Oprah, Bill Faulkner, and Me: As I Lay Dying

I’m pretty far behind on my Oprah Book Club homework for reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. I have a variety of excuses, not the least of which is I have to wrap up my teaching by tomorrow. So I’ll just mention a few things about my reading for now:

  • I have memories (not necessarily vivid, but memories) of reading As I Lay Dying as a freshman in college. I think I had read a Faulkner short story or two when I was in high school, but I’m pretty sure that this was the first Faulkner novel I had read. What I remember about reading it 20 years ago now was that I liked it, but there was a lot that I just flat-out didn’t get. This time around, I feel like I am understanding quite a bit more of it, which makes sense since I’m a much more experienced and better trained reader than I was way back when. Better still, this book really holds up for me. Faulkner is one bad-ass writer, that’s for sure.
  • Oprah’s web site has all kinds of stuff about Faulkner and approaching the book, much of which is useful and much of which isn’t. I think I’m particularly put off by the “Faulkner expert,” Robert W. Hamblin. His bio indicates that he’s certainly qualified, but in his video lectures (which don’t really work well on my broadband connection), he looks and sounds and acts to me like someone from the Oprah show called central casting and said “get me an English professor, stat!” Plus I find his critical approach problematic: he’s all about the biography of Faulkner, he’s about saying things like “this is what this novel is about,” and some of the questions he decides to answer strike me as nit-picky to the extreme. For example, one of the questions was “How old are the Bunden children?” Hamblin goes on and ON and on answering this, when it seems to me the real answer should be something like “Well, it goes from oldest to youngest Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, and Vardaman is either a lot younger than the other kids in the family or he has some kind of mental retardation or something. That’s all you really need to know.”
  • Actually, the best piece of advice I saw on the web site for reading the book came from a fellow club member. He wrote (in part) “I think all this talk about the genious Faulner is (sic) may be intimidating. The best thing I can think of to say is take each chapter simply for what it says at face value. If Vardaman says his mother is a fish, just go along with it, and say “okay….” When things start to get confusing, rather than stop, just keep on going until you find something that really does seem to make sense, really does grab your attention. Then take that point and start to think about why it is interesting, just what made you notice it.

One thought on “Oprah, Bill Faulkner, and Me: As I Lay Dying”

  1. This is sort of embarasing, but I’ve actually never read any of his books. The advice about the intimidating aspect of reading him also applies to Joyce. When I read Ullyses a few months ago, the intimidation facter took a while to get past.

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