Last year, sometime in the middle of winter, I decided that I would take a year off from reading books. Of any kind (except student work, there was no getting around that). Just to see what happened. At first I thought this was a brilliant idea -- that if I wanted books, I'd have to write them for myself. I even calculated how much time I would save, how many extra hours I would have, if I didn't spend the time that I do, reading. But after a while, I began to doubt the intention behind this and revise the plan -- no books for six months, then no fiction for six months, then no fiction for three months... and so on until, somewhat disappointed in myself, I gave it up altogether.
When spring came, I came up with another plan: I would read all twelve of William Faulkner's novels, two per month, from July until December. I got the first Library of America compilation -- the novels from 1926 to 1929, which includes Soldier's Pay, Mosquitoes, Flags in the Dust, and The Sound and the Fury -- and when I've finished with those, I'll get the rest. Yesterday I finished Soldier's Pay and today I move on to Mosquitoes.
When I announced on Facebook my intention to do this I got a great response -- one friend even offered to join me in the endeavor (but I haven't heard from him since then... I wonder if he's still up for it) and another, who is a Faulkner expert of sorts, was most encouraging. When I actually began the reading I made another announcement, and that time the response was quite different. One friend wrote to say that she tried to do this one summer and tried to enjoy it, but just couldn't. Another bemoaned her experience with Faulkner in high school and college, called it a drudge.
Not me. I'm in heaven. Reading Soldier's Pay, I didn't always get what was going on, but I just kept going, anyway. I didn't get the whole Januarius Jones business, and all the marrying not marrying seemed... what... antiquated and not very interesting. But Donald Mahon? And Gilligan and Mrs. Powers? And also the letters from Julian Lowe... wonderful storytelling, deep dark characters, love and death and time and space. But never mind any of that, what makes my heart pound, my head throb, is the language. I don't even care about the content, really. To me the content is just something to write about, in passages like this: "Day came after noon, became dusk and imminent evening: evening like a ship, with twilight-colored sails, dreamed down the world darkly toward darkness. And suddenly he found that he was passing from the dark world in which he had lived for a time he could not remember, again into a day that had long passed, that had already been spent by those who lived and wept and died, and so remembering it, this day, was his alone: the one trophy he had reft from Time and Space. Per ardua ad astra." That's Mahon, dying.
Or this: "And so April became May. There were fair days when the sun becoming warmer and warmer rising drank off the dew and flowers bloomed like girls ready for a ball, then drooped in the languorous fulsome heat like girls after a ball; when earth like a fat woman recklessly trying giddy hat after hat, trying a trimming of apple and pear and peach: threw it away, tried narcissus and jonquil and flag: threw it away -- so early flowers passed and later flowers bloomed to fade and fall, giving place to yet other ones."
"There was no sound in the kitchen save a clock. Life. death. life. death. forever and ever. (If I could only cry!) She could hear the dusty sound of sparrows and she imagined she could see the shadows growing longer across the grass. Soon it will be night, she thought, remembering that night long, long ago, the last time she had seen Donald, her Donald: not that one! and he had said Come here Emmy, and she had gone to him. Her Donald was dead long long ago... The clock went life. death. life. death. There was something frozen in her chest, like a dish-cloth in winter."
There are more... this feels rich to me. Maybe after all the terse snippets that come via email and web pages...
My friend Martha told me I should read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Yes. Exactly. That and You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier (inventor of Virtual Reality, who sat with his new bride, on the night of their wedding, at a table next to ours at Olivia's in Toronto several years ago -- they seemed very happy; I was agog).
Anyway, with Faulkner, at least in this book, it seems to be all about time and space and death and sex. And blood. And light. He's starting to fool around with point of view, too -- inner, subtextual musings are bracketed by parentheses, and are usually in direct contradiction to what is actually being said or done. Soon he'll abandon that convention and just mix it all up for us to figure out -- I think? (This, the drudge that made him so difficult to understand for my friend?)
Next up, Mosquitoes. "In spring, the sweet young spring, decked out with little green, necklaced braceleted with the song of idiotic birds, spurious and sweet and tawdry as a shopgirl in her cheap finery, like an idiot with money and no taste, they were little and young and trusting: you could kill them sometimes."