in quite a few casualties. But I talked to Cecil yesterday and we decided it’s time.
In part this is inspired by my recent Kurt Vonnegut kick (see four posts ago), and by the fact that two…or was it three?…Christmases ago I received a lovely edition of all Vonnegut 1963-73, which has been moldering in a cabinet as I make my way through the endless Pile of the Unread.
The edition of which I speak looks like this:
And here’s an Amazon link.
You are not necessarily required to own this edition to participate. The novels covered will be:
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Breakfast of Champions
But there are also some stories and essays at the end of the big book. I think we’ll decide whether to include these in the March when the time comes.
Of course, reading the work of Kurt Vonnegut scarcely deserves the name “Deathmarch”; his stuff goes down like popcorn compared to the weighty prose of a Pynchon or Wallace. But, you know, branding.
I’m thinking we’ll start next Monday, September 5. Who’s in?
I’ve sensed for awhile that I had a Vonnegut period coming, and it arrived this week. I’ve been reading Welcome to the Monkey House as well as listening to the audiobook of Breakfast of Champions read by John Malkovich.
The latter makes BoC a somewhat darker experience than it is on the page, though when you think about what happens in the story, clearly that darkness was always there. In print it may be leavened somewhat by KV’s whimsical illustrations, which obviously are difficult to translate to the audio version. So if you’ve ever longed to hear the great John Malkovich attempt to describe Kurt Vonnegut’s drawing of an asshole, now you can.
For awhile I thought Malkovich and Vonnegut might be a stylistic mismatch, but it’s improved as it’s gone along, and the Malk absolutely kills Rabo Karabekian’s monologue about unwavering bands of light. Karabekian is a strange case — here Vonnegut has created a character that he clearly detests, and says so. And yet he gives Karabekian a beautiful and lucid speech that’s right at the heart of what Breakfast of Champions is all about.
I now give you my word of honor…that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal—the “I am” to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us—in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.
I’ve been reading Live from New York, the oral history of Saturday Night Live, and I really loved the following anecdote from Bob Odenkirk:
Chris Farley was like a child. He was like an eight-year-old. One time when he was fucking, rip-roaring drunk in Chicago, he was tossing furniture around his apartment, actually picking it up and throwing it like ten feet. It was scary, man. Then all of a sudden, he turned to me and said, with complete innocence, “Do you think Belushi’s in heaven?”
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” has never been more resonant than it is now, in the year of Ebola hysteria.
Blood was its Avatar and its seal –the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men.
So this being All Hallows’ Eve, why not give it a read, or better yet a listen. I’ll give you two versions to choose from. Either the classic, classy British-accent version by Basil Rathbone:
Or the extra-twisted version read by old Uncle Bill:
Flush with confidence after conquering Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, and wanting to prepare for the September release of Bleeding Edge, I decided to tackle Inherent Vice, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Lo and behold — even more than Vineland, Inherent Vice is the product of a Pynchon aiming to be accessible and entertaining, and for the most part succeeding.
Inherent Vice is more or less a detective novel. The protagonist, private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello, would have to be described as “Dudeesque” in his investigative methods: By sticking to a very strict drug regimen, he keeps his mind limber and arrives at insights that would elude more linear-thinking gumshoes. Also like The Dude, Doc is a man for his times — in this case the late 60s sliding into the 70s, post-Manson, the decay of hippie ideals already well underway. Though Doc himself is, of course, incorruptible, in the best Chandler/Hammett tradition; just substitute weed for whiskey, and there you are.
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As a veteran of the Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day Deathmarches, I wouldn’t say that I’ve suffered at Thomas Pynchon’s hands, necessarily, but I’ve certainly paid my dues. So it is with no small amount of caution that I approach a Pynchon book, and I did not undertake Vineland (1990) lightly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised: This book exhibits all of his features (wild creativity, clever references to culture high and low, and jaw-dropping flights of prose virtuosity) and none of his bugs (extreme difficulty and incomprehensibility).
Which is not to say that Vineland is an easy read, but it is a pleasurable one — I find myself actually looking forward to picking up the book, in contrast to GR and AtD, which sometimes inspired dread. I still need to be careful, though, because like Hunter Thompson and David Foster Wallace, Tommy the Pynch (as I like to call him) has a prose style that gets under your skin. After reading him for awhile you find yourself trying to write like him — producing sentences that go on and on, with all kinds of dependent clauses, and saying to yourself, “Well, why shouldn’t I just cram it all in there…what could possibly be the harm?” and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself out on a ledge in the middle of some torrential hailstorm of words that you don’t know how to stop — and you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that Pynchon is after all a genius, some say our greatest living writer, and that mere mortals should think twice before attempting this sort of thing.
You see what happens? It’s not pretty. Here’s how a professional does it: