Shoplifters' tastes in literature seem very different in Seattle. There, the most-boosted books are those by Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, and almost any graphic novel.
A few years ago when I worked at the late lamented Thackeray's, Toledo's last large independent bookstore, the two items that were stolen most often were Bibles and tarot cards.
I think that must say a lot about the difference between Seattle and Toledo; I just haven't figured out what. Might it have something to do with the notion that Seattle's citizens are the most intelligent?
The most disturbing thing about the Bush administration for me is the degree to which it is shot through with people who believe truly bizarre things. I can understand conservative ideology on the economy, foreign relations, taxes, the environment, privatization, etc. I disagree with conservatives on these issues, but at least when I discuss them with my Republican friends, I don't get the sense I'm talking to someone from fantasy land.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, however, appears to be one of those epistemologically weird people that are attracted to Bush--people who don't just differ from me in terms of politically philosophy, but whose fundamental frames of reference are totally alien. At least this is the conclusion I draw after considering the book Gutierrez has laid out in his waiting room for people to peruse before coming to see him:
The Atlas of Creation is prominently displayed in the waiting room to his office. Written by the Turkish writer Adnan Oktar (under the pen name of Harun Yahya), the Atlas offers an Islamic version of creationism and blames Charles Darwin for modern terrorism–including the 9/11 attacks. A recent visitor to the office tells me that the Atlas is impossible to miss, both because of its huge size–it weighs in at 12 pounds and has nearly 800 pages–and because it is prominently displayed on a stand at the entrance to the room.
* * *
A caption from the book, below a photograph of one of the planes
striking the World Trade Center, reports: “No matter what ideology they
may espouse, those who perpetrate terror over the world are, in
reality, Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy that places a
value on–and thus encourages–conflict.”
Darwinism is also to blame for fascism and communism. As the Atlas explains, it “is the root of various ideologies of violence that have spelled disaster to mankind in the 20th century.
It will soon be V. season for me. Almost every December, I re-read Thomas Pynchon's fabulous first novel. I have read it more times than any other book. It begins:
Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede
jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk,
Virginia. Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he'd look in on the
Sailor's Grave, his old tin can's tavern on East Main Street. He got
there by way of the Arcade, at the East Main end of which sat an old
street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for donations. Out
in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a
'54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing
around giving encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm
Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main, Sailors and their sweethearts all agree. Neon signs of red and green Shine upon the friendly scene, Welcoming you in from off the sea. Santa's bag is filled with all your dreams come true: Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne, Barmaids who all love to screw, All of them reminding you It's Christmas Eve on old East Main.
"Yay chief," yelled a seaman deuce. Profane rounded the corner. With its usual lack of warning, East Main was on him.
The first two words of the novel account, in part, for the time of year I choose to reread it. But another reason is that around this time, I tend to have more time on my hands; Pynchon repays longer reading sessions than other authors. V. is the perfect book for reading while lying on the floor in front of a wood fire with a snifter of cognac on a cold December day.
Pynchon has a reputation for being a difficult author, and I suppose this is true (though V. is certainly an easier read than Gravity's Rainbow, and partly for that reason, a superior work). Difficulty within reason, though, is no reason to avoid a book--especially not one as rich as Pynchon's first.
Why do I love it so?
I love V. because I never get to the bottom of it. As many times as I've read it, I still pick up something new from each reading. And its plot--or rather, the resolution of its plot--is ambiguous, thus inviting different interpretations with each perusal.
I love it for its ambition; the story ranges all over the globe over a sixty year period. It's a big book of big ideas. It deploys a huge vocabulary, but playfully, not pedantically.
Mostly I love its intelligence and energy. Wow: somebody actually wrote this. The human mind is an amazing organ--even more amazing when I consider that Pynchon was in his early twenties when he finished writing this book. He gives me the impression of knowing almost everything about almost everything, and I find that comforting--which is an odd word to use to describe Pynchon's fiction. In fact, I've read lots of Pynchon criticism, and I don't recall anyone else describing him in those terms. But as I turn the pages, I feel the author's presence. Thomas Pynchon is the most vivid character in the book for me, and I like having him sit with me in the living room with the fire and the cognac, feeling a space between my ears growing warm as he tells me about all the things he's seen and all the things he knows.
"Once upon a time Thomas Pynchon was my world." Scott Eric Kaufman wrote that, and I know just what he means. Over time, the daily fascination I once had with Pynchonia has been replaced by other obsessions. But the end of the year is a time to sum up and to dream ahead--and there is no better book than V. for both. I can't wait to start it again.