I’ve started reading Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon’s masterwork. I tried to read it many years ago, and gave up after 100 pages. This time around, I’m familiar enough with Pynchon’s themes and style of writing that I don’t think I’ll run into the trouble I had before. I’m reading it with Steven Weisenburger’s Companion as well as Zak Smith’s page by page Pictures, which are helping to make it easier to discern the narrator and location of the action in each episode. Smith’s illustration for the following quote appears to the right. Page 49 of the book, which takes place during the Nazi V2 rocket attacks on London:
All over this frost and harrowed city…as once again the floor is a giant lift propelling you with no warning toward your ceiling—replaying now as the walls are blown outward, bricks and mortar showering down, your sudden paralysis as death comes to wrap and stun…and the sight of your blood spurting from the flaccid stub of artery, the snowy roofslates fallen across half your bed, the cinema kiss never complete, you were pinned and stared at a crumpled cigarette pack for two hours in pain, you could hear them crying from the rows either side but couldn’t move.
So far I’m really enjoying the book, despite the investment I’ve decided to make in trying to understand everything I’m reading. Pynchon, as always, writes like a brilliant madman.
Here’s a brief conversation, overheard on the Pynchon-L mailing list, for those of you on the fence about reading GR:
M.R. I am a new member to this list, and in fact to Pynchon’s writing. What would folks recommend as my first read?
K. You don’t want to die without having read Gravity’s Rainbow, so why take chances?
After reading Richard Powers’s Capgras Syndrome novel The Echo Maker, I figured I should read Rivka Galchen’s take on the same disorder. The main character is hilarious (he believes his wife has been replaced by an imposter and frequently refers to her as “the simulcrum”):
Sleep did not visit me, but stray strands of of the simulacrum's hair gave me the continual illusion of fleas mutely festivaling on my body.
The book is written in first person, from the perspective of the person with Capgras, and it’s a particularly effective technique for the story. We know that his wife hasn’t been replaced, but we experience the rationalizations and logical contortions required for the main character to believe his delusion. If the book were longer, or if Galchen wasn’t such a good writer, it might have gotten tiresome, but I found it to be a very entertaining and refreshing read.
Probably a good book to read in advance of Gravity’s Rainbow…
The blueberries on the left cost $8 at the Farmer’s Market this morning. The blueberries on the right cost me two hours of hiking around the trails with Nika and Piper. We’ve got a lot of blueberry bushes on our property, but it’s been so cloudy and wet that ours didn’t get enough sun to produce very many berries. So I had to go farther afield.
It was a grand time, except for when Piper refused to cross over a two-foot wide area of deep water. She’s extremely food motivated, but no amount of coaxing would get her to jump across once she’d discovered there was deep water in between her and the treat. All the while, Nika kept jumping in and swimming around while Piper looked eagerly at the treat in my hand, trying to figure out how to get it without jumping or swimming. I finally had to step into the deep water (filling my left knee-high rubber boot with water) and help her across. She could have jumped the gap easily, but I don’t think there is a treat large enough to overcome her dislike of water.
Along the way we saw a flicker, four spruce grouse, gray jays and lots of smaller birds I couldn’t identify. I’ve still got the wonderful smell of Ledum palustre on my clothes.
Tomorrow morning: blueberry pancakes!
We’ve had four days of nearly constant, heavy rain here in Fairbanks, and the levels of the Interior rivers and streams have come very close to the levels they reached in the Flood of ‘67. So we’re currently experiencing a 30-year flood event. The Tanana, Salcha, Chena and Nenana Rivers have all reached flood stages and many residents in low lying areas near these rivers have been evacuated. The photo on the right, taken by the National Weather Service, shows some of the flooding in the Rosie Creek area. Most of the larger rivers in town are six or seven feet above their normal summer levels.
The following plot shows the hourly and cumulative precipitation from the Small Arms Range (SRGA2) weather station over the past four days. Just under three inches of rain in four days doesn’t sound like a lot when you're from other parts of the country, but Fairbanks gets an average of less than two inches a month in July and August, and our total annual precipitation (including snow) is only 10.87 inches of water. Much of the lower elevation and north-facing areas in the Tanana Valley are permanently frozen and this permafrost is quickly saturated with water. That’s why the region is so lush and green in the summer, despite almost desert-like summer rainfall totals. But once the ground is saturated, there’s nowhere for the water to go except into the streams and rivers. Usually flooding happens during breakup when all the melting snow runs off the frozen ground into the streams and ice jams in the rivers block the flow. Summer floods are more unusual.
Since Labor Day, 2007, we’ve been living around 30 feet away from a small stream, Goldstream Creek, which has risen between four and five feet since last week. If you look at my previous post, the log I’m resting my hand on in the photo is now completely submerged, which means if I were swimming out there today, the water would be over my head. The outside bank has slumped into the Creek in two places, but so far we haven’t lost any trees. The photo to the right shows the current water level, but even with the dramatic rise, it’s quite a bit below what it looked like during breakup this spring.
It’s really exciting living next to something that’s changing all the time like the Creek (plus, Kingfishers!). And now that we seem to have survived a 30-year flood event, I feel a little bit more secure that we’re not going to get inundated in the next high water event.
I’m looking forward to the Tanana Valley Fair, followed by a warmer, and drier August and September.
Once again, I’ve neglected my blog. My new job, the pressures of getting all our work done this summer, and the rest of life has kept me away.
Events: We’ve taken to swimming in the Creek. During the warmth of early June (which hasn’t returned since…) the Creek temperature rose to 65°F, and swimming was actually quite nice. I’m hoping we’ll get a few more warm days before fall so we can swim out there again.
Projects: I’ve made no progress at all on the new shed, but have repaired the bridge and got our digital antenna installed on the roof. I also replaced our chimney cap with the variety our chimney sweep prefers. Things left to do: Build the shed!, repair the glycol line that keeps the septic pipe thawed, fix and insulate the sewage treatment plant discharge pipe, reinforce the shed roofs, obtain and chop two more cords of firewood, install a heat shield behind the wood stove, get curtains for the two large downstairs windows and the sliding glass doors, and (finally) consider hiring a plumbing and heating company to replace and upgrade our system.
Books: I’ve read quite a few. Here’s a summary judgement on each:
- McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Volume 26: Enjoyable fictions, interesting format, no real standouts for me.
- The Rest is Noise: Fantastic look at the music and history of the 20th century. Alex Ross is one of my favorite New Yorker writers and this book doesn’t disappoint.
- Ambitious Brew: Interesting history of beer brewing in the United States. It dispels many of the classic beer myths (the most classic being that the big super-brewers ruined American beer, only to be “saved” by the micros), and tells a great story. Prost!
- Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A very enjoyable book with a very memorable female lead. Vida has a great abbreviated and expressive way of writing that was refreshing.
- The Echo Maker: I’ve been looking forward to this one for so long, that I think the reading of it couldn’t be anything but a disappointment. I enjoyed it as a meditation on brain injury, but I felt like the characters were a little overwrought and stiff.
The rest: Andrea continues to progress toward her goal of running the Equinox Marathon. She’s out running sixteen miles (16 miles!) right now. I’m super proud of her. Meanwhile, I’ve been bicycling to work almost every day (13 miles round-trip) and the two of us are working toward doing 100 push ups in six weeks. Maybe by the next photo of me in the Creek, I’ll be ripped.