getting deeper into the trees

Is it better to read five books once each, or is it better to read one book five times?

If you want to choose a good car to drive, it’s probably best to do research on a bunch of different ones, do some test drives, ask around from people who know cars, and so on.

However, if you want to figure out how to build a car, you might want to take one car apart and put it back together again, and then maybe do the same with another car, and so on.

When I first bought Inherent Vice (on my lunch hour, on the day it was published), I started to read it, and I ended up reading it pretty much continuously for the next five months, from the beginning to the end and then back to the beginning again, including listening to the audio book version many times. I figured out some interesting things about the book, wrote a lot of blog posts about it, and added extensive notes to the online Pynchon wiki.

I’m not sure if I learned any useful lessons to apply to my own writing, though. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m reading Pynchon I’m always aware that any one of his sentences is better than any sentence I have ever written or am ever likely to write. So, not much to learn there.

Anyway, I am still poking around in Across the River and into the Trees, and I now have a second theory to add to my first one. I’m still testing them, though.

On the other hand, I’m definitely not going to devote five months to this project. There is pretty much no chance that I will figure out something which will elevate Across the River… to the level of Inherent Vice.

As I said in a comment on another blog:

“I’m reading Across the River and Into the Trees now, which is interesting. It’s taking some work, but I think I’m beginning to understand what he [Hemingway] was going after. As he said to A.E. Hotchner (talking about this book, and critics), ‘In this book I have moved into calculus, having started with straight math, then moved to geometry, then algebra; and the next time out it it will be trigonometry. If they don’t understand that, to hell with them.'”

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