Monday, November 21, 2005

Reading more fiction

Behold, I’m reading more fiction!. After dipping my toe into the genre, I figured I was ready to tackle a heavyweight—bring on Faulker! I mean, if Oprah’s summer book club of literary lightweights can handle this difficult American master, then it’s high time I read something by the writer that many of the literary “experts” consider one of America’s most influential writers.

Color me obtuse, but I don’t get all the hoopla surrounding the man. While As I Lay Dying isn’t necessarily a difficult read—the chapters are short and cut back and forth between characters—neither is it a particularly interesting read. When I read fiction, I want to be entertained, made to think and most of all, be given characters that I don’t necessarily have to like, but I’d prefer to care about them. None of the characters in this work by Faulker, considered one of his “celebrated” novels, warrants the least bit of compassion, empathy, or any other emotion.

While I’ll finish the novel this evening, having read it in about 2 ½ days, I don’t feel that it’s added anything to my understanding of fiction, or so-called classic literature.

Granted, I do have to keep in mind that when Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying, the style apparently was experimental for his day, with its stream of consciousness narrative and abundant characters, all telling the story in a series of monologues.

While more learned and erudite people than me, men and women worthy of the title of scholar, insist upon Faulkner’s brilliance as a writer, I just don’t get it. Here is an example of a lot more analysis concerning As I Lay Dying’s character of Cash than I came away with. While I saw him as a man without personality or any other trait that might commend him to the reader, this article supplies a great deal of information that I apparently overlooked in my more literal reading of the text. Then, there is this “feminist” take on Addie Bundren, the deceased character that the book centers on. I took Bundren’s character to be the “unnatural, loveless, cold mother whose demands drive her family on a miserable trek to bury her body in Jefferson”; apparently others got that same sense in the normal, literal reading that one usually engages in while reading a work of fiction. However, there is much more going on here, as any good, post modern feminist would posit from the text.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, particularly people for whom reading is more of a chore than anything. Maybe that’s why so many of our public school students develop an aversion to reading while in school. They associate reading with activities that are more duty than an act of pleasure. I remember clearly, those days of sitting in English class in high school, someone who liked to read, but never "getting" what the teacher was talking about in describing writers like Faulkner, Hemingway and other "heavyweights" we were compelled to read. Even today, better informed and hopefully, better-read (at least when it comes to many subjects in the non-fiction category), I still don't get most of the literary analysis/criticism that I've briefly perused about Faulkner's book. Granted, I’m not an English major, nor a teacher, so I can’t explain why reading Faulkner, or any of the other so-called classics are considered requirements for a well-rounded education. All I know is that this is probably the only book I’ll read by this American author, despite the apparent need to read "giants" like Faulkner three to four times.


weasel said...

I have the same issues with Dickens- as in if he's so great, how come he's so boring?

As for " I mean, if Oprah’s summer book club of literary lightweights"- oooh, listen to you, you liberal elitist (hee hee!). The big question is do they sell Faulkner at Wal Mart?

The only book I ever bought at the Beast of Bentonville (Norway, Maine branch) was in 1994: Sam Walton's autobiography, which in a breathtaking display of corporate philosophy was in the "reduced" rack.

David Baker said...

"My mother is a fish."


Jim said...

Sorry for my descension into liberal elitism. Actually, the Oprah site's section on reading Faulkner has some decent tips (like reading the book three or four times); I finished it last night and feel good for accomplishing my task--don't feel the need or have the desire to reread it, however, at least not right now.

As I Lay Dying isn't the worst book I've ever read and I may even read another novel by Mr. Faulkner, at some point.

Brown Trout's blog is interesting.