Happy tidings on Pynchon in Public Day, a holiday that people celebrate by publicly reading the works of Thomas Pynchon, one of the great unseen figures in contemporary literature. The ultra-enigmatic author, who spent some years living in Manhattan Beach, never appears in public, doesn’t give interviews, and is said to have once vacated an apartment in Mexico to elude a photographer. The motto for Pynchon in Public Day might be taken from the first of Pynchon’s Proverbs for Paranoids in Gravity’s Rainbow: “You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.” Since we can’t consult the author, this day is about reveling in his works.
Why May 8 for this particular Bloomsday-like tribute? It’s the day in 1937 when Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. was born. The date appears in Gravity’s Rainbow when Roger Mexico argues that V-E Day should be seen as simply more propaganda. Inherent Vice’s final chapter is set on May 8, 1970 (when the author was at work on Gravity’s Rainbow) signaled by the Lakers’ Game 7 loss to the Knicks in the NBA finals.
Your mission on Pynchon in Public Day? Read Pynchon. Read books blurbed by Pynchon. Play music, look at or carry around art inspired by Pynchon. Create your own Pynchonian fiction, music, and art. Become a version of your favorite Pynchon character. In The Crying of Lot 49 (which Mad Men’s Pete Campbell was once seen reading on a train) Oedipa Maas asked: “Shall I project a world?” Today, your project is to project a world such that Pynchon might appear in it.
And if you’re too busy to celebrate today, May 8 isn’t the only day to commemorate Pynchon’s contributions to literature. Here are five other days from which to choose along with L.A. itineraries.
(publication of The New York Times Magazine essay “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts,” 1966)
Read this essay. Go to Watts. Contemplate the inspirational detritus of Simon Rodia’s Towers. Consider that 47 years ago, Pynchon described this neighborhood as a “country which lies, psychologically, uncounted miles further than most whites seem at present willing to travel.” End your day by enjoying music at Leimert Park’s World Stage or listening to Ornette Coleman.
(publication of Inherent Vice, 2009)
With your soundtrack for the book already provided by the author himself, head to Manhattan Beach, the real-life analogue for the novel’s Gordita Beach. Look for Gummo Marx Way in Hollywood. Scout your own locations for the book before Paul Thomas Anderson’s version—the first Pynchon novel to be made into a movie—comes to the Cinerama Dome.
(publication of Bleeding Edge, 2013)
Find an independent bookstore that will open their doors that night so you can procure a copy at midnight. The title is taken from a term for an as yet unassimilated technology and the novel is set in New York City’s Silicon Alley in 2001. You can read the first page here.
(publication of Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973)
Start with a banana breakfast (a stack of banana pancakes or a banana smoothie). Take a model V-2 rocket to the park and let its trajectory shape your path. Think about how much of L.A. is in GR, from all the Hollywood films to the Zoot Suit Riots. Recall Pynchon’s terrifyingly accurate analysis of our various freeways including his description of the Santa Monica Freeway as “traditionally the scene of every form of automotive folly known to man.”
(publication of The Crying of Lot 49, 1966)
Rouse yourself with coffee you’ve ordered from Trystero Coffee, an Atwater Village-based micro-roaster named after Lot 49’s mysterious organization. Keep on the lookout for the postal horn. “Though she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians,” Oedipa thinks in the novel, “there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate.” Keep all lines of communication open and stay vigilant. Where Pynchon is concerned, there is absolutely no time to W.A.S.T.E.