book beginnings on Friday: Light in August by William Faulkner

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.


Friends, I have a confession: I fear Faulkner. I tried to read The Sound and the Fury once, and I was left feeling certain that either I’m an imbecile, or he is. The jury is still out. But I found this collection of audio lectures on iTunes University, from Yale, on Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner; and I already love two of those authors, and the three are often considered together; and I want to listen to these lectures and be able to follow along; so here I am again, attempting Faulkner. I’m told Light in August is a little easier than The Sound and the Fury. Wish me luck. It begins lucidly enough:

Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.’ Thinking although I have not been quite a month on the road I am already in Mississippi, further from home than I have ever been before. I am now further from Doane’s Mill than I have been since I was twelve years old

[Regarding punctuation: I checked two print editions and both left off that final period, so I guess that was Faulkner’s work. I actually value punctuation, myself; trying not to let this make me nervous.]

Any Faulkner fans out there who can reassure me? I want to like this book!

9 Responses

  1. I thought you’d never ask? ๐Ÿ˜› Faulkner is one of my favorite authors but it definitely took me a while to warm up to his writing style which can be very challenging, especially when he indulges in stream-of-consciousness. As you noted, he often deliberately uses improper sentences and grammar to effectively convey his character’s inner thoughts but this approach can be very disorienting or just down-right annoying for most people to read. However, in my experience, I find that just letting the prose draw you in without fixating too much on the aesthetic framework helps to better understand the ideas and story elements at work. After figuring out just what the hell is going on, I often find myself going back to re-read passages to see how Faulkner uses specific language and syntax to structure the narrative and it is quite impressive; there is a purpose behind the technique that is usually not fully apparent at first. This is one of the many reasons why I find him to be an incredible author because he is able to provide layers and layers of rich subtext to be unraveled by the reader (the iceberg theory as I am sure you are familiar with since it was highly advocated by your favorite author, hehe). Whenever I read Faulkner, my brain has to be on a completely different wave-length in order to weave through all of its complexities.

    Don’t feel silly for not being able to fully grasp everything going on in “The Sound and the Fury” — the writing tends to be so incredibly difficult to slog through and its not for the faint of heart. Hell, I’ve read it twice still fail to understand it all; there is so much more to discover but I did find that the second reading was a lot more rewarding since instead of focusing on plot, I was able to better perceive the way Faulkner’s style evokes a dream narrative, the way he explores the concept of time and its relation to the fall of the noble South. Ok, I digress.

    I have read “Light and August” and it is definitely a lot more accessible than some of his other works but its waaaaaaaaay too long for its own good. The characterizations, symbolism, biblical allusions and the prose is all top notch (as to be expected) but if this novel was trimmed down a few hundred pages, it would easily be a masterpiece. The story tends to drag and can be a chore to get through. Also, this is probably one of the most grim, violent and depressing books that I have ever read. Don’t expect to find any smiles or happy endings in this one. It’s definitely worth reading but I just get a feeling that it might turn you off completely from Faulkner. Might I recommend “As I lay Dying” instead? It is much shorter in length (not to imply that it lacks depth), very accessible, funny, heart-breaking, beautiful prose, easily my favorite novel by him so far. I have a review on my blog about it that you can read later if you want (contains spoilers). Well, that’s my two cents worth. Happy reading Julia! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jason: perfect!! I’m so glad you showed up to share your two cents with me. I needed them. I am encouraged by your comments, and especially by your recommendation of As I Lay Dying: I will definitely make that one my next Faulkner. Thanks for the encouragement. I will try to relax and let the prose wash over me. I’m already wondering whether the audio format will help or hurt my experience here. It’s certainly easier to let those sound waves flow than it is in print form; but print allows for easier referencing of the paragraph above. (Not to mention audio takes paragraphs away entirely.) Any thoughts?

      I really appreciate your help! Stay tuned.

  2. My pleasure! I hope that I didn’t discourage you too much from reading “Light in August” because it definitely has its moments of brilliance if one is willing to put forth the time and effort.

    To be honest, I have never listened to an audio reading of a novel before but upon further reflection, I would be curious to see how Faulkner’s prose and different Southern dialects are conveyed by the speaker(s). I’m still on the fence as to whether or not the audio format would be effective or detrimental to the actual novel–guess it depends on the quality of the person doing the reading and how true they are to the text.

    • Well, I remain trepidatious! But I will read it (listen to it) anyway!

      Okay, an audio-novice. No worries. There are pros and cons. (One major pro is that it greatly increases my “reading” time to listen to books on my commute and while I work out or clean the house [when I clean which is infrequent].) And you’re right, a good reader makes all the difference. I think this reader is good so far: atmospheric, and yes, we have the accents. It comes alive. We shall see. Of course, I generally either read or listen, so it’s rare that one gets to make a direct comparison of the two formats. But for a book that needs lots of going back and checking that earlier part, print is better. For atmosphere, and if I don’t need to be extremely particular in terms of detail, audio can be nice. (Because I can sometimes zone out a little.) And when there’s a truly remarkable reader, audio becomes the only way to go. I should do a post on the books I’ve listened to that simply must be audio. Hm. To come.

  3. You touch upon something that I forgot to mention concerning my ambivalence towards audio books: it seems far too easy to miss the subtleties or huge chunks of important stuff from the text if one isn’t completely focused. Although, I presume there is a rewind option? lol

    Oh yes, I would be very interested to know which audio-books you think are worth listening to!

    • You can rewind according to whatever your system is (CDs, mp3 player); mine is a little clunky. How much you miss is within your own power, obviously: do you pause the book when you have to search for a street sign in an unfamiliar neighborhood? etc. I like to think I do pretty well; but of course it depends on how engaged I am in the book.

      The post on the books you HAVE to listen to is coming, just for you! (It might be a little while. But it’s coming.)

  4. Just checking in to see how you are coming along with this one. Are you warming up to the book yet or did you end up tossing it aside in a fit of rage? ๐Ÿ˜›

    You definitely convinced me to give audio books a shot and I am very much looking forward to that list. thanks again! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I wouldn’t call it a fit of rage exactly, but your concern is indeed called for… I have some complaining comments coming on Monday. I’m really trying to like it…

      And it will take me a little while, but I’m working on the audio list for you! Glad to know you’re interested!

  5. […] the other hand, I took in Jason’s lovely, helpful comments on the book beginning I posted, and I am somewhat encouraged. Some of this will just turn out to be a matter of taste; […]

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