not even for Oprah will I read William Faulkner again.
On Friday, Oprah announced at the end of her show that the Book Club selection for the summer would be not one, not two, but three of Faulkner's novels. As I lay dying, The Sound and the Fury, and the Light in August. According to the NY Times, Random House printed up 200,000 of the 3 box set to be available for viewers to buy as soon as the selection was announced. That's alot of Faulkner. I don't know if he even sold that many copies while he was alive.
I first became acquainted with Mr. Faulkner my freshman year of college. I had lucked out of freshman English because of the English Advanced Placement test that I took. So I decided to take an American Literature course. One of the books on the curriculum was As I lay dying. I had no experience with Faulkner up to this point. I had read other authors in high school, Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but Faulkner had eluded me.
Not that I didn't know of him. Since I was going to be an actress, I had immersed myself over the years in histories of Hollywood, movie star biographies. I knew that he had worked in Hollywood around the same time that Fitzgerald, and several other authors such as Lillian Helman had made their way west.
I don't know what happened but Faulkner and I just didn't click. I had to read As I lay dying 3 times before I got it, and I'm a reasonably intelligent person. The whole stream of consciousness thing just gives me a headache. I'm working on one right now just thinking about it. Then my senior year, I read The Sound and The Fury. Again, it took me three times before I could realized that the first section of the book was narrated by a character that was mentally retarded, and it was all down hill from there.
I consider myself a well-read person. I've tackled Henry James, Flaubert, The Brontes, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot for crying out loud. I've even read East of Eden by Steinbeck (but only because I saw the miniseries with Jane Seymour and Bruce Boxleitner, so I read the book). I Claudius I've read, Evelyn Waugh, and E.M. Forster, but Faulkner, I'm mystified. I sometimes think that maybe if I read the books while drinking shots of whiskey it might make sense to me (Faulkner was a notorious drunk).
I know there are Faulknerites out there who are pulling their hair out that I don't 'get' Faulkner. Others might say I don't appreciate southern gothic. Well, I've read Tennesee Williams who I adore, and you don't get more gothic than that. Or people who will say that I've read too many romances or genre fiction to appreciate real literary fiction. To them, I say, kiss my ass.
Are there any writers or books out there who are considered 'classic' that you just don't get?