Why I Haven't Read "The Faerie Queene" by Edmund Spenser

Sorry, I haven't been very communicative the last few weeks! I've skipped Weekly Geeks and my Thursday is for Something New too many times. So I'm trying to be a good boy, now, and luckily Weekly Geeks is making it easy for me - this weeks question is an easy one:

I think just about every reader has a least one book that they've been meaning to read for awhile (months or even years) but, for one reason or another, they just haven't gotten around to it. Maybe it's a book a friend recommended last year, or a title you've flirted with in a bookstore on more than one occasion, or maybe it's a book that's sitting right there on your bookshelf, patiently waiting for you to pick it up -- but the thought is always there, in the back of your mind: Why haven't I read this yet?
This week, tell us about a book (or books) you have been meaning to read. What is it? How long have you wanted to read it? And, why haven't you read it yet?

I have wanted to read this book FOR.E.VER. I think the first time I thought so was late in high school, so that would make about 10-12 years, now. It's sitting on my shelf, staring at me, glowering at me even. It probably feels hurt. I've started reading it several times, even. And, the thing is, I've ENJOYED what I've read. But I've never finished it.

I latched onto this books for good reason. It has so many things I love in it. It's an epic poem, with folklore, religious symbolism, and rich, Elizabethan language. In the first book, an Arthurian knight-hero wounds a dragon who begins bleeding book pages (which is one of the most startling images in literature, btw, even if it's just anti-papacy stuff). This book is perfect for me.

It's very thick of course, and that has SOMETHING to do with my lack of finishing it. My copy is 1055 pages long, plus footnotes, and that's 1055 pages of old poetry, with old spelling and diction. Witness:

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armmes and siluer shielde,
Whereing old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde;
Reading the Faerie Queene is hard work.

I could make the argument that this is why I haven't read it. But I've read some hard books, after all, through my life, so it can't be only this. It's hard to read a book like this, these days, because my reading is mostly limited to what I squeeze in between other parts of my day (e.g., reading a chapter while stirring the soup, or in the hallway at work on my way to a ticket). That won't work with this book - I have to concentrate a little, and there's footnoes, lots of 'em. hard to read footnotes while walking down the hall (which isn't to say I've never done it...).

More than this, though, there's a feeling every time I've started the Faerie Queene, of a grand sweep that, while wonderfully attractive, is a little intimidating. Books with a grand sweep tend to fold me in and stick with me, to change me (witness, for instance, Lord of the Rings, Les Miserables, Wuthering Heights). And... I just don't know enough, I guess, to feel safe with that. Edmund Spenser is too far away, I don't know who he is. Victor Hugo, I know somewhat who he is, I have my ideas of him. Tolkien is the same. Emily Bronte... well, I won't get into my relationship with the Brontes. But, Edmund Spenser is long ago and far away, and there's something about walking hand in hand with someone into a big, grand world, that makes you want to feel you can trust them. Like I've talked about before, reading a book for me is as much an experience of a writer as of their writing.

I do have it on my list, and I intend to try to read it this coming year, actually (alongside my other two upcoming big-hard-books: Finnegan's Wake (which I reserve to right to reject if it ends up being total nonsense) and Capital). And I really do intend to read it. Maybe I NEED to learn from it, learn to trust people a little more, learn to enjoy a world for what it is and not for the God it serves (in literature, God being the author). We'll see. I dunno, though, look at the picture - doesn't Spenser kind of look like the Devil in a Tudor Collar?


farmlanebooks said...

The Farie Queen sounds very daunting. I can see why 1000+ pages of old poetry would be a fascinating labor of love though - good luck!

Jason Gignac said...

Well, we'll see. It won't be the first time I've said I'm going to read it :P.

Amanda said...

Have you considered doing this in audio? You have so much more listening time than reading time, and you're always looking for books to listen to, and I'm sure this would be on librivox...of course, the footnotes wouldn't be t here, but maybe if you listened to it first, and got a feel for it, then it would be easier to read with all those footnotes and stuff whenever you get to it in the future.

Jason Gignac said...

I thought about that - one, it would have to have a good reader who understood the language or it would be incomprehensible. Plus, the recording on Librivox is incomplete. Maybe.

lilly said...

The faerie Queene huh? That's very ambitious and I wish i had that determination. But then from the sound of it you actually enjoyed what you read. I had to read it for my college classes and I absolutely hated it. However, I think that now I'm older, know more, and don't actually have to read anything I might give it a second try.

gautami tripathy said...

As I love poetry..I write it too on my other blog..I think I ought to pick it up.

And if I pick it up, i definitely know, I will read it!

Weekly Geeks: Why haven't I read it yet?

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Lilly - Ah, you see, THAT is the advantage of dropping out of college early. I hardly started to hate ANYTHING. (No kids, that's not meant to encourage you to drop out of college. Stay in school! GI Joe says to work hard and get an education!)

Ms Tripathy - It's funny how little poetry is read anymore, isn't it? I've been musing about why a lot lately...

pussreboots said...

Just take the book a small chunk a week. Let it take you a year or longer to read but at least you'll get it done! Happy reading. My post is here.

Maree said...

I haven't read it either but good luck!
When I was at university, every year one of the professors would hold a day-long reading of it. Now you make me wish I'd gone to one.
Happy Weekly Geeks

Jason Gignac said...

pussreboots - Yeah, I know, I just need to dive in nd do it :P.

Maree - Honestly, that sounds like a perfect way to read a long poem!

Amanda said...

Unrelated to your post, Jase: you have an award: http://zenleaf.blogspot.com/2009/08/sunday-salon-bbaw-thanks-social.html

Kerrie said...

Now, that's one I have read, but decades ago. I read it for university English. The trick is really to hear it read but have the words in front of you at the same time.

Kristen said...

Your picks bring to mind other great classics I haven't read - all of Canterbury's tales, the Divine Comedy, the Illiad... best wishes on this one

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Kerrie - That would be great! Will you fly over and read it to me? :P

Ms Kristen - I reread the Iliad earlier this year, but I have Canterbury Tales on my list - I've never read it either

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" is harder to read than Milton's "Paradise Lost" or Shakespeare?