19 August 2007

Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49. (1966)

Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?
--The Crying of Lot 49, Chapter 1

Thomas Pynchon. THE CRYING OF LOT 49. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1966.

Current Selling Prices
$650-$1000 /£320-£500

Short landmark American post modern work by cult hero Pynchon. It is his easiest work to get on with and at 180 pages if you don't like it you haven't wasted much time. He is famously reclusive and camera shy (possibly because of his buck teeth - he thinks he looks like Bug's Bunny). However he sits on a different side of the fence to the equally fugitive Salinger in the matter of plagiarism (see below.)

First editions of 'The Crying of Lot 49' looks like this -'Quarter-bound in yellow cloth over gray boards, with buff brown endpapers, black lettering to the spine, and three horns blind-stamped on the front board. Top edge dyed black. 183 p.p. plus (4) blank endpapers.' The seemingly lachrymose title refers to a late part of the book where the heroine Oedipa attends an auction, to bid on a set of a rare postage stamps, which she believes representatives of Tristero are trying to acquire. (Auction items are called "lots"; a lot is "cried" when the auctioneer is taking bids on it; the stamps in question are "Lot 49".) Tristero is a shadowy organization, their symbol a muted post horn (that's it on the cover of the book.)

Pynchon was a pupil of Nabokov at Cornell and in referencing aspects of popular culture (in particular Californiana) within the book he incorporates several allusions to Lolita. Nabokov could be seen as the 'miglior fabbro.' At Cornell Pynchon is said to have risen every day at 1PM and enjoyed the classic slacker's breakfast of Spaghetti and soda before studying, reading and researching until 3AM.

VALUE? Several booksellers call it 'increasingly scarce' but there are about 40 reasonable copies currently for sale about 10 fine in fine, possibly a year ago there were many more - certainly Pynchonmania shows no signs of abating. Fine copies are hard to find for less than $600, the 1967 UK Cape edition £200. A copy signed for a fund raiser at his son's school is currently on the web at $50K - in the dot com boom it would have gone like snow off a dike but with the markets in turmoil and the glory days over in the valley it may take a while. [ W/Q ** ]

I was prompted to do this Pynchon entry by reading of a semaphore version of the book that has been broadcast across mighty San Jose by artist Ben Rubin on the top floor of Adobe HQ. This is covered at the excellent Book Patrol - a cool book blog emanating from central Seattle. Ben Rubin's San Jose Semaphore is a "multi-sensory kinetic artwork that illuminates the San Jose skyline with the transmission of a coded message" - it was only after 3 weeks of 247 transmission that someone cracked the code and worked out they were doing 'The Crying of Lot 49.' Rubin explained:

Pynchon's setting is a fictional California city filled with high-tech industrial parks and the kind of engineering sub-culture that we now associate with the Silicon Valley. The book follows the heroine's discovery of latent symbols and codes embedded in this landscape and in the local culture. Is there a message here, she wonders, and what are these symbols trying to tell me? At its heart, San Jose Semaphore is an expression of what Pynchon calls "an intent to communicate."

It is kind of inevitable that they chose a Pynchon book-- he is a bankable and known name in the post literate computer community in the valley. They could have done Beowulf , the earliest Eng Lit or possibly something from the age of semaphore - Conan Doyle's 'The Sign of Four' would be appropriate.

Silly question-- should a bibliographer note that there was a semaphore version? Also should a bibliographer note the many Pynchon blurbs? There are several collections of them online. He must get a 100 review copies a day and occasionally gives a book the two thumbs up--ex book runner David Attoe's harrowing 1986 novel 'Lion at the Door' got this from the great man: '...In a quietly passionate voice that speaks to our hearts, David Attoe has brilliantly, honorably imagined himself into lives whose truths we recognize, lives otherwise only lost, and with his eloquent care, rescued them from the silence.' He was, reportedly, chuffed.

TRIVIA. Ian McEwan, a writer not in Pynchon's class, has been under fire for copying several details from the memoirs of a wartime nurse in London for his Booker-nominated novel, Atonement. Part of this whole debate about plagiarism. Pynchon and many other writers including the genius Martin Amis came to his rescue with letters to London's 'Daily Telegraph.' Part of TP's letter is shown below.

In 1996, Pynchon crossed genre lines and wrote the liner notes for "Nobody's Cool," an album by New York indie rockers Lotion. Two years earlier he wrote the liner notes for "Spiked," a Spike Jones compilation

Spending time in Santa Cruz, California I have picked up rumours of Pynchon. It's only 30 miles from San Jose. He is said to phone in to a local Blues radio sation with requests. At the post office there is a talk of a post man who delivers letters to him at a seaside property on the edge of town.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

How do I contact you Bookride? I have a question
jglassow [at] gmail [dot] com