Monday, August 23, 2010

A Bout of Literary Schizophrenia

I'm not sure how this happened, exactly, but I think I may be in the process of accomplishing a literary feat the world has never seen. There's no question this defies any literary logic and, presumably, precedent, as well. I'm reading Gravity's Rainbowand Harry Potter at the same time. Yep, Pynchon and Rowling — hanging out, one on top of the other on my coffee table. Isn't that just silly?  I mean, I understand that the literary mash-ups are all the rage these days, but this combo is absurd, even by the standards of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

And you know what? Harry Potter's kind of entertaining. And so here is one of the great ironies of my literary career: I like the kids book, but I'm absolutely despising the novel I should be loving. Gravity's Rainbow is the novel that brought postmodern literature from the fringes to the mainstream, and was a huge influence on my favorite writer of all time, David Foster Wallace. But I'm now into my fourth month with this ridiculous train wreck of a book, and I hate it. I really do. It's worse than homework. But I'm committed to finish. I can't not finish a book — especially one I've put so much time into, and the one book I declared to be my ultimate to-be-read. I cannot freakin' wait to throw it on my shelf, tell people I finished it, and never have to open its pages again.

But back to "the boy who lived." For years, I've been promising my girlfriend that I'd give Mr. Potter a try, but why now? I'm not sure, except that I think maybe some part of my literary subconscious thought it'd be funny to play a joke on me; sort of payback for forcing it to ingest pages of Pynchon's non-sensical prose. And so last week while I was laying around watching baseball, I found myself wandering over to the bookshelf, grabbing The Sorcerer's Stone, and settling in. But the joke's back on you, stupid literary subconscious, because I'm not kidding at all — I like it!  Maybe I wouldn't if I didn't need it as a Pynchon-balancer, but with a straight face and a clear conscience, I can tell you that I'm enjoying it.

I haven't yet decided whether to continue with the Harry Potter series after the first one (The Sorcerer's Stone), but maybe. Maybe I'll start Ulysses and the second Harry Potter (The Chamber of Secrets) at the same time, just to pull off another goofy literary stunt.

You ever done anything so literarily absurd? Anyone out there want to make a case that I should continue on with the Harry Potter books?

29 comments:

  1. I say yes, continue with the Harry Potter series! Whether or not one is a fan or falls in love with it -- as much as I did when I first read it when I was 12 -- there's no denying it is truly a "literary phenomenon" and has made a lasting effect in the literary world.

    On an even more biased note, despite the fact that I probably have read hundreds of books already, it's really one of my favorite books of all time!

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  2. You absolutely have to continue with Potter. The first few books feel like kid's books, but they get darker and more involved the older the characters get. I don't think you have to apologize for liking them either. They're fantastic, and children's lit is every bit as substantial and worthwhile as Pynchon (more so in my opinion). I say dump Gravity's Rainbow and keep reading Rowling :)

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  3. I think reading Harry Potter while reading more difficult books is a fantastic idea. I enjoyed reading the HP books and didn't start until I was almost out of college. They can give you a break from the heftier works while still being a fun story.

    I think you should come up with a set of difficult works to put up against the HP ones.

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  4. I can't say anything about Gravity's Rainbow, but you should definitely stick with Harry Potter. I didn't really like the first two books (they're quite juvenile), but the third one is my favorite of the series (same with the movie).

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  5. Definitely stick with Harry Potter!

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  6. In case you're not convinced yet, I'm here to tell you that reading the first Harry Potter book and not continuing with the series would be a crime. And, you would have liked it just as much if it hadn't been a Pynchon-balancer.

    That said--I think it's a great idea to continue matching each Potter book with a heavy, grown-up read that makes you feel like you're accomplishing something. I think that will give you the double benefit of a break from the heavies while making the idea of reading children's literature more palatable to you.

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  7. Another vote for the Potter series here-I've been through the "But I really should read this one" bit myself,even trying to finish the original Anna Karenina but finding the recent monster mash version much more entertaining.

    Some books you just have to read when you're ready and clearly,this is Harry Potter time for you,Greg. Not only do the rest of the books in the series mature as the characters do but there are plenty of literary references(that creepy cat,Mrs. Norris,gets her name from an equally obnoxious Jane Austen character)and ye olde terms from England's past worked into the plot and characters as well. Go for it:)

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  8. Yes, continue with Potter. I don't know that Rowling is a fabulous writer, but she does create characters that you end up really caring about. You'll want to see it through to the end.

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  9. I love the strange combinations, and I think you should roll with it, working your way through all seven Harry Potters while tackling 7 mindbendingly difficult reads. Love it.

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  10. So no promises, since we sometimes differ on literary opinions, but I read all 7 HP books in less than 2 months and would have read them again soon after had I not had to return them to my best friend. So instead I ordered the whole set in a paperback collection which I intend to re-read sometime next year.

    I've been in that similar situation where I've had to double dip books because one makes my head hurt. I am trying to avoid doing that since I only have time to read one book and I'm afraid I'll just drop reading the less-than-easy book in favor of those cozy beach reads.

    Push on, I dare say. The agony will be over momentarily...

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  11. @Everyone so far - Whoa, overwhelming response! Thanks everyone - it's 10-0 to keep reading the Harry Potter books. And I'm starting to really warm to the suggestion of combo-ing HP with a hard book I've been meaning to read - of which there is certainly no shortage! Maybe not Ulysses, but definitely Harry Potter would help balance my brain when I take on books like Midnight's Children, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Underworld, etc.

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  12. I smell a reading challenge in the works here. I say go for it. It can be like pairing wines and cheeses. Now what would pair with Infinite Jest, I ask.

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  13. Heh. I probably would have liked Infinite Jest better if I had paired it with something other than my usual reads. (I did like IJ more than you seem to be liking Gravity's Rainbow, though. It only sometimes felt like homework and at other times was enthralling and brilliant.) And I'll add to the chorus telling you that the books get more interesting as they go. A couple suffer from unnecessary bloat, but the story and characters are great fun.

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  14. Greg, count my vote with those recommending the HP series. It is great fun. I am suprised that you've continued with Gravity's Rainbow. Do you think it is worth it? Would others continue with a book they really did not like? Are the answers age dependent? I am 60+ and think life is too short to waste on books I don't enjoy. Sometimes I stick with books that are difficult if I there are some aspects of it that are worthwhile, but your description of GR doesn't sound like that.

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  15. I say read all of the Potter books. I realize as a teacher I probably get more enjoyment out of a lot of children's and young adult fiction than many people do, but I really like the development of the plot and characters over the series.

    That said-be ready for book five, Order of the Phoenix. It is Harry's angsty, self-pitying phase. Anyone who was ever a teenager remembers having that phase, but by the end of the book I sort of wanted to slap him and tell him to grow up. But then, that's one of the beauties of this series-he really does grow up, and we get to experience all of it with him, angst and all.

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  16. I have a lot of crude jokes about Harry Potter and I also had one perfect for this post, but, alas, I think I'll keep them to myself.

    As for Pynchon, I sez plug on my friend, plug on. Tyrone is one of my favorites. And I will always remember the book giving me this axiom: "Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

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  17. Literally my two favorite books. Of all time.

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  18. Oh, and here's my review of Harry Potter. Maybe it will convince you...

    http://thebookfrog.blogspot.com/2009/02/reading-harry-potter-part-one.html

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  19. @Patrick - Infinite Jest gets no pairing. Ever. It is perfect on its own. ;)

    @Teresa - Yeah, I can't deny that parts (though few) of IJ felt like homework, but to me, ALL of Gravity's Rainbow feels like homework. I'm just not getting it...

    @Kathy - It's just one of those things where I set out to do something, and dammit, I'm gonna do it - no matter how painful it is. I'm doing my best to get something out of it, but struggling mightily.

    @Heather - I'm in...So many recommendations here that say they get better than the first one. Thanks for weighing in on your favorite one.

    @Ken - Let 'em fly, fella! The whole time I was writing this post, I kept thinking "Man, the Ken is going to have a field day with this one." Rest assured, I'm sticking with GR - maybe the last 200 pages will turn my opinion...

    @Rebecca - No way! Harry Potter and GR are your favorite books of all time? That's fantastic! Talk about a crazy coincidence. But...did you read them at the same time? ;) Nice review, too!

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  20. That is definitely the ultimate brain mash up! Well, unless you were reading Jane Green and Pynchon at the same time. Does it make it even harder to go back to "Gravity" when you know there's something else right there that you'd much rather be reading?

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  21. yay harry! keep reading they get better and better.

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  22. No, you beat me there. When I first read GR (because I'm ever so old) HP wasn't even a twinkle in the richest writer in the world's eye.

    I think it's an admirable stunt, though.

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  23. I love that you're reading both Pynchon and Potter. Fantastic. The only Pynchon I've read is The Crying Lot of 49 which was pretty great. Gravity's Rainbow is something I've always wanted to read but intimidates me greatly.

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  24. Hi, new follower. LOVE the name and great posts.

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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  25. @Lisa - I wouldn't say it makes it harder, 'cause it can't possibly BE any harder. I do my one chapter a night of GR, then it's back to my for-fun, non-homework read!

    @mummazappa - I loved the description of Quidditch - greatly creative. I am going to stick with them, I think.

    @Rebecca - Thanks! What was your impression of GR the firs time through?

    @Brenna - It IS greatly intimidating, even while reading it, to be honest. I've heard The Crying of Lot 49 is the most accessible Pynchon - perhaps I should've started with that one.

    @Man of la Books - Welcome! I enjoy your blog as well...

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  26. I tend to do odd pairings frequently, but I also read a lot of children's lit (which is probably why it happens so often). I'll add my vote to the pile: finish up the series! They may not be the best books in the world (some of them are better than others, as you'll see) but they've definitely made their mark. Besides, they're fun :)

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  27. I feel about Ulysses the same way as you feel about Gravity's Rainbow. I'm not enjoying it anymore, but I vow to finish it.

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  28. Hahaha! Love it. Read something you enjoy? Hmmm...Here's a possible solution, if the books are roughly the same size. Take a utility knife, slice off the Pynchon cover (trade paperback, I assume) and then put your nifty new cover over the HP. Problem solved!

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  29. haha, I'm not shocked that you were loving Harry Potter and not loving Gravity's Rainbow. Gravity's Rainbow is SO not lovable after all. I do hope that you'll pick it up again in another year or so and then realize that, actually, it is sort of lovable.
    And you should DEFINITELY do Ulysses at the same time as the second Harry Potter.
    And then War and Peace with the third. . .

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