Author I haven’t read yet: William Faulkner

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.
– William Faulkner 

William Faulkner

Last time I wrote one of these posts I admitted that I’ve never read anything by Raymond Chandler. This time it’s William Faulkner.

Despite having several Faulkner books on my shelf, I have yet to pick any of them up and actually start reading. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always heard that they are tough books to get through. I’m intimidated. There I said it. And I know I’m not alone on that one. In fact, I came across an article entitled “How To Read Faulkner“, so I know there are others like me who feel that they might not “get” Faulkner. At least, not on the first try.

But I can’t let that be my excuse forever, can I?

I was talking to a friend recently who mentioned that he started reading As I Lay Dying and really wasn’t loving it. He said that maybe he just wasn’t a Faulkner fan. I told him that it’s probably best not to make that kind of broad statement until he’s read a few more of Faulkner’s books (easy for me to say, having never read ANY). That conversation lit a fire under my ass. Time to get reading.

William Faulkner reading list:

The Sound and the Fury
As I Lay Dying
A Rose for Emily
Absalom, Absalom

Did I miss any Faulkner titles that you think I should definitely read? Which one should I start with? I’d appreciate any advice.

And speaking of advice, here are some words of wisdom direct from Mr. Faulkner on what it takes to be a good novelist:

“Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.”

(Source: Paris Review)

3 Comments
  • Kullervo
    May 7, 2014

    Well, other than “A Rose for Emily” which is a short story, you have listed what are probably three of Faulkner’s most difficult novels. They’re phenomenal (Absalom, Absalom! may be my favorite novel ever), but they’re a lot of work. I don’t think there’s harm in starting with something more readily enjoyable, to get the taste of Faulkner in your mouth.

    The Reivers won a Pulitzer, and while it’s certainly characteristic Faulkner in that it tends to wordiness, it’s also a relatively straightforward narrative (picaresque!) and a damn fun read. And it certainly grapples with the same themes as his other novels. The Hamlet would do as well, although it is more sprawling in focus.

    Light in August is one of the better Faulkner novels, certainly a challenging novel on par with the ones you have listed, but it’s not as much work to read.

    Go Down, Moses is tricky, because it depends on whether you think it’s a collection of short stories or a novel disguised as a collection of short stories. If it’s the latter, and I think it is, then (in my opinion) it ranks right up there with The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! Plus, it includes “The Bear” which is a short story (novella?) that is quite possibly peerless.

  • Kullervo
    May 7, 2014

    Oh, and I don’t particularly love As I Lay Dying. It’s a great novel, but it’s a bit of an odd duck among the rest of Faulkner’s corpus.

  • florence
    May 7, 2014

    Thank you SO much for this! I feel much more prepared now.

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