Tag Archives: william faulkner

The Art of the Sentence: “As I Lay Dying.”

The always-wonderful Tin House blog recently featured a nice post by Shane Jones on a single haunting sentence from Faulker’s As I Lay Dying:

Few single lines have haunted me more than this one, first read during a snow storm when I was twenty years old and living in Buffalo. I remember lying on my dorm room bed and the exact position of my body. Great sentences do this to a person – they stop time and freeze everything around you.

The sentence from the novel, if you already curious: “Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks.”

Jones makes a particularly astute observation about this novel, I think: “What makes As I Lay Dying such a powerful book isn’t the structure and voice that many put front and center when discussing the novel, but the song-like electricity and agile brilliance of each sentence.” Such beauty even struck my otherwise aesthetically-challenged high school sensibilities when I read As I Lay Dying in AP Lit. Maybe it’s past time for a re-read.

JJS on William Faulkner

The always insightful John Jeremiah Sullivan turns in a piece for the New York Times about William Faulkner, race, and Absalom, Absalom—as it turns out, it’s to be part of the introduction to the new volume of the novel.

JJS’s analysis is astute. I read this impenetrable book a few years ago, and probably would have been greatly benefited from a lucid introduction like this. The text I read—Faulkner’s corrected text—lacked any critical introduction. There were a few editor’s notes, mostly on textual notes, though, and there were genealogies and an overview of the characters. My tastes in Faulkner’s work may veer more traditional, as I still think Light in August is his finest novel.

Anxiety is Omnivorous; or, Can Reading Ever Be Bad For You?

I would recommend  this fantastic piece over at Guernica. It’s about the anxiety of the writer Daniel Smith, which prompts many questions about anxiety generally. Somehow I missed this one (it was published a little less than a month ago).

But it’s a must-read.

Smith has written about anxiety for the New York Times and has a forthcoming memoir about his experience with anxiety, Monkey Mind. He also has a great website. It’s hard to imagine someone who knows more about the topic. His writing sounds like a little more intellectual version of Nerve by Taylor Clark (a version with a bit more—or at least more severe—personal experience). Said Smith, in the article:

“If I had money, and space, and glory, would I still be anxious? I believe I would be, yes. I’m certain I would. Anxiety is omnivorous. Or at least my anxiety is. It feeds on what’s available.”

Besides this being a great piece of journalism by Katie Ryder, the story features an interesting comment Smith made in the article about what was “available” for the anxiety to feed on. In part, it seemed, it was books:

He found that James, Faulkner, O’Connor, Cheever, DeLillo, Gaddis, and Pynchon caused the icicle in his chest. Hemingway, Bellow, Updike, Doctorow, and Styron melted it away.

Do some writers tend to produce anxiety in readers while others “[melt] it away”? Or it an entirely personal? Reading this made me remember a somewhat parallel discussion in J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello:

Specifically, she [Elizabeth] is no longer sure that people are always improved by what they read. Furthermore, she is not sure that writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul always return unscathed. She has begun to wonder whether writing what one desires, any more than reading what one desires, is in itself a good thing.

The point I am considering is slightly different—slightly broader and probably dumber—than Elizabeth’s concern. Yet: What exactly is “bad” for a reader? Is there any consistency to it? Can’t we say that a book that’s “good” for someone is “bad” for another?  And if that’s true, then what are we supposed to then think of it? If TV melts people’s brains, why couldn’t certain books do something similar? Even—gasp—some literary fiction? Or is it simply a problem of venturing into certain territories (as Elizabeth seems to suggest) of the “desires”?

Obviously I certainly don’t have any answers to these questions. I like to think that constant reading is a method of self-improvement. At least, I suppose we should be careful with—as we would with what we eat—what we are putting into our bodies.