Has anyone here read Gravity’s Rainbow before? It’s taken me 50 pages just to figure out how to read the goddamn thing- think Jacob’s Room or Ulysses.


Comments: 76


Yeah, its a little dense, and somewhat diffuse, but worth the time- his patterns slowly take shape, and some of the images will never leave you. One of his best- up there with V and The Crying Of Lot 49.


I haven’t read it, but someone compared it to Dhalgren. I can only hope it’s a lot better than that.


It’s awesome once you get get used to it. The popular reader’s guide is a big help too:
After the first 100 or so pages it becomes really enjoyable. I haven’t Jacob’s Room nor Ulysses.
You ever check out Infinte Jest by David Foster Wallace?


A friend of mine summed it up best when he told me “I’m convinced the book is smarter than I am.” I’ve been tackling it for some time, with little success by the way.
Sort of funny side story: when said friend worked at a certain large bookstore chain he recommended Gravity’s Rainbow to every single person who asked for a gift idea, ‘good read’ or pretty much anything. Perverse and very funny to watch. They sold a couple hundred copies in the three years he was there.
Pynchon should buy him lunch or something.


Read it a long time ago – went on a Pynchon reading frenzy. It’s much better than ‘Mason and Dixon’ – I’ve tried to finish M&D twice and stop right about at the same place.
I second the rec for ‘Infinite Jest’ – get two bookmarks, though.


I love Infinite Jest. It’s my favorite novel of all time. I read it at age 25 and got completely lost in it. It’s a tough go at first, but after a few hundred pages it all snaps into focus.

I’ve attempted Gravity’s Rainbow a couple of times without much luck.


I’ve read it. My uncle read it for a literature course he took in college way back when the book was first published.

We both came to the conclusion that Pynchon was a “generous polymath.” Everyone is going to get to a part where the author takes something the reader knows/understands/loves and lays it on thick. For me it was all the calculus references (especially at the rocket factory episode); for him it was all the obscure jazz allusions in Part I.

V. is infinitely more accessible, but still fragmented as hell.


Good – I don’t feel so bad now. I’ve tried several times and never made more than a couple of hundred pages. Vagueness, thy name is Pynchon.

I guess I ain’t got good culture.


Hey, everybody– :::Jillian:::–we’re only 4 comments away from achieving C1K! Woooo!!!


At least last until the candy-eating scene, which is not far now. Those of us with English grandmothers understand the crucial cultural difference outlined therein.


It took me a few starts to get into GR. Once I did, though, I really dug it.

abd_chick –I had the same problem with M&D. I actually read the whole thing about two years ago, and I liked it, but it doesn’t measure up to GR, IMHO.

Nancy in Detroit

I’ve not tried Gravity’s Rainbow, but I attempted to read Ulysses off and on for 5 years and never made it past page 187 (in my copy, of course). I think part of the problem is that I absolutely despise that Stephen Dedalus, from Portrait of the Artist thru Dubliners to Ulysses – what an whiny pussy.

Nancy in Detroit

Of course, by “an” I meant “a”. Sigh.


It helps if you just take it as a series of quasi-related short film reels (like one of the reviews mentioned), with an underlying connection of conspiracy.

Or pick up “Mason & Dixon” instead, it’s artful and funny. More of a soul.


Nancy- you have to keep reading until you get to Bloom. He’s the real star of the show and a much more compelling character.


No, but I’ve seen The Serpent and the Rainbow. Does that count?


I just want to echo what shwan said. It’s an engaging and profound book, but the average well-educated reader will still need Weisenburger’s “Gravity’s Rainbow Companion” (Amazon-linked in shwan’s post) to stay with it. Following the story requires that the reader be able to keep up with the extensive mass of allusions and references…if you’re not on top of it, the cumulative error from chapter to chapter will just leave you lost at some point.


Word, Righteous Bubba. I didn’t use the Companion so I’m sure most of the book went right over my head, but that scene had me in tears.


I think I saw Tyrone Slothrop yesterday.


Or was it Roger Mexico?


I promise to give it a go. I took a Joyce class, and we read Ulysses. After all the hype, I didn’t find it as difficult a read as I expected, In fact I really enjoyed it. I’m hoping (but not expecting) to find that Gravity’s Rainbow isn’t quite as difficult a read as I’ve heard. I did hear from one of my fellow students that the Joyce professor at my university, a really eminent renowned scholar, was only able to finish Gravity’s Rainbow because he was layed up in the hospital and made sure that he didn’t have another book to read until he finished it.


Brad, if you can really get into it, you’ll start seeing connections everywhere in a paranoid but very fun way. I had the oddest time reading GR. (There may have been other factors…)


I read it when I was 16. It took me two readings to come even close to getting the ending, and looking back on it a gazillion years later, I probably didn’t. Some of it is actually very affecting (watch for the story of Zwolfkinder) and in some of it, the weird juvenile pleasure is in actually knowing what Pynchon is talking about.

Can I suggest starting with the more accessible “Crying of Lot 49” and training up to Gravity’s Rainbow? It also helps to have an annotation for the more obscure references that close to thirty years later are probably even more obscure. Finally, a science background, particularly physics (something I did not have) would help. There are more than a few formulas in the book; I believe most of them are about parabolas.


All this talk of Joyce and nobody mentions Finnegan’s Wake? Portmanteaus and neologisms galore. If only it were comprehensible.


I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow several times enjoying it more each time. Once one gets past the early trip through the sewer, the exceptional characters, the dense detail, elaborate puns, intricate multiple plots and Pynchon’s almost unparalled mastery of humorous english storytelling are, to me, irresistible. Pynchon is America’s answer to James Joyce.

Anxiously awaiting his new novel due late this year.

For those who have trouble getting into Gravity’s Rainbow, perhaps try Vineland or The Crying of Lot 39 first.


Just finished it, actually. I’m sure that I’m missing a ton–I’ve heard that it gets more comprehensible with successive reads–but it’s worth it anyway. Depending on your taste, it’s probably ok not to dwell on various passages (the sex scenes, the broader comedy… unless of course you’re determined to really grasp the book, in which case do your homework), but there’s some really funny stuff right next to heartbreakingly beautiful writing. Some of the scenes are among the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read. As far as its obsession with the military-industrial complex and total war, it’s a good book for these times.

There are definite similarities to IJ–the polymath breadth of reference, the math/science obsession, the vignette structure, etc. I love both books. If you like those two, you might give “The Gold Bug Variations” by Richard Powers a shot. Powers is a much more straighforward stylist than Pynchon or DFW, but he’s at least their equal in integrating science with literature (he was a physics major as an undergrad, and most or all of his books have strict, elaborate structures).

Also recommended: DFW’s latest short-story collection, Oblivion.

Smiling Mortician

For those who have trouble getting into Gravity’s Rainbow, perhaps try Vineland . . .

Or V. I read V at 18, just plowed right through it with no problem, loving every page. I was then surprised a few years later at how much muscle I had to apply to Gravity’s Rainbow — but it was worth it.


A thousand years ago, in the ’30s (20th century), the Canadian writer Morley Callaghan
discovered that if you read Finnegan’s Wake aloud with an Irish brogue it becomes
much more comprehensible.


Mary Colum (wife of Irish poet Padraic Colum) after reading early drafts of
Finnegan’s Wake, said to James Joyce: “It is outside of literature.” And Giacomo
Joyce replied: “But it’s future is inside literature.”

Like Pound’s “Cantos,” some books are not understood by the author’s
contemporaries, but by their grandchildren.


I hit the hump about 150 pages into GR, put it down, and didn’t pick it up for five years. Then I did, read the whole thing, and it rules.

My favorite Pynchon is still Vineland, but that’s just ‘cuz it’s got sexy lady ninjas in Camaros and whatnot.


I find Pynchon unreadable. Toss GR and pick up Cryptonomicon or A Confederacy of Dunces. In the long run, you’ll feel like you made a good decision…



I initially tried to read GR twice and gave up. When I tried a third time, I loved it so much that I was just about physically unable to stop reading it. I cut class for a week, and just sat in my room reading compulsively. That’s never happened to me with any other book.

I guess the moral of the story is that maybe you have to be in the right frame of mind. If after a hundred and fifty pages or so it’s still not happening, put it aside for later.

Nancy in Detroit

you have to keep reading until you get to Bloom. He’s the real star of the show and a much more compelling character.

Maybe, like some of the comments about GR above, it’s time to attempt it again. I did get to some Bloom (INRI = iron nails run in, which cracked me up). I’ve made a personal vow to myself that I can’t go to Ireland until I finish Ulysses, and I’d hate to disappoint me.


I feel the same way about A Shopoholic Gets Hitched. It takes a few reads, and the ending is really deep.


Bah, Cryptonomicon is just Gravity’s Rainbow for spotty teens who can’t handle the real stuff.

I read GR first when I was 17, which was back in the days before you could call up stuff like this online. You kids today have it easy….

The 992 page Against the Day is due at the start of December so don’t you dawdle, ace.


Every year on June 16, hundreds of people walk through Dublin retracing Leo Bloom’s journey as he walks through “Ulysses.”

I always say that if I participated in this Bloomsday ritual, just to be honest, I’d have to walk the first half-mile over and over about six times and just keep giving up.


Hated Vineland- maybe i should try it again, but it seemed to seethe with mysogyny, which alerted me to a much lower level of the same in his other novels.
Could not get through Mason & Dixon- the eighteenth century diction defeated me- which is odd because i still love Barth’s Sot-Weed Factor.
Btw, so often when reading 20th century male authors, you are confronted with deciding just where to draw the line- how much casual, maybe unconscious misogyny can you let pass without it angrying up your blood to the point that you just put the book down- the way the heroine of Vineland was used and abused left me shaken.


Stick with Pynchon! You’re right about having to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate GR–or any other work of literature. (Appreciatin’ litterchur is hard werk!)

Pynchon’s work isn’t formulaic–like most detective fiction or sci-fi. The characters are “dense” –in the sense that they don’t fit stereoptypes and are not instantly likeable–or detestable. A good writer will make you work to understand the characters on their terms–rather than giving you an easy template to plug into. The plot does not carry you along with picaresque highs and lows–“The DaVinci Code” it ain’t! Having an extensive vocabulary, an understanding of basic science that exceeds Chimperor’s and an appreciation for “weird humor” is certainly helpful. Set aside enough time each day to read roughly 5-10% of the book. And don’t speed-read! It’s not a marketing report or a legal brief–where most of the stuff in the middle is crap. Take the time to appreciate the words.

What’s in it for you? Some physicians believe that reading literature on a regular basis may actually stave off the memory loss that many people experience as they age.


I keep starting but never get past the damn bananas. What is it with the bananas?

I may be an idiot, but who knows. I am not a big DFWallace fan either. Read about half of Infinite Jest and just got tired of it. The wheelchair assassins, the tennis school, the endnotes, it just got tiring for me and the humor is perhaps better suited for camp days of 1999 than today.


Completely completely worth it. I’ve read it probably the equivalent of ten times now (mostly out of order), there’s still plenty of things I don’t get, and it’s practically my favorite book anyway. Just do like I did:

1) Keep starting it, getting frustrated, and putting it down till you get on a roll and don’t want to put it down (maybe you’re here already). Then just keep reading. When you hit a rough patch, lower your head and power through it; something good is coming up right afterward, and you’ll get some of the more problematic stuff (e.g., for me at least, organic chemistry and physics) via osmosis or something. For part 4, The Counterforce, don’t worry that the natural downward momentum of a huge novel trying to conclude itself is dragging you along faster than you can comprehend the actual words that are flying by you; that’s (I’d say) a big part of the effect. Finish the book. That’s GR Reading Number 1.

Then what you do is (2) leave it lying around your bedside, toiletside, etc, for like two years, opening it at random whenever you feel like it and reading until you have to go to work, your leg falls asleep, etc. It’s sufficiently episodic that it totally works this way, and you start to pick up details, internalize the structure, etc (etc), in a way you couldn’t when you were trying to read it straight through for e.g., “plot.” Eventually undertake a major, relationship-saving cleanup of your apartment that necessitates putting the book back on a shelf.

Then, about a year later, (3) read it again start to finish. This time, getting it is way way less of an issue (though not off the table entirely), and you know what parts you really have to slow down for (or skip, if you like), and resultantly it’s even funnier, heavier, sadder, and more beautiful than previously.

(4) Repeat steps (2) and (3) for remainder of life.

And that’s it. I’ve never tried it with a companion volume, but I bet that works too. You can also read V. first (that should have preceded step (1) above, actually)–and you should; it’s great, too–but I don’t think it makes reading GR any easier. Lot 49, really good; Mason & Dixon, really good if I recall (I’m way overdue for a reread on that); but for fuck’s sake don’t read Vineland.


Kids run to the tub!


Wait until joo it the coprophagic scene about 300 pages eento eet…



I read G’s R in college, and it was hard sledding. It’s more smart writin’ than good writin’. Brilliant, yes, but turgid and dense. Don’t make me read it again.

On the other hand, five stars and a big Yay! to William Gaddis’s JR, which is one of my all-time faves–funny, sharp, and “noisy” in that there is almost no narrative transition between scenes. No “he said” or “John came into the room.” It’s almost all dialogue with no attributions. Which is insufferable at first, but then re-wires your brain, and is exhilarating. But keep a sheet of paper and a pen handy and take notes as to who is related to whom, who works where, etc. You’ll need it.

Looking forward to Mason Dixon.

Do I HAVE to read Infinite Jest? I mean I know I do, but do I? Oh all right.


Vineland! Vineland! Wooooo, Vineland! Three cheers for Vineland! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray!

Oh well.

I love it. It’s one of my favorite books. I can kinda see where the misogyny complaint would come from, but the male characters are pretty much universally losers (except for Takeshi, who is transcendent), so I dunno, who gets off easy? I could certainly understand somebody complaining that it has a highly male viewpoint. Like I said, one of the things I like best about it is the sexy female ninjas. Still, and I’m sure I’ll get reamed for this, it’s my favorite book about California.


Vineland improves (and gets weirder and funnier) with a second and third reading. But I would say that….


Mr. Wonderful, have you read The Recognitions by Gaddis? It’s great but GR-like in it’s density. I highly recommend Infinite Jest. I’ve read it thrice and it gets better each time because I read more of the endnotes each time.


A few dozen of us who read Cecil Vortex’s blog have deathmarched GR (as well as Pale Fire and Don Quixote). If you want to see what a community of determined and literate readers has to say as they slog through the book…


I’m actually easing my way through the second reading of GR right now (along with second runs through Foucault’s Pendulum, Food Of The God’s and Ancestor’s Tale) along with the new books I’m reading.* I find the whole experience a bit like I found Ulysses: incomprehensible at first, a blast the next time through. I find that sort of things work with Faulkner, as well, but I think I read Faulkner way too early (junior high) despite being extremely familiar with the sort of people he’s talking about.

I don’t know if I’m “getting anything” from this second go-round, but it’s definately a fun read and worth the effort.

* I can’t read one book at a time. I just can’t pay attention anything that long. Probably due to all the weed.


I hate all of the comments in this thread. I know now why I stopped talking books with people.

So, just so we can stop the obvious fishing: yes, you are all brilliant, cultured people.


I’ve never made it all the way through GR. I enjoyed V, but GR just defeated me. OTOH, I had no probs with Ulysses. Never read Infinite Jest or any of the other more modern stuff others have mentioned. Except Confederacy of Dunces. I hated that POS. 😉


Shorter mikeg:

>farts; picks nose, examines booger, wipes under desk


That’s OK, GW, I still think the world of you…



Crap–formatting error cut last one off early.

Anyway, Mike, I’m sure the people you used to talk books with really miss it.


Know what I never got?

The cover of this book depicts neither gravity, nor a rainbow.


Re Confederacy of Dunces (mikey @ 18:57), it wasn’t necessarily a bad book but you can only take so much of that diaper-clad whiner before you want to throw the book into the fire, which I might have done if I’d had a fireplace.

As to reading Finnegan’s Wake aloud in an Irish brogue (Siffl @ 18:40), that worked for me with The Canterbury Tales in the Middle English. Read it like a Brit might and you hear what they’re actually saying.


Is it totally pedantic to point out that there is no apostrophe in the title Finnegans Wake? Considering that it may have been the middle finger of the Joyce oeuvre, I say:



The artist Zak Smith did an illustration for every page of Gravity’s Rainbow. The whole fascinating lot was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

I finished GR in 1990, UCLA. Nobody reads GR after college, do they?


Re Confederacy of Dunces (mikey @ 18:57), it wasn’t necessarily a bad book but you can only take so much of that diaper-clad whiner before you want to throw the book into the fire, which I might have done if I’d had a fireplace.

Yeah, actually I know whatcher saying. But you couldn’t stay true to that character and NOT do that. And hey, no one would wanna throw Gravitys Rainbow” in the fire, ever…

As to reading Finnegan’s Wake aloud in an Irish brogue (Siffl @ 18:40), that worked for me with The Canterbury Tales in the Middle English. Read it like a Brit might and you hear what they’re actually saying.

Yep. Also works with “A Shropsire Lad” and any Kipling at all…



Middle English probably sounded like Dutch. So,
maybe you’d want to get stoned and try Chaucer with
an accent more ‘ la Pays-bas’.

And I can think of nothing to redeem either Kipling or Housman
other than lighter fluid and a match. Book-burning, I tell you,
is soon to make a come-back.


Oh, I know, such a Blundering Buffoon am I…



No, I’m sorry, excuse me Tim, I’m NOT finished. Dood, if you can’t find pleasure in reading Houseman, either you’re just not trying or your standards are so high you’re missing all manner of enjoyable. Let yourself go, mi amigo…



Housman was the preeminent classics scholar of his time.
(Oddly enough, a lousy translator of the classics.) He published
only two books of poetry in his life, widely separated in time.

“A Shropshire Lad” was quite a popular success (– sort of
the Stanyan Street of its day.) Nevertheless, it was the last
gasp of the Edwardians before the modernists (Pound, Eliot, swept all that 19th century crap away.

Shorter Siffl: Housman sucks.


Nope. Not buyin. You’re a dork. Big honkin dork. I taught “Terence” to a kid from Tennessee who didn’t finish junior high school under a starry sky under mortar fire in the sticky clay of a Firebase in Southeast Asia, and all I can say is you have GOT to be a hopeless dork…



gosh, I don’t feel like “a hopeless dork” ….

Terrence, This is Stupid Stuff — I remember it well.
Unfortunate title in ways Housman may have missed.

I suspect you are conflating the drama of the moment
with the ‘poem’ itself. And it’s not unusual for people to transfer
the intensity of a ‘life moment’ to the song, television show,
or, in this case, poem that was ‘playing’ when we experienced
that moment.


Well, my friend, that is certainly possible. But see, I didn’t go to college. I went to war. So just don’t see it this way. I say that if you can separate the moment from the poem, you have failed. You have missed the point. You cannot feel a poem without context. C’mon, pal, the poet KNOWS this. As does his contemporary, the Songwriter. The words are meant to work with the context. The cannot CARRY context.

Please. I beg you. Please don’t tell me I don’t understand the way poetry works. Know why? ‘Cause I think YOU don’t get what poetry is for…



Your ‘moment,’ with all due respect (as they say) has precious little to do
with the author’s ‘moment.’ Your point is your point. The author’s point
is his/hers.

And, fortunately, or not so fortunately, we read poems, we do not ‘feel’ them.

The way poetry ‘works’ and what poetry ‘is for’ …. well, that’s two very
different subjects.

Anyway, I would never begrudge anyone his pet poems or poets,

Even I could be forced to confess to one or two ‘guilty pleasures.’


one more thing:

yes, a good question: what is poetry for ?
but perhaps a better question:
what is it against?


Um, Siffl, mikey: isn’t this how the Pasty/Thers fiasco got its start? Whether it’s the authors intent or the reader’s that makes a work… uh… work?

I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, I never managed to make it through Gravity’s Rainbow, but I did just finish my occasional reread of The Crying of Lot 49. Loved it, as usual.


Goddammit, somebody stole one of my apostrophes! It was there just a second ago, really!


Am i the only one who thought Infinite Jest seemed gimmicky?


I still read “Gravity’s Rainbow.” For me, the first read was like Joyce’s “Ulysses;” once I stopped trying to make sense of the book and just started reading it it was, and is, a continuing delight.


Intellectual onanism. It was fun for Pynchon. YMMV


GR is an excellent, if dense, read. Lots of military-industrial paranoia to ingest, along with copraphagic excess that would make mozart blush. Weird as it seems, I approached it like a miniseries, a pynchonian version of an ABC-TV “special event” from the 1970’s. Well, it worked for me. It has never taken me sooooo loooonnngg to read a book. I remember reading it primarily on train/metro when I worked in DC.

And I disagree about “Mason and Dixon”, although it is perhaps a book for older persons, with a touch of the wistfullness that comes with age. It is a comic masterpiece, complete with an insane mechanical duck. Notice the sweet little reference to GR in the first line. Just read and enjoy.


Nancy, et al.

I did my master’s thesis on the “intertextuality” of Stephen Daedalus and Prince Hal. The teachez loved it.

In fact, to give a spoiler, if you want to see an eighty-year-old critique of a born-to-the-colonization/slavery-mindset wingnut, try seeing chummy old Buck Mulligan with a more jaundiced eye.

And Joyce is trying to evoke an Homeric/Bardic/Drum Circle effect. The text is composed to be read again. So you’ll do well to reread new and difficult sections. Or sing them out loud.

Or you could listen to the books-on-tape, WIRQG, version while you’re reading it.

I got nothing on Pynchon, there are only so many hours in a decade.


Oh, and…

Malt does do more than Milton can

To justify God’s ways to man.

I mean, I’ve heard the chimes at midnight…

Shit, I’ve left my necktie–God knows where?



I couldn’t read any more comparisons of Pynchon’s salient and hilarous book to “Infinite Jest” without commenting–maybe you high-toned recent college graduates should stick with your graphic novel comic books and teevee and leave books more challenging than “The DaVinci Code” for others with an i.q. over 75. Just sayin.


maybe you high-toned recent college graduates should stick with your graphic novel comic books and teevee and leave books more challenging than “The DaVinci Code� for others with an i.q. over 75.

If you want a string of cliches to have any chance of working as an insult, you at least have to form a coherent sentence. Please try harder.


(comments are closed)