The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Feb 9: New York, NY: I’ve loved most of the Pynchon I’ve ever read. (Though I’ve never read Gravity’s Rainbow; it sits on the shelf and mocks me, like it does on most shelves in America.) And I remember The Crying of Lot 49 as fantastic. A slim volume full of conspiracy and a little bit of wacky. I found a fun surprise as I opened the book: an old photobooth set from when my wife Jill and I were dating. Almost a Pynchonian clue, tucked between the pages.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince the people close to me to read Pynchon. Jill, who I suspect left the photostrip in there as a bookmark in an endeavor half-finished. My friend Robin who, at my insisting, borrowed my copy of Against the Day and left it sitting unread next to his bed for six months. Reading The Crying of Lot 49 this time I could place myself in the shoes of my reluctant friends and loved ones. It was fun to read, though at times felt needlessly dense. The wackiness was Baroque, perhaps. I was less enamored of the rollicking sixties Californian feel, but it was not unenjoyable.

Why did I love Pynchon so much when I first discovered this novel? Is my love for Pynchon a product of youth or his work? I read Bleeding Edge this past year and didn’t love it.

I think I love Pynchon because his stories are inspiring to the writer in me. I don’t aspire to his style, but I love an intricately-woven detail-thick plot. It’s the same thing I loved about reading Foucault— dancing in a downpour of historical detail, most of which is entirely unfamiliar. What’s fun about Pynchon however is that any bit of that could be fiction. As an older reader I was happy to come to the book with foreknowledge of things like Thurn and Taxis, but still— what was research and what was invention? I really love a story like that. And this is what I find inspiring. Not two hours had passed from finishing the book and I was jotting down my own notes for a story ripe with conspiracy. It’s good to have those little creative jolts.

The Crying of Lot 49 is the perfectly Californian conspiracy and though I’ve said it many times, I could not help myself from thinking that Robin Sloan needs to read this book. Even as I thought it, at page 142, I saw the word “penumbra”. Uncanny. Or… a Tristero Conspiracy?

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