Finnegans Wake

by James Joyce

The Modern Library needs their heads examined. Finnegans Wake contains A) No character named Finnegan and B) No wake...unless you count the one you should have for your brain when it dies from reading this book.

I don't even know where to begin. One thing I have to be very clear about is: I DO ACTUALLY READ THIS BOOK! As much as I would love to fake my way through it and be a poseur, I actually do read the thing cover-to-cover—I might be one of the only people in the world who can say that—and it takes me a hell of a long time. I also must say here that, because this book's reputation precedes it, I decide early on to treat myself via the following scheme. For every chapter of Joyce I survive, I get to read a chapter from an Anne Tyler book. (I make it through both Back When We Were Grownups and Saint Maybe, by the way.) But all this habit does is leave me, upon completion of Finnegans Wake, with the distinct impression that Anne Tyler is a reactive schizophrenic who descends into a nightmarish alternate reality with regular periodicity (approximately every chapter or so)!

This book sucks. It's not anything written to be read. It was written to be written. I can think of a few other things in life that just exist for the sake of existence; shit, for example, is one. It isn't nice at all to put readers through this! I know Joyce thinks of Finnegans Wake as his masterwork, I know it took him 17 years to write, I know it is groundbreaking in that it's supposed to be about a night of sleep or a dream or whatever. And this is all OK. However, if you're going to do something innovative and attempt to capture the state of the brain across an entire night of sleep, do us all a favor and break that ground in 60 pages or less. Write a novella, for Christ's sake. Instead, James Joyce tortures us with 628 pages of nothing that makes any sense. I mean, James, wow, we are amazed that you can speak and write in 80 languages, that you are a master of every possible kind of play on words, and that you have a working knowledge of almost every kind of miscellany out there. But that is GOOD FOR YOU, not good for us. (I mean, if you met this guy at a party, your eye would be on the door the entire time! Let's face it: People like this bug.) So don't torture readers with your mental masturbation. Save it for some stained notebook to be released posthumously. (Scholars would analyze this notebook and conclude that James Joyce had succumbed to mental illness, no doubt.) I mean the Modern Library is on absolute drugs here. I defy Shelby Foote, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., or Gore Vidal to actually prove to Classic Bitch that they even read this book! There's no way they would rank it anywhere near the list of the best English-language novels of the 20th century if they had actually read it. After all, Finnegans Wake is neither best, nor in the English language (largely), nor even a novel! Liars!

Classic Bitch has said here that she reads this book cover-to-cover. What is funny is that in the introduction, John Bishop warns against this practice. That's right: A scholar of James Joyce actually warns would-be readers of Finnegans Wake AGAINST actually reading the book straight through. That should give you some indication of what Finnegans Wake is like, and if not, consider that clerks in the bookstore in which I purchase it try to dissuade me from buying it (true story). So how does Classic Bitch cope, you might ask? Here are some of the strategies I employ to make it through this particular concentric circle of hell. (The phrasing "concentric circle," by the way, is not applied for comedic effect. The book actually is a concentric circle. It starts and ends part way through the same sentence. To illustrate this fact better: The last word of the whole entire book is the word "the." *sigh*)

  1. One way to get through this book is to space out or think of other things while you read it. I mastered the art of doing this when I worked as a proofreader. In other words, you don't have to focus on content...nor will you want to. (I actually read part of this book while listening to the ALCS on the radio—poor Cleveland!) Reading Finnegans Wake is like doing the dishes. Use it as meditation time.
  2. Another coping mechanism I use is to read the words (in my head) with an Irish brogue. It's a form of giving up. It's like saying, "No, it doesn't make any sense, but I'm going to have fun with it anyway!"
  3. Here's another thing that helps. While I understand none of this book, I am yet convinced that most of it is about sex. Parts of Finnegans Wake are the way that a wet dream is "hot"...or in the way that Mick Jagger is "sexy." It's like...they're not...but they are...
  4. It's also helpful to conceptualize the book as having many uses! Aside from a doorstop, a booster seat, a paperweight, and the like, it can be used as a soporific. It is especially useful to pick up after a night of drinking. When your alcohol metabolizes at 3am, and nothing but nothing will get you back to sleep, reading Finnegans Wake works! I find this doubly meaningful being that it was A) Written by an Irishman and B) Supposed to be about sleep.

For the absolutely morbidly curious—and I do mean morbidly—here is a 100% randomly selected representative sentence from Finnegans Wake...[sic]:

"Here are the cottage and the bungalow for the cobbeler and the brandnewburgher:¹ but Izholde, her chaplet gardens, an litlee plads af liefest pose, arride the winnerful wonders off, the winnerful wonnerful wanders off,² with hedges of ivy and hollywood and bower of mistletoe, are, tho if it theem tho and yeth if you pleathes,³ for the blithehaired daughter of Angoisse."
"¹ A viking vernacular expression still used in the Summerhill district for a jerryhatted man of forty who puts two fingers into his boiling soupplate and licks them in turn to find out if there is enough mushroom catsup in the mutton broth.
² H' dk' fs' h'p'y.
³ Googlaa pluplu."

There. Now you can say you've read it. (I especially like footnote 3; it explains so much.) And by the way, that passage alone should be proof enough that Classic Bitch is keeping very good company with many prominent literary critics who believe that Finnegans Wake is the biggest joke James Joyce ever pulled on the public. Wake up, Modern Library: You guys have been played. Googlaa pluplu to all of you!