Vineland by Thomas Pynchon is #176 in the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
This isn’t a review of Vineland. I’m not ready for that yet. But I really want to talk about it, so I’ll begin with a shout out to Matt Bowes of This Nerding Life for bringing Vineland to #yegbookswap. I was one of the last to choose an adult book, and there wasn’t much left except for Pride and Prejudice (read it) and The Count of Monte Cristo (too long), and Vineland. I’d never heard of Vineland, and only had Matt’s reason for choosing it to go on. He wrote, “For some reason, I love ’60s burnouts. Hopefully you will too.”
Burnouts are just the beginning. There are also zombies, ninjas, and yuppie lumberjacks, to name a few. The narrative is layered with multiple flashbacks, flash-forwards, dream sequences, and narrators interrupting each other; and full of pop culture references both real and invented. It’s the kind of book you just want to devour. One night I informed my husband that he was in charge, walked to the park, and read for a solid hour, but apart from that, it was read in chunks of ten minutes here, and twenty minutes there. It was hard to keep the plot straight reading this way, so I looked for a reader’s guide, and found Babies of Wackiness.
Babies of Wackiness is not your typical SparksNotes-type reader’s guide. It was created in 1990 by Pynchon super-fans John Diebold and Michael Goodwin. They put the guide online in 1998 – and it shows. Old timers like me remember when most web pages looked like this.
Babies of Wackiness was exactly what I needed: succinct chapter summaries and a list of important passages, with a brief and accessible discussion on the major themes. I was so happy to see that my favourite passage was mentioned. I’ll leave you with that passage while I think about what else I want to say about this incredible book. Stay tuned.
The first time I read this, it took my breath away. I had to put the book down.
So the big bad Ninjamobile swept along on the great Ventura, among Olympic visitors from everywhere who teemed all over the freeway system in midday densities till far into the night, shined-up, screaming black motorcades that could have carried any of the several office seekers, cruisers heading for treed and more gently roaring boulevards, huge double and triple trailer rigs that loved to find Volkswagons laboring up grades and go sashaying around them gracefully and at gnat’s-ass tolerances, plus flirters, deserters, wimps and pimps, speeding like bullets, grinning like chimps, above the heads of TV watchers, lovers under the overpasses, movies at malls letting out, bright gas-station oases in pure fluorescent spill, canopied beneath palm trees, soon wrapped, down the corridors of the surface streets, in nocturnal smog, the adobe air, the smell of distant fireworks, the spilled, the broken world.
And, just because, here are my own babies of wackiness: