Tag Archives: thomas pynchon

It’s Better Than Nothing in This Cockeyed Caravan

One of the things we worry about late at night when we should be asleep, dreaming our Borgesian dreams, is the state of modern literary fiction. Gorgeously written, incisive and meaningful books hit our shelves all the time…but we worry that modern literary authors are afraid to be funny lest their work not be taken seriously. Not so! Here our some of our favorite humorous works of literary fiction.

American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis
I think American Psycho is one of the funniest books ever written. Bret Easton Ellis knows his magnificently rich, vain, arrogant asshole main character a little too well. There’s no way Ellis is a good person in real life, but I don’t care: I’d still like to meet him and have him critique my worthiness based on a simple handshake. — Jon Stich

The Breast
By Philip Roth
Roth’s hilarious tribute to Kafka is exactly what it says: a man turns into a female breast. While it may seem like a one-trick pony ride, the novella sustains the concept excellently. As our tragic hero is institutionalized for being trapped within the soft, tender, limbless tissues of the female mammary gland, you quickly appreciate why it is so great not being a breast. — Thomas

Cranford
By Elizabeth Gaskell
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen‘s novels are infinitely amusing–even without zombies. Gaskell, however–another 19th Century writer and friend of Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens–is, I think, sadly overlooked. Her Cranford, about the society women form amongst themselves in a small English village, is both touching and hilarious–in that inimitable wry, Victorian way. It’s a loving satire of the best sort. — Anna

Gravity’s Rainbow
By Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow will remain one of the most complex literary experiences I’ll ever undertake. As usually happens with books over 750 pages, I don’t remember everything from the book. Its encyclopedic nature, covering everything from the physics of missile trajectories to the history of German silent film, exacerbates the novel’s ruthlessness on my normally efficient memory. But the thing I remember most about the book (aside from its fantastic ending) is its humor. Pynchon somehow fits slapstick pratfalls and oddly-hilarious one-liners (“…it can get pretty fascist in here…”) in with the occasional piece of meta-humor, such as when a German character gets injured and moans in pain: “Öööööö!” — Geo

The World According to Garp
By John Irving
Because what could be funnier than a blow job gone horribly wrong? No, no, I kid. John Irving’s books are often described as eccentric and unpredictable, which they are, but they’re also touching and thoughtful and very, very funny in ways not related to oral copulation. Comedy is tricky, and Garp manages to strike a balance between truthfulness and the absurd. In a crazier vein, check out: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Absurdistan by Gary Shyteyngart, and Civilwarland in Bad Decline by George Saunders. — Kim

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High Literature Goes Pulp

Diesel Brentwood Bookseller Thomas Bailey reports:

Whether it was the need for an extra buck during a time of economic misfortunes, side-stepping progressively unforgiving critics, personal relief from esoteric verbosity and heavy subject matters, or simply the desire to work in genre and create something fast and wild without being anchored by expectation, both Denis Johnson and Thomas Pynchon, winners of the National Book Award, have produced two of the more interesting books of their careers.

However, each book makes a point to keep it interesting; not only in content but also in packaging. Johnson’s Nobody Move takes after the ever-so-popular fashion of mysteries and thrillers reshaping their dust jackets to give them some new edge only to subject them more to rips and tears by punching bullet holes into the front and back. The jacket wounds hint at the sexy graphics that lie beneath, ever congruous as any good mystery’s plot.

On the other hand, Pynchon’s Inherent Vice both embodies and distances itself from typical best-seller packaging. The cover is dripping with cartoonish imagery of the free and easy beach life that’s eerily rendered through heavy airbrush and digital composites. While many publishers cram the fronts and backs of books with praise from comparable authors or news sources, not a word can be found on this book. Just a “picturesque” sunset of arbitrarily filtered waves, lazy gray beach and Easter pink glow in the horizon.

Regardless of the reasons for writing these comparatively accessible books, they not only succeed in maintaining the idiosyncrasies of their authors but also provide the perfect impression of being well read while lounging on the beach or catching the next flight out of LAX.

Take that Dan Brown!

(For a taste of Inherent Vice, listen to Pynchon narrate the opening passages here.)

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