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Two hundred and forty six years ago, Laurence Sterne began publishing installments of a novel that has influenced literature the world over, that is famous to this day, that is readily available, and that you have probably never read. (Unless you went to college.) It is called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (for short say Tristram Shandy) and Picturehouse has just made it into a movie, to be released in this city next week. As we all know, books are superior to movies, and as this particular book is superior to most books (in its day, it got blurbed by Voltaire, Goethe, etc.), and since you should have read it already, you should definitely read it now, before a movie starring the lady from The X-Files comes into your brain and rearranges all the furniture, replacing the depth of the original material with the kind of depth associated with a woman who, on the TV show that made her famous, used to utter lines like, "Time can't just disappear. It's a universal invariant!" (Only to be rejoined: "Not in this zip code.")

As anyone who has stood in a bookstore reading the back of Tristram Shandy knows, Sterne does not deal with time as a universal invariant. The book is a mess, beginning with the narrator's birth and ending before he is born. In the first paragraph, Tristram wonders what his parents were thinking when they made him, or rather he wishes that they were thinking when they made him, wishes that they had "duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing," that "not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind," and concludes—after some crazy punctuation like colons followed by dashes and semi-colons followed by dashes, long-nosed prototypes of the emoticon—that if his parents had been thinking it all through, he would have "made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me."

In the second sentence, he writes that a man's "successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into," and then simplifies the metaphor to that of a road, and then ends the paragraph with a shout out to the Devil.

In the second paragraph, a short paragraph, Tristram's mother, just as she is being seeded, asks Tristram's father if he has wound up the clock. He can't believe she'd interrupt him like that. "Good G—!" he says. "Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question?" Then the first chapter is over.

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That's as far as I've gotten. Chapter one. Check. There's a lot more to come. As it were.