Book abandonment

Title of Book: Mason & Dixon

Author: Thomas Pynchon

A. Total pages: 773

B. Page reached:

Percent finished (divide B by A):

What was happening on the page where you stopped? The man who gave Dixon the magic watch called the Chronometer that never has to be wound and was never to leave Dixon's side found out that it had been stolen and was mysteriously laughing like a maniac.

How long did you try to read the book? Three weeks.

Reason(s) for abandoning: Requires absolutely rigid concentration to even get through a page, and I feel like I "get it," it doesn't grab me anymore, it seems to be more about author's brilliance than about characters' story. My reading time is limited. I can't spend the whole summer turning 773 pages and after each one muttering, yes, you are very clever indeed, Mr. Pynchon, but caring less and less what happens to Mason and Dixon.

Have you abandoned a book by this author before? Yes, Gravity's Rainbow. And V.

For the same reasons? Pretty much.

Have you finished a book by this author before? Yes, The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland.

Is there anything that would get you to finish the book? Well, sure, if Pynchon came over for dinner or a beer or something. Or consented to his first interview. Or let me take a picture of him.

Is there another book you're planning to read instead? Yes, Cloud Atlas. I started it last night and it seems to be what I was looking for when I picked up Mason & Dixon.

Do you think you'll ever try again and finish the book? Maybe in a different phase of life. Retirement maybe.


SER said...

I, too, abandoned Gravity's Rainbow - for me, it was because I had to look up several words per page. And I have a pretty good vocabulary (at least in terms of recognizing meanings, if not adeptly using said vocabulary well when speaking).

I have become a bit of a Book Abandoner in my advanced years. I give any book 100 pages - longer if someone I really trust recommended it. I'm not sure if this is a sign of wisdom - the astute avoidance of the Tyranny of Sunk Costs - or mental lethargy or weakness of character. Last year, I abandoned Mating by Norman Rush, which two of my friends had assured me I would like. I read 200 pages, and still didn't feel into it; every page meant a struggle against boredom and distraction. I didn't like the voice, and it may also have suffered by comparison by coming after I'd read A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, which, while not a perfect book, was my kind of book in many ways.

You don't even live once. Etc.

Brando said...

This is a great series idea, Grendel, something everyone can relate to. I almost got there with Richard Russo's Empire Falls, but toughed it out because a buddy of mine actually bought me the book. EF caught me in the "I really liked his previous book, surely I'll grow to like this one even though I'd rather be doing laundry" trap.

the plunge said...

I am proud to say I finished Gravity's Rainbow. Why? Because I finished it. It was an act of will. My experience reading it was: long periods of boredom and eye-rolling punctuated by a few moments of absolute awe. No one's imagination is as wildly vivid and hilarious as Pynchon's (that I've read), except maybe Faulkner. But P only reaches that potential once or twice every hundred pages, where F does it every paragraph.

I ditched Mason & Dixon too. I loved the beginning--the stuff with the clairvoyant dog and the funny sailing ditties was awesome, and for a while I was even interested in the history it was dealing with. But pretty soon it got dull. The characters never feel even remotely human, and the situations don't feel real (at any level, however abstract), and so are not that interesting.

I used to say GR was my favorite book--but now I know it was just cognitive dissonance talking. I had to justify having read it somehow. (To its credit though, it did supply me with more than a few unforgettable passages--like when, at a party, a German colonel urinates into a toilet containing electrified water, and the electricity climbs up through the stream of urine, through his wang, and into his body.)

The one I ditched recently was The Known World. Everyone seemed to love that except me. I mean, it was nicely written and the characters were complex, but it seemed a little thin on dramatic tension, at least for the first 150 pages. It felt more like a documentary than a novel.

Grendel said...

There are some other great scenes in Mason & Dixon. Bar-hopping in South Africa. Going to an opium den with Ben Franklin. Smoking George Washington's home-grown weed with the man himself on his porch at Mt. Vernon (Martha smells it and comes out with a tray of cookies).

Pynchon is indeed almost psychotically hilarious, incredibly inventive and bold, with a sharp unblinking eye on what America is and means. I forgot -- I finished and liked Vineland, too. But that doesn't mean every novel he writes deserves to be read in toto. His characters too often become props he pushes around for his own agenda, which, granted, is grounded in genius. But maybe fiction isn't actually his true calling. Lot 49 was amazing though -- definitely recommend to all and sundry.

TLB said...

I ditched Gravity's Rainbow too--my page is still marked at 78, where I decided life's too short to read stuff you hate. I kept the book in case I ever decide to give it another go, but given the huge unread pile of books on my shelf that I'm dying to get to, I doubt it. I suppose it didn't help that I started it just after One Hundred Years of Solitude, but still.

Tao Lin said...

i don't understand people who read pynchon and enjoy it

Grendel said...

Because of stuff like this page 292 (recite it out loud -- it's darned near Shakespeare):

...Neither had slept well for a Fortnight, amid the house-rocking Ponderosities of commercial Drayage, the Barrels and Sledges rumbling at all hours over the paving-Stones, the Town a-hammering and brick-laying itself together about them, the street-sellers' cries, the unforeseen coalescences of Sailors and Citizens anywhere in the neighboring night to sing Liberty and wreak Mischief, hoofbeats in large numbers passing beneath the Window, the cries of Beasts from the city Shambles,-- Philadelphia in the dark, in an all-night Din Residents may have got accustom'd to, but which seems to the Astronomers, not yet detached form the liquid, dutiful lurches of the Packet thro' th' October seas, the very Mill of Hell.

"Worse than London by far," Mason brushing away Bugs, rolling over and over, four sides at five minutes per side, a Goose upon Insomnia's Spit, uncontrollably humming to himself an idiotic Galop from The Rebel Weaver, which he attended in London just before Departure, instead of Mr. Arne's Love in a Cottage, which would have been wiser. Smells of wood-smoke, horses, and human sewage blow in the windows, along with the noise. Somewhere down the Street a midnight Church congregation sings with a fervency unknown in Sapperton, or in Bisley, for that matter. He keeps waking with his heart racing, fear in his Bowels, something loud having just occurred ... waiting for it to repeat. And as he relaxes, never knowing the precise moment it begins, the infernal deedle ee, deedle ee, deedle-eedle-eedle-dee again.

segall said...

I hate to see ol' Tom getting bumrushed like this but I doubt I'm the best person to stick up for him. I've slogged through all of them except for Vineland and I loved it all. Does that mean there aren't 100-plus page sections where I had no conception whatever of what was happening? Of course not. If you asked me to sum up Gravity's Rainbow the best I could give you is that there's a rocket, there are erections, there are Africans fighting for the Germans, lots of funny-ass songs, Plastic Man, and a guy who dies from being force fed his own shit. What can I say? I find beauty in incoherence. (I had even less of a clue during V and I enjoyed that even more. And I'm absolutely awed by the, what, 24 year old who can write that.) The ridiculousness, the gnomicness, the scope of it all... I hate trying to defend something I can barely formulate an appreciation for. I just enjoy it. I have no pretensions at all of comprehending Pynchon very much, but the few strands of actual narrative and the galaxyfuls of imaginativeness keep me propelled.

(For a far far better defense of Tom, please consult the most recent issue of Bookforum, wherein smart people such as Rick Moody and Jay Cantor and Lorrie Moore say nice things about him.)