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Literature Can Be Wild & Crazy Fun

YANAPOP: Run For Your Life, a Love Story. Our hero, young writer Martin Brown, age 21, meets the angel of his dreams, Chloë Setreal (also 21) at a job fair. No sooner has he returned to San Diego, than Chloë phones and says she needs him. Martin hops in his car, glad for an excuse to see her again. What should be a quiet two hour drive along the Pacific coast becomes an epic adventure that will leave you almost as terrified and breathless as Martin. This imaginative saga rivals any wild story written in human history—trust me.

Odyssey. Like Homer's Ulysses in the Odyssey, Martin seeks to be with Chloë. He has many terrifying and mad adventures along the way. It happens that Thomnas Pynchon also gave his heroine a Classical sounding name: Oedipa (a female Odysseos or Odysseia?). Maybe we should define a new trope within the adventure category of pop fiction: The Romp. Certainly, Homer's Odyssey fits well, once you set aside the sacrosanct, docentish (qui nocent, docent) eusebaia and sebomai associated with modern translations of what was really a Grand Scamper that thrilled Athenian audiences thousands of years ago…

Short Novels. I have observed that some of the best (often most passionate) work of many novelists seems to be their shortest and often youngest work. That includes The Great Gatsby, which F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his early twenties. That's a novel, coincidentally, that most of us were forced to read in high school; I recall having a crush on the (dishonest) female athlete Jordan, and was enthralled by the blowing curtains (which made it into at least one classic film of the novel). I advise you to re-read The Great Gatsby later in life, because it's a very different experience. For one thing, aside from the narrator (Nick), the only good guy in the novel is Jay Gatsby, whose name is a take-off on 'gat' meaning gun, as in gangster; which was a popular idiom at the time referring to Gatling's rat-a-tat gizmo of Civil War fame. Among other things, we can read The Great Gatsby as the author's ironic commentary on hypocrisy. Yes, I do have a B.A. in English among my other degrees, but it's been a life-long regret. My real academic passion is History (sort of the girl who got away).

Similarly, Goethe is best remembered for his epic poem Faust (which I have translated from German into English and plan to publish some time soon); but Goethe's star rose to greatest fame when he was 24. Goethe was recovering from a painful rejection at love by a young woman named Charlotte. The result was one of the biggest smash hits in literary history: The Sorrows of Young Werther. The novel created a rage among Goethe's generation, with many young men dressing and acting like the jilted, melancholy young lover Werther, and in fact many ending their lives with a similar pistol shot to the head as Goethe's hero. I could go on, but you get the idea— and the melancholia of hormone-revved youth speaks for itself in every generation.

Melancholia and Humor. At some level, Pynchon's love story is a darkly comedic journey in search of the unknown instead of a home like that Odysseus thought he would find upon his return to Ithaca after many trials at sea. That's Ithaca in the Pelopponese region of Hellas, some 27 centuries ago or more; not New York State any time lately. Pynchon's novel employs some clever faux history, notably regarding the Thurn und Taxis (zillionaire) family and their private postal system, as well as a very imaginative literary investigation into a dark and scary play centuries ago involving lost legions of soldiers. But also Pynchon's "air-conditioned nightmare," as one critic described it, eerily foreshadows the digital age at its darkest moments.

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