Douglas Coupland and Botimals

As I’m reading Bubblegum, I am also reading Kitten Clone by Douglas Coupland.

It’s a non-fiction account of him visiting the Alcatel-Lucent plants in New Jersey, France and China.

Over 150 odd pages he makes observations about technology and how it will impact us in the future, etc.  He also throws in some speculative fictional ideas.

It’s an enjoyable book, in part because he wrote it in 2014, so it’s kind of dated, but not as much as you might think.

Anyhow, at the end, he creates this future scenario

The year is 2245.  Your name is Saager, and you’re just getting back to work after a snack break. … You visit your son, who works for the same company, except in the Kerguelen Islands in the middle of the Antarctic ocean.  Well, technically he’s not your son–he’s your clone, and one of many, as you carry around a mutant gene that made you unreceptive to a strain of influenza K that swept through the world thirty years previously. The overlords decided to make your DNA go wide.

So you call your clone son.  he says

“I just had my work break and it was great.  Number seventeen and I re-chipped the canteen’s sucrose dispenser, and tricked it into cranking out zygotes.  I made thirty-seven great-grandchildren, but then the bell rang and here I am, back to work.”
“What did you do with the zygotes?”
“I ate them.”

I’m not sure why he ate them, there’s no reason given.  But I put that in here as prep for the end of the story.

The father says he found feline DNA from the archives.  It’s maybe three hundred years old. The son sequences it and attempts to rebuild it (it takes 30 seconds).

The father watches the son remove a small fluffy kitten from the tank. It’s wet but healthy.  The father asks him what it looks like.

“It’s very–what’s the word… cute.  Yes.  I think it’s what people used to call ‘cute.'”
You look at the kitten.  It’s a… well, it’s a kitten.  Just like in the Grand Archive images.
“What do I do with it now, Dad?”
“What do you mean, what do you do with it?  … I don’t know.  Make it a pet?”
“People haven’t had pets in over a hundred years.”
“Can you give it as a birthday present?”
“The Kerguelen Islands are a No Small Mammal Zone.”
“Well then…”
“Holy crap!  My boss is coming this way!  What do I do with the kitten?”
“You better eat it.  Hurry!”
“Good idea”
You watch your son eat the kitten in four quick bites.  A chip off the old block.

Coincidence overload.

Not exactly the same idea I realize, but come on.
 

Lacing up my rhinestoned shirt in Vegas or: Finking wrecks fun

Part Two of the book is called “The Hope of Rusting Swingsets”

So if you thought the swing set murders were not going to be revisited, you’d have been wrong.

Part 2 Section 1 is called “Look at Your Mother.”  It concerns Stevie Strumm.

Belt has had a crush on Stevie for a while.  She’s the only girl that he can comfortably talk to.  Stevie had once given him a mixtape because he liked her Cramps shirt.  Stevie, the second youngest Strumm, invited Belt over to destroy their rusted swingset (number ten in his murderous spree).  She was babysitting her younger sister while the rest of her family was at a G N’ R show.

The end of the second paragraph promises two events that we haven’t seen and may or may not.  He has a vertiginous feeling that he will feel “while dressing at the foot of Grete the grad student’s bed and after reading No Please Don’t‘s first review.”

This swingset murder attracts a large crowd, but is notable for the conversation he has with the swingset.  The swingset is grateful that Belt came along.  Nobody swings on it anymore, it’s swing is wrapped around the crossbeam.  It’s just rusting.  The swingset is really down on itself ||I know I’m repellent|| and Belt tries his best to comfort it saying he wants to swing on it one last time.

This event is also significant for a few other things.  Jonboat’s driver Burroughs introduces himself for the first time (Jonboat wishes Belt to “break a leg”).  Belt is doing this for Stevie, but is aware that she is not watching and then see that she gets a hickie from Jonbaot in his limo.

And the cops arrive.

A bunch of the kids are at the station and they try to figure out who called the cops.  Blackie is a suspect (he wasn’t there).  Rhino Riggings suggests it was Jonboat (he has a phone in the limo).  But the fink was Sally-Jay Strumm, Stevie’s eight-year old sister. She gives no reason but Belt has some ideas.  She was brought to the station by her grandfather (a biker with hair dyed blacker than his leathers).  The grandfather tells Sally-Jay that “Finking wrecks fun and Finking makes trouble.”

Grandpa has a teardrop tattoo and when he sees Stevie’s hickie he assumed it is police brutality and he stars a brawl.

When Belt’s mother comes to pick him up she is mostly concerned that he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs. She can’t believe he was at a party where people were doing that.

Eventually she asks why he did what he did to the swingset and the story shapes up that Stevie asked him to do it and his mom is happy he likes a girl (even if she throws parties where kids get drunk).

One thing that fascinates me is that the flashbacks are set in 1987.  That’s the year I graduated high school.  All of the flashbacks are part of my childhood memory, so I can relate almost 100%.  But when I think back.  If hypothetically this book was written in 1987 and the flashbacks were set in 1957, those flashbacks would be like the dark ages to me.  So if you are reading this in high school now, 1987 wasn’t really that long ago. It was just a world without the internet–just like Belt’s world.

I hated family sitcoms–so I played the troubled teen who refused to be pacified… You either aimed for Ferris Beuller [Ferris Beuller’s Day Off] or Dallas Winston [The Outsiders]–which on its own was bad enough–but in the first case you’d end up coming off like Ricky Stratton [Silver Spoons], maybe even Mike Seaver [Family Ties], and in the second case Cockroach [The Cosby Show?] or Boner Stabone [Growing Pains].  By You I mean I.  At least for awhile.

My favorite evidence of a different world than ours comes in this hilarious section where Belt is thinking about what a Botimal could actually be.  He hasn’t seen one yet, but could you imagine:

A pet that was somehow cuter than a mogwai?  One that smelled like candy, spoke and sang, and hatched from an egg you wore on your wrist.  A pet of that description that was also a robot?  It sounded about as real as genies.  As ray-guns, light sabers, X-ray glasses. As pocket-size, voice commendable Game Boys that doubled as camcorders , tripled as calculators, and made long-distance telephone calls.

Fantastic.

Part 2, Section 2 is “Eleventh”

It begins with Belt watching Grandpa Reinhardt Alfons Grandpa Strumm making a statement to the media about the pigs.  Then Rory Riley calling him to say he’s a star.  Even Wheelatine High School’s own Milo Sorkin called him!  They all wanted to know when the next swingset murder would be.  But Belt decided not to do any more at least publicly.

Belt wanted to give Stevie a note in school the next day but she wasn’t there.  People speculated why she wasn’t in school.  But it was also revealed that Grandpa fell off a barstool and died last night.

Blackie and “his aspiring toady, schoolwide chess champ Harold Euwenus mocked Belt:  “Why the long face, fuck-ass… Sad about pawpaw.”  When Euwenus jokes that her family probably does call him pawpaw because “they’re total white trash,” Blackie says “My family says pawpaw.”  And give his toadie what for.

But Stevie isn’t sad about her grandpa dying.  “He’s a terrible person.  He beat on my dad.”  He is a Nazi.  in a white supremacist gang called the “Aryan Fuckers.”   But guess who is a Jew?  Stevie’s mom.

Stevie has seen Belt reading Cat’s Cradle, so she was reading Slaughterhouse-Five, “The only non-board book I’ve read twice.”

There’s a fascinatingly thoughtful section about young love.

Belt says he thinks he’s in love with Stevie and she says she knows.  He’s the only boy she ever has real conversations with.  It’s a big deal that he tried to understand her.  She wishes she wanted to kiss him.

I’ll want to one day, I know that much, but it won’t be til you’re twenty, maybe even twenty-five, because that’s the kind of face you have, the kind I’ll like when you’re a man.  Not just me, either. Lots of girls.  Which is exactly what sucks.  For me, it sucks, I mean.  Because the reason you’re into me is I have a certain style and I’m confident about it.  Once your face becomes the kind I’ll want to kiss, though, you’ll know a lot of confident styley girls to talk to.  I’ll be old news.  I’ll be just the same as I am right now, and maybe worse.

This sounds like an insight from experience.

The next swingeset murder was a solitary affair. It was at the Temple house. Their tragic story was a local favorite.

Simon Temple won the state lottery–not the whole pot but enough to buy a BMW and make some household improvements. They had put in a new driveway and garage and just needed to remove the old driveway and carport.  Then Simon and his children Tommy and Jessa died in a car crash. The car was driven by Simon’s wife Clare and she survived.  She was only driving because she had been an alcoholic but sobered up with Simon’s lottery win.  They were at wedding that night and Simon got drunk so Clare drove home and fell asleep at the wheel.  She didn’t go out much.

The carport was still there and their swingset was under  it.  It wasn’t hard to guess the swingset wasn’t happy.  Although this swingset was not rusted, because it was under the carport.  It just had no hope of very being used again.  The swingset has a lengthy conversation with Belt.

It is delusional and believes that it is hallucinating everything, including belt [it’s remarkably sad].

Belt went into the garage across the street and borrowed a long-handled spade.

Belt proceeds to murder the swingset. But when he pauses mid way through, the swingset has second thoughts.  What if it can be repurposed.  Maybe it doesn’t want to die.  Belt tries to reassure the swingset that this is the best recourse, especially now that it is damaged.  The last blow didn’t feel so right after all. “It felt like defeat. Or maybe more like a victory I’d rather not have won.”

Then the spade says he ruined its existence.  During the murder, Belt broke the spade’s handle.  It now has no reason to exist.  Belt decides to murder the spade to make it completely dead rather than just broken. He’s about to slam it on the driveway to bend it, when the owner of the spade comes home.  Her name is Ms Clybourn.  She called Belt’s mom, not the cops, and proves to be very sympathetic to Belt.  She gives him Crystal Light and talks nicely to him: “pleasant accents were contagious.”

He talks about Stevie and she commiserates about being alone.  says she is too pretty to be alone.  She is flattered by him and apologizes for calling his mom–she doesn’t want him to get in trouble.  After he describes the murders, she suggests he has anger issues and that’s what Belt runs with.  He even tells his mother he thinks it’s anger issues because of Stevie.  His mother did not like Ms. Clybourn, calling her a drunk.

They get home and Belt’s father is especially awful.  I could quote the whole thing at length, but I’ll truncate to my favorite parts

Belt’s father says he’s acting crazy.  But there’s crazy crazy and there’s acceptable crazy.   Destroying a swingset is the bad kind.  Belt asks what kind of crazy is okay.

The kind that doesn’t last and makes sense… Like for instance, what?  Maybe this Stevie likes another boy instead of you?  So maybe you–and I’m not saying this is what you should do, but just a for-instance of something that’s the better kind of crazy–maybe you kick his fucken ass a little but.  Like in front of her.  To show her, and him–
“Stop it,” said my mom.
“I’m not trying to say he should kick this kid’s ass….  I’m telling him that hitting people makes more sense than hitting a swingset.  Or a driveway or stealing a shovel. … And don’t get me wrong I’m, not talking about terrorism. I’m not talking about bullying.  I’m talking about the targeted hitting of people who deserve it or who seem to deserve it even though you shouldn’t in the end, actually hit them, probably.  I mean, unless they seem like they’re gonna hit you, or a girl.  And if if that was what you were wishing you were doing when you were hitting that swingset or hitting that driveway–I want you to say so because that would make a lot more sense to me, and then, you know, maybe my fatherly duty is more like I have to teach you how to not be sacred to fight instead of figure out who the best kid-shrink for crazy anger problems is.  The most important thing, though–and honey, please stop shaking your head, let me finish, he has to hear this–the important things is that when you were hitting that driveway and hitting that swingset, the important thing is you weren’t wishing you were hitting this girl, this Stevie.  You don’t hit girls is the important thing, got it?  You don’t even picture it.  You picture hitting somebody, you picture a guy, okay?  And if you’re so angry that you have to hit someone, you better make sure that someone’s a guy or guess what? I’ll hitting you. … And you will deserve it, Billy. Guys like that–guys who hit girls–those are the worst kind of guys there are. Even wore than guys who kick dogs okay?  The only guys who deserve getting hit worse than the one who hit girls are the ones who rape kids, which I don’t even want to get into that with you, into thinking about that.  But am I wrong, baby?  Don’t tel me I’m wrong.”
“You’re sending him the wrong message he’s a coward….  What he should have been doing is talking to us or crying, Clyde.  Crying to us”
“Well I don;t know if that’s true…. Crying about a girl you your parents is–well it’s embarrassing.”

After this huge fight Belt’s mother starts pummeling inans–plates, beer steins.

The section ends with Murder #3.  It was at the house of Regis Piper. When he saw the murdered swingset, he thought nothing of it.  His wife had read about cults, but he didn’t think that was it.  But after grandpa and the Nazi connection came out, Piper went to the cops.  Suddenly Belt was a suspect.  Belt’s dad talked to a cop named Platzik to try to keep Belt out of trouble.  But Platzik had a brother at the Herald and his nephew was Euwenus who’d been a the murder and suddenly its was all over the Herald.

Part 2, Section 3 “Friends” provides a backstory I didn’t necessarily think we were going to get.  And wow does it fill in a lot.  We even get the origin of Belt’s name: Belt Alton Magnet (although no origin for the Alton yet).

Back to 1987.  Basically Belt’s mom sees an ad on the subway (after her car got its second flat tire in as many days) for a study introducing therapy animals to children with psychotic disorders.

This is where he met Dr Calgary Tilly and Dr. Lionel Manx and how he got Blank.

In introducing Belt, Belt’s mother explains that he was named after her Uncle Belt.  Well, Uncle Gunther was his name” but no one much liked that–how could they?”  Gunther’s older brother was bullying him at a bus stop–was making him sing the Happy Birthday song over and over at the top of his lungs

and a young black woman, who my father always swore was Billie Holiday, though no one ever believed him, she approached the two boys and said to my father, “you’re picking on him now, but just you wait.  He’s gonna be a star.  Little kid’s got pipes.  Boy can belt.”  And after that Uncle Gunther was Belt.

He never sang though, because he had stage fright.  But when he got to high school, kids thought he was called Belt because he liked to hit people. So kids picked on him and he actually got good at fighting.  He took up boxing and lost his stage fright.  So then he joined a band.  But in his next fight his hearing was damaged which wrecked his voice.

Belt was her favorite Uncle and everyone liked him so Belt’s dad (even though he wasn’t crazy about the name), let her call him Belt (which even his dad agreed was better than Gunther).

Manx asks him about destroying swingsets.  The doctor asks why he calls them murders and he says the newspapers called it that.  It sounds cooler than “the swingset mercies of the swingset help-outs.”

Belt says he is trying to help them.  Belt says he would repair them if he could but he’s terrible with his hands.  Plus eh couldn’t promise to save all of the swingsets.  He makes an analogy of giving money to a homeless person.  That basically you’re giving them money to drink or buy drugs so it’s not really helping them.  If you want to help, you should give them a home.

Belt is approved for the study.  Manx shows him a series of pets which he says he does not want: puppy, turtle, parrot, snake.  He is very interested in the sugar gliders, but then Manx tries to sell him on these new items, called Botimals.  Manx has no visuals, just a sales pitch. It’s hard to sell a thing that no one has heard of over and adorable sugar glider, but he says they are cuter than Gremlins.  This gets Belt (and Belts mom) excited about the idea.  So he lets Belt try out the Botimal for a week.

There’s a kind of throwaway section that caught my attention and I wondered if it was a hint that will lead to something ulterior.

Graham&Swords sponsored this study.  Manx isn’t sure why.  Belt’s mom asks if Graham&Swords are the “we do dishes right” brand.  Manx says that indeed it is.  But home appliances barely account for a tenth of their business.  The majority of their profits actually comes from armaments, though soon I bet it’ll come from Botimals.

Is there going to be some kind of military component to the Botimals?

So Belt has the unhatched Blank in his room.

There’s an example of an inan expressing happiness toward Belt.  His swivel chair thanked him for when he occasionally rolled around the room ||Generally speaking, we are vastly underutilized as modes of short-range transport.||

Belt has been stealing Quills from his parents ever since his mom yelled at him for asking for one.  He always knew he wanted to smoke.  But much of the reason was because he wanted to be a writer and knew his life up until now wouldn’t provide much material.  Whereas staring to smoke, “a thing that impressed me as a sign of character” could supply him with a moment worth writing about.

Then he started smoking with Stevie behind the dumpsters.  He brought Quills and his Botimal to school. He showed her the egg, but when she asked if she could hold it, he came up with a genius excuse  He told her it was a an Indian agate–like a mood ring.  There was oil or gas inside and he couldn’t let anyone else touch because his skin caused it to from shapes symbolic of his spirit or something.  She thought it was bullshit but let it slide.

When Blank finally hatches, it emitted a sequence of schwas:  “ǝ ǝ,” it said.  He blew on it; it sneezed and got its name.

The next morning his father fed Kerblankey a diced onion dusted in cayenne.  Belt can’t determine his motivation, but Clyde is pretty much a dick.  Blank strangled, thrashed and panicked until Belt taught him to spit.

His father apologized.  Then he said the way it was singing he was having an “over-kissy grammy moment.  I just want to squeeze it.  Eat it right up.”

During this section Belt’s mom tells him that she always anthropomorphized animals-in a way that she felt was unhealthy.  She connects this to his inans.  She says she understands how hard it will be to resist them, but she asks him to promise to never hurt an inanimate object again.

Belt brought Blank to school the next day to show Stevie.  She finds it adorable, but is nervous because she just wants to squeeze it.  Belt doesn’t feel that way.

Then Rory Riley and Jonboat happen upon them.  Stevie thought that Belt and Jonboat could be friends.  But the boys walk in on them looking at Blank and they get really handsy.  Belt punches Rory.  Jonboat is cool about it though and calms everyone down.  Belt tells everyone it’s a it’s a sugar glider.

From then on, kids didn’t bother him, they were respectfully distant.  Perhaps it was because

I was (or at least had been) all messed up  Troubled.  Off.  Lacing up my rhinestoned shirt in Vegas.

I have never heard this expression before.  It’s vivid and wonderful, but so puzzling.  I looked up the phrase online and found literally one entry.  It is for a memorial service.

Wear any bling you have and any bright colored scarves or hats. If you bought a boa or a rhinestone shirt in Vegas or New Orleans, please wear it because my mother would have appreciated it.

It doesn’t help, but it is fascinating.

Part 2, Section 4 is “Applied Behavioral Science.”  This final section for the week is all about Belt’s group study program. Essentially, if he goes through with this study for sixteen weeks, they will give him the animal and pay for his therapy.  Belt says that he felt that Graham&Swords were pretty great to him because he dropped out early but they let him keep Blank and paid for his therapy anyway.

There’s a grad student named Abed (which makes me think of Community).  We see the questionnaires that belt [B.A.M.] was supposed fill out before and after each session.  Mostly the children have group activities where they interact and are observed.  He says most of the kids weren’t really noteworthy, Belt described them playing truth or dare.  Most of the kids took truth and deadpanned answers to “personal” questions.  But the dares hey gave were either impossible “jump out the window and fly” or like this: “Fart really loud while running in place like you’re running from the fart you did and shout how you love it.”

But he did meet three notable children.

James is a boy with a ferret called Screwball. This boy has a lazy eye is very concerned with whether he thinks people are a retard or if they think he is a retard.  He says he’s a hugger, but he notes, “If you have to be a hugger you have to ask permission.”

James is a font of inappropriate language.  I often marvel a the words that Levin conjures.

“That’s how its supposed to be. Poontangy haze, better lays and later days, Belt!”
“James please,” said his mom.
“Pleasey von Sleazy and a bottle of redrum.”

But James has got nothing on Bertrand who greets Belt thusly:

Five in a night makes a happy and healthy twenty-fucken-eight, you cocksucking, cockfucking son of a cunt.”

Belt says Bertrand is Sergeant Harmanesque (the yelling sergeant from Full Metal Jacket).

Bertrand calls Belt “Suspendersed”(which is hilarious) and then introduces him to his gecko Mikeylikey.

This is also where he meets Lisette.

Technically, he first met her on his way to meet the doctors.  They walked towards each other in the hallway and the girl slammed into him and said “Excuse me, excuse me.”  Her mom apologized by Belt thought it was funny.

Lisette was assigned to his group.  She refused to bring her pet (she was the sole non-compliant female).  He was intrigued but intimidated by her.  He believed that he was still mourning Stevie and didn’t want to switch his focus too soon, as if it invalidated his feelings.  So he tried to avoid her.  Until she started playing footsie (aggressive footsie) with him, repeating the excuse me joke.  She makes up an elaborate story about how she got scars saving a bunny from afire.  The story seemed fake because first there were two and then there were three but it was all a test to see how Belt would react to her lies.

I don’t know how much these other children will play into the next section.  I assume we’ll learn why belt left the study, but the preponderance of children with “problems” is certainly an obvious component to the story.

Lisette talks with him about the inans.  She has some intriguing ideas.  She asks if all the voices are male.  They are.  Why?  He doesn’t know.  She asks him to talk to her glove and he says that clothes never really talk to him.  He posits that are shy, but Lisette counters that maybe they are girls and girls don’t talk to him.  Indeed, maybe most things are girls and that’s why you only wind up talking to some things.

He repeats what his father said about maybes:

“Maybe’s a shrug. A shrug and a dodge.  Maybe’s the sound second thoughts make.”
“That’s the single saddest thing I’ve heard this year.  What a disappointment.  You sound like somebody’s dumbfuck father.”

Perhaps the Inans stem from his inability to talk to girls?

As the section ends, Manx gives Belt a prototype Cure Sleeve (the one he still has).  Manx really seems to have taken to Belt or there is something about Belt that makes him think he is perfect for a Botimal.

Abed also gives the news that his mother collapsed and is in the hospital.

Abed makes a hilariously inappropriate and botched attempt at referencing Bugs Bunny.

Evidently Belt’s mother was trying to downplay how serious it was that she had fallen down.  Abed found her on the ground and

She widened her eyes, looking deeply into mine, and plainly stated, “Ah-buh-dee-ah-buh-dee-ah-buh-dee, that is all there is folks.”
“Like Porky Pig?” I said. It didn’t sound like her.  Or Porky Pig.
“No!” Abed said.  “I have made a mistake.  That was my response to her joke.  What she said was, “It appeared as though I made an incorrect turn at Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Abed seems to downplay the seriousness, but when belt’s grandma arrives she says it is indeed serious and that’s why she’s there.

She clearly has no tolerance for any of this psychology mumbo jumbo.   She say that Belt’s father had imaginary friends too.

He would try to introduce me.  Did I pretend that I saw them?  I did not pretend I saw them.  I did not pretend to believe he saw them.  And guess what happened.  He stopped pretending to see them.

Maybe that’s why he’s mean to her over the phone.

I really didn’t expect much backstory in this novel for some reason.  It seemed like it would be all forward-looking.  I’m very curious now how much more we’ll see of 1987.  And if we’ll meet Grete the grad student.

 ♦
♦          ♦

Incidentally, I co-posted this on my own site which includes a “Soundtrack” for each post.  All of the posts for Bubblegum will “feature” bubblegum pop songs.  This week’s is Ohio Express with “Chewy Chewy.”.

Facts are Subjective Anyway

[Rats, I thought I had published this one Tuesday, but I see that I had accidentally scheduled it for next Tuesday].

I wasn’t planning on focusing on names again this week, but there are a few things that came up that put names back on my radar.  The first of which was the fact that he mentions Adam Levin, author of the novel The Instructions, as a person who smoked as much as he does.  But speaking of this, there is a lot of fiction within fiction revealed here.  So these were two interesting ideas.

In fact though, this was a tough section to write about because a lot happened.  With more action, there seemed to be less to ponder because so much moved things forward.  Not a lot happened in the first week, but comparatively, this was action galore.

Chapter 1, Section 4 “All-Encompassing and Tyrannical”

As this part opens, Belt muses about Lotta’s conspicuous generosity.  As with many other things in this story so far, Belt is super analytical.  He decides that her generosity had to mean something.  But what.

  • What she too spidged to realize she’d given so much money?
  • Was it a communication of some kind?  But what?
  • Was she hinting that she loved him?
  • If she did, it was not mutual but he didn’t want to offend her.  So how should he proceed with the loan?  Anything he did might offend her, which he didn’t want to do.

He “knew a stalemate of hypotheticals when [he] saw one.”

The question of if he should spend the money is mooted when his father returns early.

His father tells a lengthy story about why he left the fishing trip.  He’d gotten a fight with his friends who claimed that Belt was a puker.  Belt did once puke  on a fishing trip.  Clyde’s friend Rick’s son Jim pretty much butchered a fish trying to take the hook out and belt threw up.  Rick said they call Belt “the Duke of Puke.” So Clyde got into a fight with his best friend.  He also realized he’d forgotten to leave Belt money so he came home early.

Clyde is a prickly dude to be sure.  Here’s a couple of example of Clyde’s behavior to his son.

He asked if it was I who’d left the water on the kitchen table, and, if so then why had I left the water on the kitchen table, but before I could answer either question, he’d already begun to sarcastically offer a number of reasons why someone who has just celebrated his thirty-eighth birthday might feel entitled to leave water on a table instead of feeling obligated to spill it in a sink and wash its container or, at the very least, rinse its container. He didn’t say container, but he didn’t only say tumbler.  He named a large assortment of containers–glass, cup, mug, tankard, stein, grail, chalice, etc.–as if he felt that uttering a exhaustive list of names of containers from which one might drink was necessary to bringing his point across with clarity.
When at least he finished speaking, I told him I wasn’t yet finished with the water.
“So finish it,” he said.

We also learn that Clyde had not only purchased one of the “Jonboat Say” T-shirts, he mounted it in a glass frame (and assumed that it bugged Belt.  It did, but doesn’t any longer.

Chapter 1, Section 5 “On the Chin” also has a lot of “action.”

Belt talks to a few inans and it’s interesting to learn that the inans have opinions about each other.

The slide is a whiner and mocks Belt for having to talk to the inans out loud rather than in his head.  The slide encourages him to try to talk in his head, but it’s so muffled the slide rips him apart.

He leaves the slide and when his feet hit the ground, the SafeSurf spoke up.  The SafeSurf is empathetic. and here we get some more incorrect names.  The SafeSurf initially calls him Blight Magnificat.  ||I knew Magnificat sounded off||.  SafeSurf also reveals how much he dislikes the slide because the slide has been calling him |not pebbles| because it replaced pebbles, I guess. But even that’s insulting because SafeSurf didn’t replace pebbles it replaced woodchips which replaced the pebbles.

Then comes the frankly astonishing information that there is a girl, unnamed of course, who can also speak to inans.  Belt has known about this girl for some twenty years and had been looking for her.  But how do you find someone who is talking to inanimate objects?  Especially if she is talking to them in her head.  The inans can’t tell people apart aside from gender, so they’re no help.

Then we hear that ten years ago she had killed herself with pills in the bathtub (news travels slowly among inans but it does travel).  But now the SafeSurf tells him there is a new girl who an talk to inans and it has encountered her.

Then comes some real drama and real action.

Five fourteen year old boys all wearing identical baseball hats embroidered with “yachts” approach.  Their names are on the brims: LYLE, BRYCE, CHAZ, CHAZ JR.  There was a fifth who was further back and called Triple-J (or Trip).  Belt had let Blank out and the boys spotted it immediately The boys think Blank is adorable and want to buy it.  The fifth boy is ignoring them as he is doing something by the slide.

Belt gets tense about the boys closing in on him and he lashes out at them.  Triple-J comes over and subdues him but jumping on his kidneys.  But in a remarkably restrained manner.  He even makes sure that Belt is okay.  But belt has figured out who this boy is.  When Triple-J said “Dicksneeze,” Belt knew that it was Jonboat’s son.

After the beating Belt passed out.  When he wakes up he find a cure taped to the slide–Triple-J had taped him there with Band-Aids.

Belt brought the cure home and wanted to save it.  He doesn’t want to dact on the cure because he wants to remain innocent of that experience.  He assumes that the cure has bonded with Triple-J, so he knows he will need the Independence

He thinks of Chad-Kyle because of his Bic lighter. The sound it makes is claimed to be a flick but it is duosyllabic and it sounds a lot like CHAD-kyle.

Chapter 1, Section 6 is called “Toe”

The cure that belt brought home died over night (Belt tried to save it but wound up killing it instead).  The cure had been in the process of laying a reproductive pearl.

Belt is actually burying the dead cure in the backyard when his father sees him.

It begins with a possibly touching moment between Belt and Clyde.  Clyde got a cure from the cuddlefarmer at the brothel the night before with the intent of then both dacting on it together–a bonding experience.  But it was so cute that Clyde couldn’t get it to his mouth fast enough.

When Clyde sees him burying a cure, he assumes they both self-dacted which makes them even.

But then there’s more of Clyde’s prickliness.

Speaking of forgot, I hope you’re better at remembering which hook you took that spade from than you are at remembering to lock the shed door.
I had locked the shed door.  “It’s locked,” I said.
“Sure,” said my father, “I can see it’s locked now, but it wasn’t while you did whatever you were doing with my spade over there for however long you did it.”
“No one would’ve broken in while I was standing in sight of it.”
I didn’t say they would.  I’m talking about habits. The more often you fail to lock the shed when you leave it, the more likely you are to forget to lock the shed.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Trust me,” he said.
“I trust you,” I said.
“Don’t get all autistic, I’m fucking with you Billy.  Lighten up.  Take it easy.

As Belt leaves the scene, Clyde says he’ll just dig up whatever Belt has buried (which Belt said was a 25 year-old cure).

Belt goes to the bank to return Lotta’s money and to talk to Chad-Kyle about Independence.

He has an awesome conversation with Gus about handkerchiefs and how the demise of the handkerchief is essentially responsible for the death of romance and the rise of child beating (its pretty spectacular).

Gus is an interesting character and Belt likes him.  He even says “I really like your name.  It’s an old-timey name.  A tough kind of name, but not like a bully.  Just straight up tough.

When Belt reveals that his father is Clyde Franklin Magnet, Gus knows him–he was Clyde’s supervisor (before he retired or, you know, was fired).

Later Gus says to Belt, “And so your name’s uh–its’ Cuff, right?”

Belt says he’ll give him an autographed copy of No Please Don’t.  And soon enough Belt’s book will come into prominence in the story.

But first he goes to talk to Chad-Kyle who is trying to get his Independence cure (and two others) to do a (violent) trick which he thinks will get him on the marketing plan for Independence.

Chad-Kyle goes on a long, hilariously inaccurate, diversion about the inventor of dynamite.  “I can’t remember his name” [Aflred Nobel].  Nobel created it to blow up mountains but then someone realized it could be used as a weapon in WWI against the Nazis.  That’s when he had his Topeka moment.  When Belt says he doesn’t think that’s right, Chad-Kyle says, “facts are subjective anyway.”

Finally Lotta Hogg drags Belt away (No worries, Beltareeno) and says she wants to take Belt to lunch.  She says she hates the idea of killing cures–and this makes him think twice about her.  He calls CK a “wang scab” but she says he’s not that bad.  She is playing Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the first music mentioned in the book, I believe.

They go to Arcades Brothel.  They recently started serving pizza (which Belt decides isn’t very good).  Lotta orders them a flight of slices (ha).  It turns out Lotta’s mother is the cutefarmer who sold Clyde the cure last night.

Belt goes into the bathroom trying to decides if he could actually like or even love someone like Lotta.  When he returns he sees that she has a cures toe in her cleavage.  (His mind comes up with some repulsive alternatives before realizing what it actually is).

She tries to get him to eat one, “PWEESE? Aw we want is Cwoseness.”  But Belt will have none of it.

Chapter 1, Section 7 “What the Gold Should Have Done”

The final section of the chapter features Triple-J at the Magnet house.  It also features a lot of detail about No Please Don’t.

Belt says there are three vaguely autobiographical moments in the novel.  Although he won’t spoil the novel by revealing anything more than that Gil Benjamin MacCabby is mourning the loss of his beloved Bam Naka action figure and the chipmunk episode resonates for him in a way it really didn’t for Belt.  (I’m not detailing the chipmunk episode).

When Belt gets home, Triple-J greets him with a quote from the book, “What should gold have done.”

Triple-J says he loves No Please Don’t.  It’s the first book he ever loved and he has read it many times.

Jonboat’s former driver is now driving around Triple-J.  His name is Burroughs.  Belt tells Burroughs to call him “Belt,” but his father says “Call him Billy.”

Clyde and Burroughs get into a tough guy conflict that leads to nothing.  Eventually, Triple-J (Burroughs calls him Trip) invites Belt and his father to “the compound.”

Before they leave, Burroughs takes Belt aside and says that Jonboat was convinced that Belt modeled Bam Naka after him.  He was quite upset about it but has since gotten over it.  Belt assures him that Jonboat is tangentially involved in the narrator if at all.

Triple-J asks if Belt will watch his movie  A Fistful of Fists, and read his two papers “On Private Viewing,” and “Living Isn’t Functioning.”

But despite how much Belt would like to engage with Trip’s media, he decided to reread Chapter 9 (the end of part 1–this is also the end of part 1) of No Please Don’t, the first time he’s read it since he wrote it.

Gil MacCabe is 9 years old.  He was given a ring by his father and he suspects it is not real gold.  Like any good watcher of cartoons, he decides to test the realness of the gold by biting it, as any good cartoon prospector would do.  of course he [like me] doesn’t know what the biting is supposed to prove.

He winds up ruining the ring, but doesn’t know what it even means.

Of all the nugget-biters in the Westerns Gil’s seen…not one of them ever even once explains just what the nugget did or didn’t do between his teeth to assuage his suspicions of its being fools’ gold or confirm his hopes of its being real gold.

This leads to Gil remembering back when he was 3 or 4 years old.  Gil thought about how on shows glass would break.  So when his mother served him water in a glass instead of a sippy cup he wanted to know what kind of glass this was.  His mother doesn’t understand and says it’s just glass.  Glass is glass.

But Gil doesn’t believe his mom wasn’t horrible enough to give him dangerous glass.  So he bit the rim.

It hurt. He bled.  It was all her fault.

Triple-J related to this accusing line that it was all her fault, although Belt didn’t mean it the way Trip took it.

Gil was wrong that it was his mother’s fault.  He was just too young to know it.  But Trip must have made a psychological connection because of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent death in a car collision.  Darla Pellmore-Jason, née Field, may not have been an alcoholic when they were married, but she became one after Jon Jon left her for Fondajane Henry.  Presumably Trip felt that Belt also didn’t think very highly of mothers.

On the plus side, Belt takes Triple-J’s misunderstanding as a good sign.  When he was younger, Belt misunderstood J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey) and Kafka (“A Hunger Artist” this time) when he first read them.  Now he sees Trip’s misreading of his book as making him comparable to Salinger and Kafka.

He ends the section by referencing the section above “All Encompassing and Tyrannical” and the time he refused his father’s invitation to go see the Mustangs game and get ice cream.  he promises to mention other times when No Please Don’t was autobiographical in the next few sections.


♦          ♦

Language is so clearly very important to Levin.  You can see it in misunderstandings–as in No Please Don’t or in getting people’s names wrong.

But also in Levin’s use of exotic words.

He emphasizes the word taction (which the dictionary says is obsolete) as the unexpected word for the act of touching.  Belt says, “It seemed important to recall the word.”

And also in this phrasing after Belt gets beaten up: “I was, somewhat literarily, yards from where I’d lain when my father first taught me all he knew about suffering. [emphasis mine].

The use of literarily hearkens back not only to the meta-novel within a novel but also to Belt’s referencing The Instructions earlier in the section.


♦          ♦

Aside from Salinger and Kafka and The Instructions, there’s no other stories mentioned, I don’t think.

 

 ♦
♦          ♦

Incidentally, I co-posted this on my own site which includes a “Soundtrack” for each post.  All of the posts for Bubblegum will “feature” bubblegum pop songs.  This week’s is Captain Groovy And His Bubblegum Army with the song of the same name.

A character by any other name.

As this book opens I couldn’t help but focus on names.  I have always been attuned to the names authors use.  When I used to attempt fiction, I could spend as much time trying to come up with the perfect meaningful name (see how the name comments on the action?) as with a story itself.   So when I see an author using especially peculiar names, my reading senses tingle.

This story is just full of unusual names.  And on several occasions names, or lack of names is significant.

Before starting on names though I have to chime in and say that “shut your piehole, cakeface” is hilarious.  And the whole argument about punctuation on T-shirts had me cracking up.

First of all, with a comma before “cakeface,” the shirt would have to be considered “officially punctuated” which would require a period be placed after “cakeface,” not to mention a colon, if not another comma, after “Jonboat Say,” and quotation marks around the catchphrase itself….  This, believed Jonboat, was more punctuation than a T-shirt could abide.

But back to names.

Part 1 Section 1 “Jonboat Say” starts off with the character named Jonboat.  I suspect most people have heard the nickname Jonboy, but I have personally never heard Jonboat before and I liked it immediately–weird and memorable.  There’s also his full name Jonny Pellmore-Jason and that his father is named Jon-Jon Jason.

It’s also interesting how the narrator introduces his family.  Since his family name [Magnet] is an everyday object that could be used as a descriptive word as well, introducing his family as “My family’s. We Magnets'” is certainly not the most direct way of providing information. My first thought was that it was metaphorical and that his family were the kind of people magnetically attracted to trouble.  This doesn’t even address his first name yet.  in fact, his first name won’t come for a long time.

The other prominent name in this section is Blackie Buxman.  This name doesn’t specifically signify anything to me at this point, but they all strike me as meaningful.  Most of the characters aren’t named common Anglo-Saxon names (well, okay, Jonny, but he is Jonboat).

So is “Blackie” a nickname like Jonboat or a given name?  There’s no way to know yet and maybe we never will as he doesn’t seem to be very important after the tetherball match.  I looked up the origin of Buxman and learned it’s the Americanized spelling of German Buchsmann, a topographic name from Middle High German buhs(boum) ‘box (tree)’ + man.  That doesn’t seem significant–although later he does punch the main character “in the asshole.”

Just after the first black dot triangle section break, there’s a geographically made up name: “Wheelatine Township” in the Chicagoland area.  Is the made up use of Wheelatine an indication that things are not real right from the start?  (I don’t know anything about Chicago, so if it’s a play on a region, it is lost on me).  Or is it just a simple narrative device to prevent people from fact-checking details?

Also, what the heck does Wheelatine mean?

Then there’s the main invented plot device, the “cures.”  The way these are introduced puzzles in the same way as “magnet”: “There I had my cure rustling around in its PillowNest.”  [shades of George Saunders with this naming convention].  This is deliberately confusing, there’s no question.  No capital, no italics, no capital C, there’s no indication that it is significant.  I had to read this sentence a few times just to see what I could possibly be missing.

Cure is short for Curio (which makes a lot of sense both as the real name and as an abbreviation).  It is a pet of sorts.  And he has named his Blank.  The Curio’s full name is Kablankey–named at his mother’s suggestion for the sound of its sneeze.  But ever since he’d “vented his temples” (?) he’d changed it to Blank, which was less childish but retained connections to his missing mother.

Curios had originally been called Botimals

By the way, “rear ejection” is what they call its waste.  Ha.

There are a whole bunch of names for things that happen to Curio owners. More words that have mundane meaning which are clearly used differently.  For instance, kids “go into overload” (which gets them on the news).  This is bad.

All of this in the first ten pages.

Then we finally get to the main character’s name.  Or what his name isn’t:

“Billy, listen–” said my father.
“That’s not my fucking name.”

Chapter 1 Section 2 is called “Two Hundred Some Quills”

I feel like I’ve heard the name Quills before for cigarettes, but the only thing a quick search provides is in a Stephen King story (which might be where I heard it).

As this section opens, our 38 year old narrator gets a birthday present from Clyde the Dad (his father is finally given a name).  Clyde is away (fishing with friends) and not-Billy is on his own.  Usually Clyde leaves money in the Marvin Hagler bust, be he has forgotten.

We also meet Grandmother Magnet who calls to wish him a happy birthday.  The narrator doesn’t feel like talking to her so he messes with her and she twists the Magnet/Jonboat piehole phrase to “Plug your dirty sheeny coinslot, ovensmear.”

Grandmother Magnet is full of racist name-calling, which is a shame because “ovensmear” is a wonderfully weird insult.

Not-Billy goes to the White Hen to by Quills from Pang, the owner (okay, sure) of the establishment.  Pang says that not-Billy is not creditworthy.  Instead Pang gives him a piece of Dubble Bubble (which not-Billy muses about and speculates could have been called bubbleychew). Speaking of gum, I’m glad Levin has settled the age-old debate that the plural of Bubblicious is Bubbliciousi.

Not-Billy returns home without his Quills only  to find “a check for $1,100 made out to my father.  My SSDI check.”  So he takes it to the bank.  Names are crucial at the bank as well.

The teller who helps him doesn’t have a nameplate up.  He is however, “wearing a pinstriped vest and decisive mustache … with a golden chain that disappeared inside the watchpocket.”  We soon learn his name is Chad-Kyle or C.K.

This fellow is just full of name brands:

“the most buzzed about line of Graham&Swords PlayChanger PerForumulae for Curios since 2008’s SloMo or perhaps even 1993’s BullyKing.”

He also passes out fliers at shows for DJ Crystal Worm.  And of course Crys-Dub’s style of sleazebeat was a revolution on the scale Wang Kar Pourquoi’s first forays into fuzzdub or even Murder-ers’ trademark-infringement days when they were still called Murderers Jr.  The fliers are for a party at Killer Queen Marmalade’s, sponsored by Que Padre Mezcal.

The teller is offering to give not-Billy an advance of the new Curio forumlae “Independence.”  He has already given it to his cure Tiddlywinks.  But when not-Billy says he doesn’t want to show off his Cure, the teller assumes that Blank is a hobunk.

Finally they get around to the transaction.  Not-Billy doesn’t have an ATM card.  When he shows C.K. his state ID, C.K says, “Now that is a name.”

Turns out the check is a problem because of names:

It’s my SSDI check. I’m the beneficiary.  My father’s my guardian, though, so it’s made out to him.

Outside of the bank we formally meet Lotta Hogg (a name that is hilarious, offensive and absurd but not out of the realm of believability).

Unless I missed it earlier, Lotta is the first person to say not-Billy’s full name: Belt Magnet.  She says it in full at least three times and addresses him by his first name many times during the conversation.  She even gives this name a series of nicknames: Beltenhauer, Magnetron, Beltinya Magnetovich [that one is inspired].

It turns out that Lotta and her friends (we finally have conventional names here: Kelly, Jenn and Ashley) were somewhat in awe of him back in 1987 [Belt was 12, Lotta was 9, give or take].  His actions caused them all to menstruate at the same time [?].

They talk about the return to town of Jonboat and his fiancee (?) named Fondajane. [There’s a lot to unpack with that].

As this conversation ends, Lotta wants to see his cure, but he tells her it is a hobunk and “could tear your friends to pieces.”

Chapter One Section 3 is called “About the Author.”
He tells us that he deliberately did not reveal his name at the beginning.  He didn’t want to write “My name is Belt Magnet, and sometimes I’m psychotic–at least that’s what they say.”

This section is a mostly a series of questions in interview format.

His psychotic symptoms manifest in being able to converse with inanimate objects or “inans.”  He needs to have his “gate” open to receive their messages (which are written in between vertical lines: ||Maybe that’s your own problem||.

The next question concerns Lotta Hogg and how she and her friends all had “the onset of puberty” at the same time because of what he did.  What he did has been named “the swingset murders.”  He essentially destroyed a series of swing sets with a bat, and they are continually referred to as “murders.”

In the newspaper article the girl who describes him as “so cute” is not named: “identified only, to my great frustration, as a “member of the popular set at WJH.”  Earlier it was said that the team name is Washington, so it’s safe to guess Washington Junior High.

Belt has an abetter in his murders, an eight grader named Rory Riley.  Belt had just destroyed the Blond family swing set.  Their son Ron Blond high-fived Belt for doing so (he hated that old swing set).  Riley also hated the swing set and proposed he fins another for Belt to murder.  Chuck Schmidt lived in “Old Wheelatine” where Feather lived, and they encouraged him to murder the Feather swingset.  This murder is what got the newspapers’ attention.

A question asks about his psychosis.

When discussing his medication, he talks about Eileen Bobbert who likes pun-driven jokes (and gave him Risperdal).  His prior doctor was named Emil Calgary who liked more scatological pun-driven jokes (and gave him Haldol).

There’s not much more in the way of names after this (even the doctor names aren’t revelatory I don’t think).  But one of the questions in this section stresses the naming of the Curios as botimals.  It was called a Botimal, a “robot made of flesh and bone,” but it was a pet to him–a new kind of pet.  He has never been able to think of Blank as a robot.

There’s more unusual word choice here though.  People “kill” their cures, regularly.  In fact, that seems to be what you’re supposed to do to it.  Earlier Belt said he had never so much as hurt Blank before.  Belt has been unable to do so, but he never prevented anyone else from doing it.  Nevertheless:

Blank was my pet, though.  My friend.  My sibling.  I didn’t want to kill it, even when I did.

Belt has possibly the oldest living Curio.  The oldest publicly stated Curio was owned by a monk and named Basho (17th century Japanese haiku master).

Finally, Belt reveals that he is an author.  His novel is named No Please Don’t.  It was published by Darger Editions (Henry Darger was an American writer, novelist and artist who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago, Illinois).  It concerns a character named Gil MacCabby who has lost his most favorite toy, and intergalactic smuggler called Bam Naka (which seems Star Wars inspired).

Belt also wrote an essay for Harper’s which was not published (although it is printed here) called “The Magnets, the Birds and the Balls” (June 2006) about his Grandma Magnet having an affair with a mobster by the name of Salvatore “Sally the Balls” DiBoccerini.  The Balls had an African Gray parrot named “Mouth” who would repeat just about anything (including lots of curse words).

There’s a lot to look at with all these names.  Most are probably not significant.  Many are probably just there for a joke.  And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

I don’t imagine there will be too many more significant new characters introduced,so I doubt there’s going to be many more new names to look at.

Nevertheless, with Levin’s clear love of language, I’ll bet whatever names he does come up with will be entertaining.


♦          ♦

As a writer, he reads a lot.  Here’s a list of the stories he mentions

Donald Barthelme “Balloon”
Franz Kafka’s “Blumfield”
Jeff Parker “Our Cause”
Robert Coover “The Hat Act”


♦          ♦

Incidentally, I co-posted this on my own site which includes a “Soundtrack” for each post.  All of the posts for Bubblegum will “feature” bubblegum pop songs.  This week’s is The Archie’s “Sugar Sugar.”

#OccupyGaddis: There’s stuff in this chaos

Hi everyone,  I’m Paul Debraski.  You may know me from previous blogging exploits like Infinite Summer, Moby Dick, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow.  I used to read big books like this back in college but I had kind of gotten away from them post college.  But I’m back and happily in the midst of big, complicated books.  I’m unofficially posting here (Daryl says it’s okay).  I was really hoping to have more time to write my own posts and maybe even contribute here.  But man, time is fleeting.

So, here’s a few thoughts that I’ve been pondering while reading the book.

When you first start to read this book, you slowly get used to the idea that there is a ton of noise and you have  to pick out the important parts.  Of course, how are you supposed to know what is important?  I mean, I knew (from reading this before) that the book was about money and stocks, so I focused on the details of that.  And yet, as I get twenty page after a conversation I realize that some little blow off detail was actually really important too.

Surely not everything is important here.  (Can we assume that the porn jokes are just jokes and aren’t going to “mean” something in 100 pages?)  But what about that water leak?  Is that going to be significant, or was it just a way to get the kids out of the board room.  (Of course, something bad is bound to happen with Monty’s speech, right?  And yet, as far as chronological time, the section ends with the night ending, so did Monty even give the speech?

It would all be so frustrating if it weren’t so enjoyable to read.

So, if you like, I’m posting along at my blog.  Although as I found out, I got a pretty big detail wrong last week (which I have since corrected).  http://ijustreadaboutthat.wordpress.com/category/occupygaddis/

 

Some lists of hard books

I asked this question in my last post, and figured it might be more fun for it to have its own thread.

Obviously “hard” is subjective.  And things are hard for lots of different reasons.  (Sometimes things are just BAD, not hard!) But I suppose there must be general consensus about at least the top ten or so.

I can’t say as I have an exact list of Really Hard Novels because I haven’t read all of the ones on my list.  So I can’t really rank them. But in general.

  1. Finnegans Wake  (So hard I won’t even bother)
  2. Ulysses
  3. Gravity’s Rainbow (I wouldn’t have thought so until the last section)
  4. JR
  5. The Recognitions (by virtue of it being so frikkin big).  I read this decades ago and I don’t remember much about it sadly, so I’ll have to try again
  6. The Sound and The Fury  (which I tried once and may have finished but if I did it was just seeing words, not really reading them)
  7. Tristram Shandy, (I’ve read this twice.  Once in college when I loved it and a second in the last few years when I found it really confusing–I think you need serious unimpeded time for it)
  8. Infinite Jest
  9. The Tunnel (man I had a hard time with this beast)
  10. Underworld (I loved the opening section but found the middle really difficult)
  11. Moby Dick (it’s not a hard book, but i can see why it’s hard to finish).
  12. Naked Lunch (if that’s even a novel)
  13. Foucault’s Pendulum (I read this ages ago (my first big book).  I wonder if I would understand more about now).
  14. The Satanic Verses (I was dying to read this and I had NO IDEA what was going on)
  15. Pale Fire (which I loved and cant wait to read again)
  16. The big Dostoevsky/Tolstoy books.  I haven’t read enough Russians, and I’m intimidated by both of them.
  17. Trainspotting (only for the accents)
  18. Ada (I’ve heard this is hard, although i haven’t tried yet.  I’m working my way through Nabokov
  19. All of the Epics in Middle English (although that doesn’t really count, right?)
  20. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (I remember being really confused by this, although it can’t have been that hard as I’m looking forward to reading it again someday.)

I know there’s a few other books that I should add.  This is based on my remembrances and some online searches.  It may not be fair to include translations (Don Quixote would be on there, although I understand the most recent translation is supposed to be wonderful).

I’m inclined to throw Tolkien’s The Simarillion on there, but I can’t say for sure as I haven’t looked at it since high school.  And my Faulkner knowledge is really limited so there could be more from him.  A number of online lists cite Gulag Archipelago, but I read that recently and didn’t find it hard at all.  Even if it is considered hard for the brutality, Elie Wiesel’s Night is much more brutal.

Anyone else have some good additions?

Purity of essence

I wanted to thank everyone who read along and added helpful and even curious comments both here and on my blog.  While I like to be a purist about reading, I realize that it’s kind of foolish to think you can read certain texts in a vacuum.

I am able to come full circle with a comment about Ulysses.  My co-worker decided that he was finally going to read Ulysses (it feels good to write that).  He is doing it with no outside help (he doesn’t even want me to tell him what’s going on, so I didn’t even tell him about our discussion here).  And it’s amazing hearing what he takes from it and also what he simply doesn’t pick up on.

He didn’t seem to have a basic understanding of the set up of the book–that it is a day in the life of Dublin.  And I can see that if you don’t know that Sandymount strand is in Dublin, it might not be readily apparent that that’s where the book is set (at least right away).  Without such basic knowledge, though, I wondered if it was even possible to understand what was happening in the book.  [Mind you, I had literally no idea what Gravity’s Rainbow was about either].  I had a college course about Ulysses (complete with Ulysses Annotated, so I knew a lot of what was going on in the background.  Of course, when he talks to me about Ulysses, I want to tell him about all the various things that each section symbolizes, or why things are done the way they are.  But I’m holding my tongue to keep his purity in tact.

Having said that, he is picking up on a lot of stuff and is getting a lot of the story.  And it’s always fun to hear him come in with a new insight to what he read that morning.  But I wonder if it would be more enjoyable if he “knew” more.

And now with the insights that I’ve been getting here, I wonder if Gravity’s Rainbow would have been more interesting if I knew the connections I’ve been reading about here.   I would say yes, very probably.  Like my co-worker, I didn’t want any spoilers (that’s why I didn’t read Weisenberger, as I understand spoilers–if that is even possibly with GR–were present, heck, unavoidable.  But I’ll bet knowing more about what the Kabbalah stuff meant would have made some of these sections more interesting.

So, Joyce threw everything he could about Dublin (and some of the world around him) into Ulysses.  And Pynchon seems to have thrown into Gravity’s Rainbow everything he knew about the World circa 1945, with a bit of 70s politics thrown in as well.  And it’s obvious he did his homework.  I never would have guessed that so much of the stuff he talks about was real–can you really fit a light bulb into a kazoo?  And without Wikipedia cheat sheets I wouldn’t have appreciated nearly as much.  Of course, I read the Wikipedia stuff after i read the section, when I was skimming it for things to post about, so i was able to keep some of my purity in tact.

I guess the point is that no one can ever hope to know as much as an author about a subject.  Either because  the author lived it or because the author did more research than you have, or even because it is simply his or her perspective on events.  In the case of Gravity’s Rainbow, I may not have understood everything that happened in the book, but holy cow did I learn a lot more than I ever knew about WWII, conspiracy theories and paranoia.

On another note, I had hoped to post something here every week, but I learned that bosses really don’t appreciate employees writing blog posts on company time (spoiled sports).  So I’m sorry I couldn’t help keep the discussion going regularly.  But at the same time I also found myself almost literally speechless about what  to talk about.  Aside from some serious WTF questions, this book had me kind of stymied for insights.  Well, not insights per say, but coherent insights.

I’m appreciative of the book for making me think so much (and making me think such crazy things) and I appreciate you all for helping me focus my thoughts.

I feel like I would perhaps like to read this book again (although not anytime soon). But since I just learned that V. has some of the same charcaters in it, perhaps i should go back and read that one first.  I wish that GR was available as an audiobook!  That would be interesting in terms of narrator as well.

Speaking of insights, here’s an interesting review of the book from The New York Times.  Holy spoiler alert about Gottfried!  But there are some interesting cultural insights (since it was written in 1973), that we might not pick up on in 2012.  I believe there’s a few errors, too.  It’s also fascinating to see such a lengthy book review in a newspaper!

So, what’s next everyone, JR?  [I actually wrote this post before Daryl submitted his survey.  JR was kind of a joke, but I’m delighted that it was an option!]

Tangentially, I was wondering if there was any kind of acknowledged list of difficult books out there?  I mean, right now it seems like Infinite Zombies is a major resource for such a list. There are a few resources that I’ve seen online, although most of them are just people’s personal lists of tough books.  Given the world’s penchant for making lists, I’m surprised no one with any authority has created The Top 20 Hardest Novels.  I’m pretentious enough to think that I have most of them in my house (whether I have read them or not).  But I always wonder if I missed one.

Not quite Gottfied

The final word belongs to Slothrop (and others): oboy.