An Intimidating Classic Book (The Classics Club November Meme)

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It’s the end of November, and here I am finally getting to this month’s question from The Classics Club:

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)

I try not to get intimidated by books, but sometimes, certain ones do give me pause. For example, I was worried about reading Anna Karenina until I started actually opened it and realized how thoroughly engrossing it was.  I normally try not to give myself reasons not to want to read a book, but there’s one classic book that does intimidate me: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

When I took my course on Samuel Beckett, we discussed some other Irish writers, including Joyce.  I remember the professor telling us a brief story about how Joyce apparently dictated parts of the novel to Beckett, which led to the book having at least one phrase that Joyce said – but hadn’t meant to dictate – included in the text.

But doesn’t really explain why Finnegans Wake intimidates me.  It’s all about the prose.

Finnegans Wake has the reputation of having some the most complicated prose of any English-language work, with elements including sentence fragments, portmanteau words, and puns.  And this isn’t to mention its apparent plethora of literary references.  From what my professor told us about the book and from what I’ve read about it on my own, I almost feel as though I wouldn’t be able to read more than a page of it without getting lost.

But because Finnegans Wake does intimidate me, this is all the more reason to give it a try.

At this point, I’m thinking of tackling Finnegans Wake sometime after completing my Classics Club challenge.  I don’t currently have any Joyce books on my list, so I’ll probably read one or two of his books before venturing into this one.  If you’ve read Finnegeans Wake, what did you make of it?  Do you have any advice for me about reading it?

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9 thoughts on “An Intimidating Classic Book (The Classics Club November Meme)

    • Yes, I think I’ll try one of Joyce’s shorter works, then Ulysses, then Finnegans Wake. Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll be sure to check out your post as well!

  1. From what I’ve read about Finnegans Wake, I have to say I’m not really interested in reading it. Not so much because it sounds intimidating as because I’m not sure that I want to make the effort. If I were to change my mind though, I’d definitely read Joyce’s other works first. (I think I might have one on my Classics Club list already.) I’ve read that it’s best to work your way into Joyce gradually, starting with his short stories, then Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man followed by Ulysses before ending with Finnegans Wake. I’ve also read that Joyce is easier to understand when pronounced with an Irish accent!

    • Thanks for the advice! I completely understand why someone wouldn’t be interested in Finnegans Wake, and sometimes I question why I want to read it. I would like to give it a try because I like a good challenge but also largely because I really enjoy Irish literature and culture. I’ll certainly have to imagine the Irish accent in my head!

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