Friday, July 28, 2006

New Pynchon novel this fall

I'm still deep in Flaubert, but I did see this little snippet in the Guardian about Thomas Pynchon. Looks like he has a new novel coming out soon. I've long had him on my list, but still haven't read any of his novels, so maybe I'll try one if I ever finish this biography. Does anyone have Pynchon recommendations?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Whoring in the Near East

This is my personal title for the section of the Flaubert biography that I'm reading now in which he and a traveling companion journey through Egypt, the Holy Land, and the old Ottoman Empire. Now I've always admired the intrepidity of those 18th and 19th century European travelers, but Flaubert might be in a class all to himself. In addition to the usual dangers of sailing, river boating (down the Nile to the Second Cataract), weather, disease, vermin, banditti, strange food, and dodgy lodging, he also had to deal with the lack of proper brothels for whole days at a time! Sometimes only a low hut with straw on the floor sufficed for the boudoir! Not only did he manage to get fat while touring the "antique" world, he engaged in sexual marathons to boggle the mind. Now for most people, "suppurating chancres" on one's nether parts might serve to stifle somewhat the pursuit of sexual pleasure, but not Gustave. He scoffs at your fastidious sniffing!

And all along the way, he was reading Herodotus and Homer--both in their original languages, of course. There was nary an important monument or historical site that he didn't investigate, not to mention that he wrote almost daily reassuring, filial letters to his Mum back in Rouen. I'm wearing clean socks, the desert air is so healthful, etc., etc. All this from a man who suffers from epilepsy and fears that he may be a big loser because his friends told him that his last writing project was a disaster (it did sound pretty bad). Well, I am in awe. No wonder they called it the Grand Tour.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Flaubert and Eternity

It's no wonder book people often get oppressed by their own book mania. It's a very quirky condition that non-readers probably can't fathom--but talk about your world wide web (little w's)! You innocently start by reading about the new Flaubert biography, which sounds really great if you like a well-written literary bio. Then you decide that it's been so long since you read Madame Bovary, it would be really fun to read them side-by-side. Then, you see that you could use a primer on French history as well, not to mention reading some of Flaubert's influences and works by contemporaries. All of which reminds you that you never got around to reading Rousseau even though he helped kick off the Romantic movement, or the seminal Romantic novel, Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. You see how this goes. Pretty soon you've got a list of books chronicling the entirety of Western literary culture, and the spectre of Death staring you in the face, because you know you can't possibly read all of that before you die. Which is depressing, of course, and brings up all that existential angst, and then you think, maybe Sartre...