I first read Pynchon when I was twenty-two, I think, between a B.A. and an M.A. The only reason I read him, too, was because I’d hit up a professor I trusted for a list of books I’d need to have read if I didn’t want to get laughed out of grad school. She of course gave me an excellent list — Nabokov, Heller, etc — but, when guiding me through the highs and the lows of all these titles, that professor stopped at Gravity’s Rainbow, said I wanted to stay far away from that one, as it had 500 characters and a storyline for each. Which, I mean, I’d just inhaled all of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky I could, and had a bachelor’s in philosophy in my pocket. So I accepted the challenge, went to the library, dug up a Gravity’s Rainbow and went swirling down into it, taking notes and making marginalia as I went, like I always do (more below), but doing it this time on a slip of paper, as I was going to have to turn this book back in. Years down the road, I’d of course pick up my own copies of GR, and, for a while even, remember which version my little slip of notes went with. But it’s gone now, so I don’t have any record of my first (and, so far, only) read of GR. The experience, though: it did twist my head, lose me, make me grin and leave me laughing, wanting more. So I found V., The Crying of Lot 49 — and this one I have read I don’t know how-many-times — then fell deeper into that hole, hit Vineland and the short stories and every scrap of Pynchonalia I could find, by, about, whatever. I was hooked, a convert, an acolyte. But. To know something about me that first summer I read Pynchon: all I knew then, I think, were sentences. I mean, I’d stumble onto a decent story-ending every now and again, or a nice hook, a nice shuffle between scenes or whatever, but by and large I was having some big romantic affair with language; I read Cormac McCarthy not for the stories, but, first, the vocabulary, and, second, the prose rhythm. And of course Pynchon’s sentences, while not quite as stacked as McCarthy’s when he’s really rolling, still, there’s a different, maybe even more permanent kind of magic there. Because he moves things back and forth at . . . I’ve yet to figure it out, I guess. But it’s a level just above the words.