It’s time for me to talk about my utterly meaningless and completely subjective rankings of the recent books I’ve read from the Time list.
If you’re new to the blog, this is a little exercise I do after every five novels. It allows me to explain why I ranked each novel where I did, with the understanding that, ultimately, ranking a list of novels like this is a pretty pointless endeavor. But I do it anyway, ’cause it’s fun.
So let’s take a look at the last 5 novels.
That was one of the strangest books I’ve ever read.
The Sot-Weed Factor is simultaneously entertaining and exhausting. It’s incredibly funny while also being incredibly frustrating.
The book seems to have countless obstacles to work through just to enjoy it.
Sometimes it’s just fun to read passages out of context.
You might not have read the book. You might not have any idea who the characters are. But, hey, these are awesome retweetable quotes!
Okay, the passages below are hardly tweetable. These Old English dialogue is taxing.
But in the context of The Sot-Weed Factor, these are a couple of my favorites.
Below, we have two of the main characters, Ebenezer Cooke and his former mentor—a fellow named Henry Burlingame—discussing Ebenezer’s slacker tendencies in the beginning of the novel.
The Sot-Weed Factor is great.
It’s definitely an acquired taste. At 700 pages, and with a unique, old-world style of writing, the novel isn’t a swift read.
To enjoy it, you’ll have to settle in and embrace these characters. It doesn’t hurt if you appreciate a quirky, twisted sense of humor (think Monty Python).
If I had to describe The Sot-Weed Factor in two words, those two words would be “prostitutes” and “poop.” Prostitutes and poop make up about half of the novel.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. In the passage below, the Poet Laureate of Maryland, Ebenezer Cooke, and his friend Henry have run into two men they believe to be pirates.
The Sot-Weed Factor is a book that’s difficult to appreciate. But when you do “get it,” you really appreciate it.
The novel’s style of humor reminds me of something you might see in Monty Python or The Princess Bride. It’s certainly a twisted satire.
For the life of me, though, I can’t see how this novel would ever translate to screen, big or small. It’s more than 700 pages, set in the 16th century, and includes dozens of stories within stories.
But Steven Soderbergh apparently likes a challenge. You know him as the director of the Oceans 11/12/13 movies, Traffic, Magic Mike, and a crapload of others. Earlier this year, he told Entertainment Weekly that he’ll be adapting The Sot-Weed Factor into a series containing 12 one-hour episodes.
Forget about all my negativity on Tuesday about The Sot Weed Factor. Yes, the Old English style is tiring. Yes, it’s wordy and archaic.
And, yes, that’s the point. It is satire, after all. I think I’m starting to grasp a little of what Barth is trying to do with this novel. Part of his satirical brilliance is illustrated in the form of the chapter titles.
We all know that no self-respecting literary-minded novelist uses chapter titles, right? If anything, they simply enumerate the chapters and nothing else, right?
Wrong! Not John Barth, at least.
Not only does John Barth use chapter titles, he uses extremely wordy chapter titles that pretty much say everything.
Tell me if these aren’t the best chapter titles you’ve ever read.
Have you ever opened a book and, after a few sentences, thought, “Oh my gosh. What have I gotten myself into?”
It’s a question I have asked myself in the early pages of reading The Sot-Weed Factor, a 700-page beast of a novel. At the outset, I was excited about the prospect of this novel. It’s a satire, and I love satires.
But Catch 22 this is not.
The Sot-Weed Factor opens its 700+ pages with this passage:
I now begin a 700 page novel. I don’t know if I’m ready for this.
The Sot-Weed Factor is a “satirical epic” written by John Barth. It tells the story of Ebenezer Cooke, a poet laureate, on his travels from London to colonial Maryland in the late 1600s.
A few quick facts about The Sot-Weed Factor and John Barth:
I always try and keep you guys posted on what I’m reading ahead of time. That way, you can read along with me if you choose to.
When I finish with this next round of 5 novels, the 101 Books project will basically be two-thirds of the way complete. That’s insane! I can’t believe it.
You already know about A Death In The Family, as I previewed it last week. But here are the other four novels that are on the way–in no particular order.