Very important rule on writing

Ulysses keeps getting mentioned on the masterpiece list, but let us not forget that Joyce also authored what must be the alpha and omega of word-make-uppage, Finnegan’s Wake. It’s goodness value on xkcd’s scale must be infinitesimal.

As for works where word-manufacturing makes good, I am put in mind of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. The fractured and refabulated English is really essential to what that book is doing–essential for certain turns (the whammy Riddley gets from his interview with Goodparley) and for its overall cumulative effect. Also a good example of a highly idiosyncratic genre-busting book that is also a good read. I mean, if you are in to that sort of thing…


P.S. I once worked as a volunteer reader for people with disabilities, and I had this one guy who was not able to read effectively for himself because of some kind of dyslexia. He had read a bit outloud for me at some point by way of demonstration, so I knew what that was like. So, one day, I asked him read the opening pages of Finnegan’s Wake. Not (just) to be cruel, mind you, but because I was curious how much the root of his problem was being compounded by performance anxiety. Result? He read Finnegan’s Wake very well–significantly better than he read “normal” text. When you set in to read something like that outloud all bets are off and you just have to channel text and see what you hear. And so it was.

Absolutely; LeGuin is an American treasure, and The Wizard of Earth-Sea is the best book ever for hooking adolescents on reading. Also:
John Crowley’s Little, Big, and others.
Arthur Phillips’ Egyptology.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.


A knock-out, once you get into the flow of the language. I remember what a visceral jolt it was, near the end, when I was fluent in Walkerese, suddenly to come upon a passage in modern English.


Indeed, I came within a hair’s breadth (hare’s breath!) of mentioning The Wake as counter-evidence to the original argument (which, as you put, would place it so far off the scale it would shatter the scale attempting to measure it), but then decided against it because it doesn’t actually fit within the classification. In fact, the (debatable madness) genius of Finnegans Wake is that nearly everything is rooted from various other words (often very old forms, and coming from a wide variety of languages and their respective evolutions) which in turn form phonetic sounds which when joined together with other word roots create more recognisable English words (though sometimes the formations create obscure etymologies that require research for any mortal reader to fully capture the meaning), giving the sound-a-like word amalgam the meaning of the word in English, plus the meanings of the various roots employed from different languages in forming it, which are then further modified in meaning by the types of combinations arranged around the immediate surroundings, all feeding off of each other—which are then in turn modified and expanded by the monstrously opaque, so called, hundred-letter (plus one, in the last case) Thunderwords which appear sporadically (and meant to invoke a linguistic awe similar to an early human, transfixed by the electric tumoult of a stor), and are themselves full of fascinating root word combinations which can be thought of as chapter titles, and chapters all in themselves.

If Joyce had just manufactured new words, it would have destroyed the entire purpose of the book. Every sound and root has an intertwined and yes, quite mad, amount of fractal meaning with everything around it. One false word, one meaningless sound, would render impotent an entire section of text. Text that, as it stands, has three, four, sometimes even five meanings all at once depending upon how you read it.

Your experiment is very interesting! I once read that reading the Wake should only ever be done aloud. I’m not sure I agree with that, because some passages are so dense you could study them for years at a snails pace, but I do think there is definitely merit for hearing the text being spoken—even if incorrectly. Since then, I have always used a pocket recorder to capture bits of it as I read it aloud, and then go back and play it as I read again. It’s an interesting and fun way to go about it.

A few years back I was fortunate enough to see a very early portion of text. A little paper-bound Work in Progress, signed by Joyce himself. It lived in the rare text room at Powells for a short time. The thing that was interesting about it is that it was written fairly early in the process, and most of it was still “understandable” English. Pity I didn’t have $3,000 in my pocket—or maybe it is a good thing I didn’t, because I surely would have parted with it.

At any rate, Finnegans Wake is hardly a text for anyone. The underlying story is buried so fascinatingly deep that I dare say anyone approaching it without aid of commentary might never even discover it, and you could reasonably argue that whatever subterranean story exists down there is only tangentally relevant, being so modified and fractalised by the prose. So perhaps, on that level, it’s a bad book. I will say this: It’s the only book that has captured me completely ever since the first time I picked it up, and I know deep down that it will remain a fascination with me until my sight goes dim, I can no longer read a word, and my arthritic, palsied fingers can no longer turn a page. Good or bad, that’s got to say something, and screw any charts that say otherwise!

Alex would only be worried if she wasnt!! :laughing: :laughing: I may be mad, but Im not bad :wink:

As for reality sucking…well, I am firmly of the opinion, that the mind-boggling facets of reality, far outweigh the sucky bits. Hard to accept sometimes, I know, but I think it`s true. :smiley:
Take care

As someone who has Ulysses sitting on his bookshelf but who has only ever dipped into it (and with more than some degree of trepidation), your future arthritic, palsied fingers have just made me want to try to wade through Finnegan’s Wake.

I have to say a big thank you to valente.mac for introducing me to…. Though it has held the development of Scrivener 1.5 back by a day because I’ve been going through all those cartoons and laughing my arse off… Which just goes to show what a geek I am.


A small return for such a nice application, Keith. :smiley:

XKCD is one of my favorite procrastination sites.

And, btw, I’m not to blame for the 1 day delay on Scrivener 1.5 update.


If you just ignore him Alex, Jaysen will shoot of at a tangent :slight_smile:
Take care


I reccomend William Gibson and the Neals (Gaiman, Stephenson).

Gaiman is a Neil, not a Neal.