8 December 2007

A Glutton for Pynchon

Perhaps it was due to mental and physical exhaustion after a two-hour gym session this afternoon that I finally caved and bought Thomas Pynchon's latest novel, Against the Day, which finally came out in paperback last month. I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Thomas Pynchon after the trials and tribulations of Gravity's Rainbow but I guess you can never have too much magical realism!

I waited a year for the 1,200 page tome that is Against the Day to come out in a form that was light enough for me to drag home and then put off buying it for a whole month. I have read GR twice now - both times while on holiday in America and both times ended up causing me more stress than enjoyment. I do like Pynchon's writing but I'm also the kind of person who is always rushing to get on to the next book and 800 pages is an awful lot of pressure - it feels as though you will never finish it, which means you put off reading altogether. Halfway through, the second time, I got to the point of wanting to have read it rather than to read it. Hopefully, AtD will be better.

Another book I wanted to have read was The Selfish Gene, which I have now finished. Actually, I ended up enjoying it an awful lot, probably because it is so well written and because of the abundance of analogies. I do like analogies, especially incredibly subtle, clever ones, although funny, entertaining ones can be just as good. My favourite chapter was the one on game-theory, which I've only really approached from a neuro-economic perspective before, thanks, in part, to Steven Levitt. Writing about marriage and divorce,

A good marriage is obviously a nonzero sum game, brimming with mutual cooperation. But even when it breaks down there are all sorts of reasons why a couple could benefit by continuing to cooperate, and treating their divorce, too, as a nonzero sum. As if child welfare were not a sufficient reason, the fees will make a nasty dent in the family finances. So obviously a sensible and civilized couple begin by going together to see one lawyer, don't they?

Or not. The nasty old legal system forces them to go to separate lawyers and thus enter a zero sum game. Oh, bugger. Dawkins then follows on with a football-based analogy involving the last match of the season in 1977: three teams stood to become the third team relegated from the first division, two of whom were playing each other. Had these two not known the result of the match of the third team, it would have made most sense for each team to (as per usual) try their hardest to win to avoid relegation. As it happened, five minutes before the end of their match, they heard the result of the other match, where the team that could also have been relegated had lost. Now, the score being two-all with five minutes to go, it was in the interests of the two teams to "cooperate" and go on the defensive; as it stood, a draw between them would save them both from relegation and given that "defecting" in an attempt to obtain two extra points was far too risky a gamble to make. The two teams did cooperate.

To reward myself for buying Pynchon, I also bought a new Moleskine. It seems they have revamped their plain notebook (my favourite style), so that it has a) "a new soft yet sturdy cover that adapts to the movements of the body and fits comfortably in any pocket" (they clearly haven't seen the size of the pockets on my J. Crew matchstick jeans) and b) only 192 pages instead of 244 (presumably so that it fits in a wider variety (all, in fact!) of pockets).

It seems that I can't even rely on Moleskine to stay the same. Some people do never change, however; Doktor Landlord will continue to make me feel as crappy as ever with his own unique brand of sanctimonious hypocrisy. I dislike sanctimonious hypocrites more than anyone else and Doktor Landlord sure knows how to infuriate me with his skewed moral diktats, even when it is clear that to everyone else, he is far from perfect. At least he's buggered off for the night. I can sleep easy, for once, and pump up my music (embarrassingly, another Gossip Girl acquisition, Apologize by Timbaland featuring (at least) OneRepublic (I'm so out of touch with the young folks that I thought Timbaland was Justin Timberlake, rebanded - I think this is the first song in years I have liked from the Top 40)). Woot.

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