I just found out tonight – early early morning, actually – that Joseph McElroy’s Women And Men is finally available on ebook. I had been aware that this was being planned for a while now but a part of me thought that it would never quite get here. It’s a huge book with a very small potential audience, the odds didn’t seem great somehow. So kudos to Dzanc Books for selecting this for their rEprint series and following through. Even better, thanks to Dzanc for pricing the book at only six dollars on Kindle AND making it available for free on Hoopla – Women And Men needs all the readers it can find.
I have a paperback edition of the novel – I bought it in the early 1990s when I was still an undergrad at SUNY Albany, when I trolled used bookstores on a seemingly daily basis, seeking out books by the authors I knew I had to read: DeLillo, Gaddis, Roth, Nabokov, Pynchon… And while I have read several books of monumental physical size and epic thematic proportions, Women And Men was the one I always wanted to read but never could finish.
Which I could never start, actually – the furthest I’ve gotten has been fifty or so pages. It took me a few attempts to get through Gravity’s Rainbow and JR, but they turned out to be manageable in the long run and I’ve even reread both afterwards. But for over twenty years, every two or three years, no matter where I lived or what was going on in my life, I would dig out my copy of McElroy’s novel and try to make myself get through it… and just gave up. Either I got distracted and moved on, or I told myself I didn’t have the time and energy to wade through it all.
Seeing that the book is now available digitally, however, caused a positively seismic reaction in me. The first thing I thought was, “I have no excuses.” Which is ridiculous, it makes it seem that the size and heft of the physical version of the book was what held me back all this time. And admittedly, the book is big enough to knock in a child’s head, or even an adult’s with enough blunt force. But the physical attributes are just a psychological crutch, a chance to move away from the book because it is so imposing, so demanding. Walking away from the monstrous tome can be a relief when it haunts me in such a manner.
But now the book will always be with me. It will be in my pocket, on my iPhone. It will be on the tablet I use when I take walks and want to read something. I can browse through it in the sparest moments, I can lead through it digitally on a random whim. I can live with it in a way I had never let it live with me before, and maybe that’s a rationalization but it’s also a renewed commitment to finish the thing and enjoy every word of it.
Or at least every word of it I can comprehend. It’s still a difficult read, proudly so, and demands a great deal of me still.
But now that I’m ready to try reading Women And Men again, I will keep a chapter by chapter account of the process. I tried this the last time I attempted the physical copy, two years ago, and it made sense because it helps me keep track of my thoughts and sort out what’s going on in the novel. The act of reading is the imposition of structure on a person’s thoughts, but in the case of Women And Men the structure is a postmodern skyscraper that reaches to the sky. I’ll need to keep tabs if I’m going to make it through. And this time I really think I will make it through. I’m feeling upbeat and giddy and charged up and ready to go.
This is going to be fun. A strange idea of fun, but fun nonetheless.