Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Faulkner, Finally

For more than 30 years I've kept a list of the order in which the writer William Faulkner's books should be read, thinking "one day I'll get around to reading these."



The list was shared by a college professor who was a bit of a Faulkner scholar himself. And while there may be some disagreement among experts on where to start, my old list looked good to me.

So I'm on a quest to get all the major works of Faulkner read before the end of 2014. (Admission: I'm actually reading The Sound and the Fury first, simply because the local bookstore didn't have The Unvanquished in stock. I'll be using the local library or Amazon to secure the remaing books).

I've read around the edges of Faulkner for years, dipping into his short stories here and there (A Rose for Emily is a good place to begin if you're new to him). But I've never been serious about reading and understanding him. Until now.

Faulkner is not an easy read. His stream of consciousness narrative (think James Joyce in Ulysses and Virginia Wolf in Mrs Dalloway) can be tough going.

His prose often sounds as if someone sat down with a piece of paper and wrote everything that went through his mind with no worry about grammar or form; extended sentences, descriptions and details; actions in one scene that then recall a past or future scene; complex sentence structure. 

But there is a point to it all. It mimics the human brain and we're being placed inside the various characters' heads.

One critic has suggested that Faulkner be read as if the reader were sitting in a courtroom listening to and sifting through various testimonies of a parade of witnesses and knowing he'll have to make up his own mind about what actually happened and who is and who's not telling the truth.

Another has suggested reading Faulkner's stories as if they were a detective novel, each piece of information not complete or understandable but becoming a part of the larger whole as more information is revealed. The reader must rely on emotional instincts to embrace and unravel the ambiguities woven into each passage.

If all this sounds like to much effort to -- like work instead of reading pleasure -- let me say that the effort expended is well worth the work!

He evokes a sense of place and time like no other; he's brutally honest and truthful; his characters are so real you feel like you know them.

He is one of the most important writers in American literature generally and Southern literature in particular. Although his work was published as early as 1919, and in the 20s and 30s, he was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel, The Sound and the Fury, sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Also on the list were As I Lay Dying (1930) and Light in August (1932. Absalom, Absalom (1936 is often included on similar lists.

Here are a few Faulkner quotes from his books:

From As I Lay Dying
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From Requiem for a Nun
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From As I Lay Dying
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From Requiem for a Nun
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From The Reivers
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From The Wild Palms
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From The Sound and the Fury
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From The Sound and the Fury
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From The Sound and the Fury
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From The Sound and the Fury
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19 comments:

  1. Hello Sanda

    This is a major undertaking. I hope you have a comfortable hammock and a pitcher of iced tea at your elbow. I love the quotes you have posted.
    Wishing you success.
    Helenx

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    1. It is, but I'm determined to meet my challenge. Given the miserable hot weather we're experiencing, making it imposible to stay outside for any length of time, I think I'll opt for the air-conditioned house in which to pursue my goal. Thanks for the encouragement, Helen!

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  2. How interesting and impressed I am with your undertaking what seems like a huge project ! I'll be interested to hear about your progress. Happy reading to you.

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    1. A rather large project, yes. I'm off to a fine start, tho, and am enjoying every minute...so far. The Faulkner home, Rowan Oaks, is a mere 2.5 hours' drive from here, in Oxford, Miss. I see a road trip in our near future!

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  3. " Between grief and nothing, I will take grief ".
    Wish I had the patience to go through some writer´s whole production, like you are now doing.
    But no. I don´t have the patience to sit down. Unfinished " work " haunts me and as known, all the work is never done..
    However, I tend to focus on books of psychology, right now reading yet again about the combination of emotions and intelligence; emotion intelligence ( we use this word for it in Finnish, just guessing what it is in English ).
    Off the subject, the film version of Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, made quite an impression on me. Still haunts me..
    Good for you Sanda: )!

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    1. Mette, you need to practice relaxation!! But I know what you mean because I "used" to be that way; considered reading, for example, as "goofing off" and couldn't sit down so long as there was work to be done. I don't know how or why, but in the last few years I've completely changed my viewpoint into, "so what if the floor needs cleaning, or weeding done. I need to do something I WANT to do." Maybe that has come with age, but at any rate, my favorite diversion from required work is reading so I just do it!

      I am not sure what the psychology term is in English for the reading, but it sounds like "heavy stuff." and I applaud you for such intellectual reading.

      I read Mrs. Dalloway but have never seen the film. I think perhaps I should reread it, a short book, which I could likely fit into my Faulkner reading program. I started reading Wolf's "The Lighthouse" but never finished it; perhaps wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time but will read it at some point, I'm sure.

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    2. So, so sorry. The film indeed is " The hours ". How stupid of me, what was I thinking about, lol.

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  4. I had a go at Mrs Dalloway once or twice and it is tough! Having now read about Vita Sackville-West - and a bit about Virginia Woolf I will go back and try again. Am currently working on a compilation of journal entries by H.D. Thoreau. He is poetic at time, a bit boring at others, but I think worth the effort. I think it's important to keep exercising the brain - and the self discipline. Love the quote about the past!

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    1. If reading a book that's tough to understand, I have no hesitation in Googling the book's analysis to have the plot explained for the purpose of better enjoyment/understanding of the book. This technique wouldn't work for those to want to keep the ending a surprise, but for me, in the case of Mrs. Dalloway, it sure helped me understand better Mrs. Dalloway's frame of mind as she ventured out into Hyde Park to buy flowers for her party. Have you read or seen the movie "The Hours?" Based on the Mrs. Dalloway novel. If not you really need to see it! given your interest in Wolfe and Sackville-West.

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  5. I've never read Faulkner. But what a beautiful collage of his quotes as well as a genuinely helpful "cheat" sheet on how to approach his works. It is a great pleasure to pick up a book that opens more questions than it gives answers. I think that in an era of TV and Internet videos with drum roll laughter on queue, with all the answers given, it's quite intimidating to let an author gently guide you into the unknown :-)

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    1. I'm with you, Anna; don't like to be spoon fed when I'm reading a book; like one that makes me "think" and leaves something to the imagination. And I'm afraid we're ruining an entire generation by leading them to believe in instant gratification; that there's a happy ending to every situation in life; that it's all about the sound byte.

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  6. I admire the intellectual challenge you have set yourself,last Winter started on Proust (after years of promising myself,my resolve failed!) you have inspired me to try again.
    Having been introduced by my G/mother to Mrs Dalloway in my early teens have found it a truthful story of what /how people felt/acted after WW1.....
    not a difficult read,maybe upsetting then the aftermath of war is for those left behind.Sanda,forgive me for straying off Faulkner :).

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    1. Oh Proust! Two years ago I bought the complete set (3 volumes) of The Remembrance of Things Past, and so far, have only read through Swann's Way. Another future reading project is to complete it.

      No apologies needed for discussing Mrs. Dalloway; the book is a worthy topic. Wouldn't it be fun if we could get a forum going in which we'd read and discuss it and share our thoughts/interpretations as we went along?

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  7. I am impressed with your plan to read Faulkner beginning to end. I'm just not that organized when it comes to reading. I'm easily distracted by a new book here or a recommendation there. Let us know how it is going as you progress.

    Darla

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    1. This type of reading is new for me, too, as like you, I'm easily distracted by a new book or something someone recommended. But I have determination to complete this goal which has been in my mind for 30 years! Faulkner is worthy of the time and study required to understanding. As a literary giant, he is required reading in some college literature classes, but sadly, in none of mine. I took a class in a survey of the complete body of Southern literature, got a taste for his stories, read a few short stories over the years and finally am graduating into his novels. I'll read the major novels first; then the short stories (and there are many!) I will update you from time to time.

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  8. I loved Mrs. Dalloway and Proust and would readily agree to a re-read of either. I agree with you that Faulkner is well worth reading, once ;) but I'm not sure I'd re-read the 2 (3?) of the Faulkner books I've read.

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  9. I read somewhere that Faulkner had replied to an interviewer -- who admitted he'd read one of the books 3 times and still wasn't sure he got the full meaning -- "then read it four times." I've also heard it said that if a book is good enough it should be read over and over again; that enjoyment of the written word should be no different from other forms of art that are enjoyed over and over again, such as a piece of music, a painting, etc.

    Of course, enjoyment or "good enough" is subjective; not everyone's definition of a great book are the same. I have just finished "The Sound and the Fury" and I'm definitely going to reread it. Because at the beginning some things were alluded to that didn't make sense until later in the book when the rest of the story was told. So I want to reread to pick up all the clues that were dropped along the way.

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    1. I agree that re-reading yields rewards and that it aids in a fuller understanding of the book, but -as with any other art forms- there are some I want to visit with more than others. As a Southerner I feel like a traitor saying so, but Faulkner isn't one I want to visit again.

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  10. I agree with you that Faulkner is well worth reading


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