One-Month Challenge

Friday, March 16, 2007

15 days, 200 pages

Gravity's Rainbow is a slow, at times painful, read. Half of the allotted time has elapsed, yet I'm less than a quarter of the way through this tome. I may not make it. How sad: "so Jon, what awesome challenge did you attempt this month?"; "um...I tried to read a book..and failed".

What makes Pynchon such an imposing author, such that my progress appears capped at a mere 20 pages/hour? Is it his expansive vocabulary? His brilliant intellectual arguments? Complex plotlines? None of the above. Rather, I would argue, the entire difficulty in reading Rainbow lies in the meandering, nonlinear nature of the writing. Simple speed-reading techniques fail, because it is almost impossible to pick out, at a glance, the important phrases in any given paragraph: one must read and re-read each individual sentence (which, in Faulknerian style, might actually be a series of fractured sub-clauses spanning a page or more) to catch the overall meaning -- where "meaning" is a derivative of the paragraph's tone, not the facts it conveys or the context in which it resides.

Pynchon is less concerned with long-term plot arcs than with the "feeling" of any given scene. There are, without a doubt, threads which will continue to develop in the remaining 700 pages...but ultimately Rainbow is a series of hallucinogenic vignettes each designed to convey a sense of a given concept or theme. That any particular scene may happen to advance the plot seems an afterthought. Characters are introduced, reappear, and die because the themes they represent need to be present or absent; the fact that individual persons are connected to these themes is mere coincidence.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Drum roll please

And the March challenge will be:

  • Read the Entire Baroque Cycle [John Mullervy] / Read War and Peace and write an analytical paper on it. [Catherine Murcek] / "Gödel, Escher, Bach" ... read it & actually take some time to understand it. [Mike Panitz] / Read Gravity's Rainbow. [Anna Korpak]

Specifically, I'll go with Gravity's Rainbow for this one (why? Because it has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time now and I have yet to crack the spine). 887 pages in 31 days = 28.6 pages per day. That should be simple; unfortunately, the copy I'm holding appears to have been laced with some sort of hallucinogenic.

Watch this space for my book reports. Giant adenoids, beware! Jon Peck is on the case...

P.S. To all of you who think reading a book is a lame challenge: die, jocks! Um, I mean: reading grows a mind. Yeah. And I'm traveling a lot this month. And it's a really tough book. No really; if you think I'm kidding, go get a copy and try to read the first fifty pages without going to your psychiatrist or joining a cult. Ha! So there! You sitting there in your football jersey and catcher's mit, you think you're so tough. Well try reading a novel for once, would you? What do you think now, tough boy? What did you pick, "Catcher in the Rye?" Oh come on, how 1950's can you get?

Suggestions to-date

Here we go! I have thrown out a few possibilities on the basis that I've already done them ("increase Ania's alcohol tolerance"), they're too expensive or take too long ("invest in real estate"), or they simply violate my ethics ("eat a porterhouse steak"). After pruning out those lovely but invalid ideas, 14 potential challenges remain. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Write down the 10 most important things you want to do with the rest of your life and actually start doing them / Figure out what you want to be doing in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years (job, life, family, whatever) from now and start taking concrete steps toward making sure that is what will happen. [MJ Peck]
  2. Learn a new musical instrument and learn to play a few songs on it. [Catherine Murcek] / Learn to play the cello. [Rob Peck]
  3. Read the Entire Baroque Cycle [John Mullervy] / Read War and Peace and write an analytical paper on it. [Catherine Murcek] / "Gödel, Escher, Bach" ... read it & actually take some time to understand it. [Mike Panitz] / Read Gravity's Rainbow. [Anna Korpak]
  4. Learn to touch-type. [Anna Korpak]
  5. Increase the girth of your upper body and biceps by some amount. [Catherine Murcek]
  6. Go one day without using electricity or gasoline (appliances, heating, cooking, cell phone, computer, etc). Don't use any store where your activity would increase the amount of electricity used (i.e., they can have electric lights, but not automatic door openers). ...realize how ubiquitous this stuff is, and what energy reform is really trying to tackle. If you're up to it, don't do it on a weekend. [Luke Donev]
  7. Increase your ability to do some physical task by 10%. Bench-presses, push-ups, sit-ups, etc, immediately spring to mind. [Mike Panitz]
  8. What about 'being able to bicycle X miles'? [Mike Panitz]
  9. How about achieving an X% return, for the month, through day trading? [Mike Panitz]
  10. Volunteer X hours for the month to help a good, progressive candidate win? (At least, I assume progressive - if you want to volunteer for the Republicans, then I Officially Retract this idea) [Mike Panitz]
  11. Write up what you know (about wine, scotch, etc, etc) as an intro for those of us that don't. [Mike Panitz]
  12. Publish a 2,000 word entry to [Thu Duong] / Write a short story of 3000 words on a topic and in a style of your own choosing [Lee Konstantinou]
  13. Arrange and promote an event. You don't have to create the event (someone else can write the music or arrange the dance or whatever), but you do have to do all of the other things to bring it to life: get the venue, make the deals, get publicity, arrange for loads of your friends to show up, etc. [Katherine Boyd]
  14. Brew a batch of "Peck-brand" beer, or, alternatively, ferment a few bottles of "Vin de Jon". [Katherine Boyd]
  15. [Compete] in the RSVP...Although it's only a weekend and you'll have to train for several months, probably. [Katherine Boyd]

Given that this leaves a fairly narrow selection range, I'm happy to accept more challenges; just send them in! But I shall begin NOW by embarking on the March challenge....

Before I begin

I'll get into the challenges in just a minute, but first I have to relay this email from Mike Panitz, fiance to the lucky Deb Alterman and all-around decent guy:

"You should increase your tolerance for alcohol by 10%. This will be measured by a 'pretest' (at the beginning of the month), and a 'posttest' (at the other end). In both cases, you must do one (1) activity using physical coordination (e.g., play Jenga), one (1) activity that uses mental acuity (e.g., integrate something), and one (1) activity that has you doing both (e.g., recite the National Anthem while demonstrating swing dance moves). We'll measure you three times in each case, and from that, calculate the Mean Time Till Screw Up. Between the beginning and end of the month, you need to be able to increase the amount of alcohol you consume prior to this test by 10%, with no appreciable increase of MTTSU."

Let me say that I would love to take this one on (go ahead, twist my arm), but sad to say it is definitely a feat I have accomplished already, although with not-so-much scientific precision. In fact, I'm willing to bet that my MTTSU increased by 10% EVERY month from 1996-2000 (insert witty but inappropriate-for-publication reinterpretation of given acronym).