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:
Book blogger extraordinaire Kristilyn (@readinginwinter) wrote a fantastic piece about making bookish friends. She inspired me to write about last month’s yegbookswap.
Credit for yegbookswap goes to Andy (@agrabia) and Vanessa Grabia (@vgrabia). From the event website:
Time for an old-fashioned book swap. Here’s the lowdown:
1) Everyone brings three books. One they loved as a child. One they loved as a teenager. One they loved as an adult.
2) Used or new paperback books are encouraged, to keep down costs. Just make sure the used copies are in decent, readable shape.
3) All the books go on a table, we socialize and talk books for a while, and then everyone goes home with three new books.
And that’s that.
I was super excited to have a few hour’s worth of adult conversation. Meeting fellow book lovers was just a huge bonus. I had my four-month old in tow, but he’s pretty docile. I wisely left the two-year old at home. Apart from picking up some great new books for free, I met up with friends old and new, online and “real life”, and met people who I had no connection to at all. A huge thanks to Andy and Vanessa for putting this event together.
The books I brought to swap
- Child pick: Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life
- Teen pick: Wuthering Heights
- Adult pick: Mercy Among the Children
The funny thing about my child/teen/adult choices is that I read them all in my teens. I remember buying Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life when I was 13, I read Wuthering Heights for English in grade 11, and I read Mercy Among the Children when I was 19. I was a late bloomer and pretty much a child at 13, and though certainly not mature at 19, I remember thinking that this was such an “adult” book. Meaning I didn’t really understand it. I’ve reread it a few times since then.
The books I took home
- Child pick: Where the Wild Things Are
- Teen pick: The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul
- Adult pick: Vineland
I had never read Where the Wild Things Are. I looked through it before reading it to Benjamin, and thought, huh, what’s the big deal? But Benjamin was taken with it right away. He calls it “The Jungle Book,” and I suppose one day he’ll learn about the other Jungle Book, but for how, he loves reciting the lines and talking about the “monsters.”
I’m nearly finished Douglas Adam’s The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, and it’s a perfect, light, funny book with a wild plot that I can’t imagine being resolved in the 50 or so remaining pages!
I know nothing about Thomas Pynchon or Vineland, except that it is actually one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die! Bonus!!
So? Do you have a good group of bookish friends? How do you make more?
And, If you were at yegbookswap, I would love to read your review of the event!
You eat local. You shop local. Do you read local?
When I’m not reading from the list, I usually come across books by accident – browsing the library or used book store, or a random recommendation – but I love it when a theme emerges. The idea of “reading local” has come up a few times lately:
I won a copy of From Away by Edmonton author Michelle Ferguson from local book blog Eat Books. From Away is about an outsider in a small Nova Scotia community. I have family on Cape Breton Island, and have heard the expression “from away” used to describe not only visitors, but anyone not born on the island, even those who have lived there for twenty plus years.
- A random person tweeted me with a recommendation for Americas by Edmonton author Jason Lee Norman. Americas is a collection of 22 short stories, one for each of the countries in the Americas. This is another case of a local author writing about “away.” I’m looking forward to this one, as short stories sound like the perfect antidote to months of dense Russian drama.
- Another way to read local is to connect with local readers. Fellow book lover Andy Grabia (@agrabia) is organizing a book swap on June 26th where each person must bring a book they loved as a child, a book they loved as a teenager, and a book they loved as an adult. Henry and I will be there, for the first hour or so anyway. Bedtime must be observed. Check it out, sign up and maybe I’ll see you there.
And with that, my summer reading is set. From Away, Americas, and whatever I pick up at the book swap will keep me reading local for the next few months. I’m interested to see how the themes of being “local” versus “from away” play out in these books.
Do you read local? Does a book’s setting or author’s origin influence your reading choices?