Mason & Dixon

13 Jan 2021

I turned the last page on the wonderful Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon last night.

I’ve been reading this for the best part of a year, and, in another sense, for over ten years (I was reading this book, stuffed with Greyhound tickets and other bookmark-shaped mementos, when I met my wife - though I lost the thread about 200 pages in, something I have done more than once before reading Pynchon - and I was approaching its final chapters on the day that she moved out).

This is the book that taught me how to read again, that demanded I slow down to take everything in, against the at times overwhelming feeling that I might never finish it, or that I was not smart enough to understand it. It’s been a hard lesson accepting my reading difficulties. Trying to change the way that I read has only done harm to my understanding and enjoyment of fiction, why I’ve barely read any in . . . the last ten years.

It’s hard too to imagine that a book could sustain my interest and stay alive in my memory and imagination for this long. But . . . it has. It’s frequently been hard work, and more than I could deal with at times, having no attention left to give it at the end of the day, sometimes for weeks at a time. But it’s always been rewarding.

Pynchon has the best prose of any author I’ve read that’s alive today (though please don’t judge that endorsement on the quality of mine), coupled with an indefatigable imagination, describing events both meticulously researched in historical detail yet somehow also populated with talking dogs, sentient chronometers, a golem, giant vegetables, ghosts, mechanical ducks, elves and gnomes and Popeye the Sailor Man. I thought it would never be over, and now it hurts to put it down.