Counting down the days...


Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Against the Day, will be released on November 21, almost a decade after Mason & Dixon and his first big novel in modern English since Gravity’s Rainbow, widely acknowledged as one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century.
The Modern Word is celebrating with a month of Pynchon updates, some big, some small... We won’t have something every day, but keep checking back:

Final update: The Quail “reviews” Against the Day - initial thoughts on the first few hundred pages from the Modern Word’s head honcho.

November 20: One day to go and that’s all the updates we’ve got...!

Oh, but one more thing... If you want to discuss the mysteries of Against the Day, or any other Modern Word writers, for that matter, join our newly launched

We've been meaning to do this for years. Enjoy.

The New York Times sez the emperor has no clothes, while the New Yorker asks, “What was he thinking?”
Most of the reviews thus far have been by self-avowed Pynchon fans, and perhaps what we are seeing today is the Washington Post’s prediction that “Pynchon fans will accept this gift from the author with gratitude, but I’m not so sure about mainstream readers.”
And what is more mainstream than the New York Times or New Yorker? Let the reader decide, let the reader beware.

November 19: Thomas Pynchon, “Ye Legend of Sir Stupid and the Purple Knight” (1953) - the final Pynchon high school fiction, an Arthurian parody not unlike Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but which came about two decades earlier.
Readers are invited to add their own comments and annotations to this piece at a specially created Pynchonalia wiki.

Washington Post on AtD: “Pynchon fans will accept this gift from the author with gratitude, but I’m not so sure about mainstream readers.”

L.A. Times: “A book this long that amazes even 50% of the time is amazing.”

The Austin American-Statesman: Forget it, fellow Pynchonians. [Against the Day] isn’t “Gravity’s Rainbow II.” That time, that place and that writer won’t ever come together again.”

November 18: Thomas Pynchon, “The Boys” (1953) - a short, humorous piece on Pynchon’s band of high school chums, a shadowy group whose secret membership is finally revealed when they are photographed for the first time...!
Readers are invited to add their own comments and annotations to this piece at a specially created Pynchonalia wiki.

Newsday calls Against the Day “a novel as exhilarating, tiresome, unnerving and exhausting as all the others put together.”

Guardian: Crime novelist Ian Rankin reflects on a lifetime reading Pynchon. “Zoyd is another of Pynchon’s slacker heroes (reminding me forcefully of “The Dude” in the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski).”

November 17: Thomas Pynchon, “Voice of the Hamster” (1952-53) - a fiction serialized in four issues of Pynchon’s high school newspaper, the Oyster Bay High School Purple and Gold, in 1952-53, begun when Pynchon was only 15 years old, online for the first time.
Readers are invited to add their own comments and annotations of these stories to a specially created Pynchonalia wiki.

November 16: On Comparing Apples and Oranges: James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon, by Sara Solberg. Pynchon and Joyce is a topic I’ve been mulling over in my head for years, and this essay, originally published in Comparative Literature Studies in 1979, is an excellent starting point on the comparison. Thanks to Sara Solberg for allowing us to place it online.

The New York Sun: a very well-written and well-argued negative review of Against the Day.

Inside Higher Ed: a semi-review and info on a Pynchon letter from 1965, in which Pynchon politely turned down an offer to teach at Bennington College because he was writing three novels at once. Which three, we may never know.

November 15: The Modern Word interviews Zak Smith - we talk to the artist of the forthcoming Gravity’s Rainbow Illustrated: One Picture for Every Page.

Thanks to Metafilter, the Guardian, and everyone else for linking the countdown!

The Complete Review: “impressive in its parts, but near confounding as a whole.”

The Phoenix: “Undaunted in the past by the big questions that bug a guy, he here takes on, in addition to the elusive quality of light... time travel, multiple universes, the death struggle between anarchism and capitalism, the dance of order and chaos.”

November 13: Many real updates on the way, promise! In the meantime, check out Time magazine’s early review: “More than in any of Pynchon’s previous books, just what it all means is a problem in Against the Day, where plots and ideas and fantastic developments pile up in exhausting profusion.”

November 12: Nine (against the) days to go! Many great updates in the coming days: the first ever online publication of Pynchon’s high school fictions (surprisingly great reads that set the tone for his entire career) complete with wiki annotations if we can arrange it, that interview with Zak Smith (he talks Pynchon, porn, and comic books), an article on Pynchon and Joyce... Umm, and whatever else can be whipped together in time.

November 9: The Associated Press has a pretty good article on Pynchon fans that includes quotes from Zak Smith (artist of Gravitys Rainbow Illustrated), webmaster Tim Ware, and Pynchon scholar Charles Hollander, who has written some of the best (and BS-free) articles on Pynchon’s works.

November 7: Tim Ware of the excellent Thomaspynchon.com is about halfway through Against the Day and declares it “the culmination of all that Pynchon has written before.” Ware has also begun an Against the Day wiki that registered editors (probably wants to keep some kind of check on the wackos) can fill with references and commentary... wonder if he was inspired by The Modern Word’s Queen Loana Annotation Project wiki (the first wiki I’m aware of created to accompany a novel)? ... There’s an awfully overwritten review of AtD over at Kirkus Reviews that basically uses a ton of jargon to say absolutely nothing about the book... Moe’s Books in Berkeley is having a launch party on release date: “Mr. Pynchon has been invited.”

November 3: Some intentionally vague, spoiler-free impressions on the first 25 pages of Against the Day, by Erik K.

November 2: A Portrait of the Luddite as a Young Man, by Rodney Gibbs. An excellent essay on the unfinished science fiction musical, Minstral Island, that Pynchon started in 1958 with fellow Cornell undergrad, Kirkpatrick Sale (a self-proclaimed “neo-luddite” who has railed against the dangers of technology). The manuscript resides in UT Austin’s Ransom Center, and Gibbs was the first one to take a look at it. This essay first appeared in the Denver Quarterly, and is posted here with permission.

October 26: early Against the Day reviews and reports - No Modern Word update today, but check out this positive review of AtD from Publisher’s Weekly, some general comments and chapter info from the Complete Review, and reports of the outrageous statement, “Best book I've ever read,” from Pynchonoid. Stay tuned for our own initial thoughts on the opening chapter.

October 25: Rocketmen and Wastelands, an essay by Marshall Shord - Shord is a recent graduate of Washington College, Maryland, who won the nation’s largest undergraduate literary prize, the Sophie Kerr Prize, in large part thanks to his 100-page critical thesis on the first three novels of Thomas Pynchon. Shord was awarded a check for almost $56,000 for his scholarly excellence and last we heard he’s been traveling the world. The Modern Word is proud to share the Pynchon paper worth a BMW, which could be characterized as one reader’s personal dialogue with Pynchon’s first three novels.

October 24: Against the Day excerpt - a page or two from the novel, told in a western style vaguely reminiscent of the Kenosha Kid...!

October 23, 2006: The Kenosha Kid - The full text of a forgotten pulp western story from 1931 that may have inspired the mysterious Kenosha Kid drug sequence in Gravitys Rainbow.

. . .

Check back in the coming days and weeks for an interview with Gravity’s Rainbow illustrator Zak Smith, the Pynchon essay that won $50,000, some info on Pynchon’s aborted play, Minstral Island (we’ve got a copy, but copyright law probably won’t let us post the full text online), and, well, whatever else we can scrape together. If you’ve got a Pynchon paper, project, or whatever, now’s the time to wrap it up and send it in!


--Erik Ketzan
October 2006

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