Me and Oprah’s book club: skipping ahead

I finished As I Lay Dying this afternoon, about two or three weeks behind schedule, at least according to Oprah’s Book Club’s schedule. Right now, I’m supposed to be halfway through The Sound and the Fury, but I don’t see me catching up anytime soon.

I did ultimately enjoy As I Lay Dying and I know I got a lot more out of it than I did when I first read it 20 some-odd years ago. In fact, judging by some of the things that happened that I simply do not remember at all, I wonder if I even managed to finish it way back when.

Still, the whole thing did (and does) feel a little like homework to me, complete with “Oprah’s classroom” and her staff of professor lecturers. (BTW, I did catch part of one of the lectures on The Sound and the Fury, and I like this professor– Thadious M. Davis, who has a fancy position at U of Pennsylvania— better than the last one). And, I don’t know, maybe a lot of the other people in Oprah’s little club are interested in that homework experience. Me, not so much. So since it isn’t likely to be on “the test,” I think I’m going to go ahead and skip it and go on to Light in August.

I have read The Sound and the Fury before, (slightly) more recently than As I Lay Dying and completely on my own.

It was the summer between my junior and senior years in college, when I was a night janitor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Other than my current job, this was probably the best gig I ever had– certainly it was my best short-time/summer job. The pay wasn’t great (though I do remember it being more than minimum wage), but I got plenty of hours, from 5 pm to 1 am, Monday through Friday, and, for the young person I was, those hours weren’t even that bad. I’d sleep until 10 or 11, do various things around town, go to work, and go back home where (inevitably) at least one of my housemates was still awake.

Some of the janitor work was kind of grim. Since it was a hospital, there were some areas that were kind of… ah… bloody. But 95% of the work involved cleaning things like bathrooms and offices and waiting rooms, and that work was easy. REALLY easy. I almost always worked alone, and if I worked at a decent pace, I could clean up my assigned area in about four or five hours, leaving me three or four hours to sit around. For me, that meant reading. Just about all of these waiting rooms had great magazines– The New Yorker, Smithsonian, National Geographic, etc.– so I read lot of those things. But I was an English major and aspiring writer after all, so I also read a lot of “literature,” mostly good books. I remember reading a bunch of T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, I think I read most of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, and, among all this other stuff, I read The Sound and the Fury.

To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about the book, and I don’t remember liking it that much. I remember it being a very difficult book for me to grasp, and I also remember someone advising me to keep in mind that the narrator for the first part of the book is retarded (Oprah’s web site refers to Benjy as “mentally challenged,” which strikes me as rather patronizing). Thumbing through it now, I remember that Benjy is watching some people play golf.

Anyway, maybe I’ll come back to The Sound and the Fury another time. The stuff on Oprah’s web site looks interesting and helpful, and it will probably be there for a while. But for now, on with Light in August.

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