It Took a Book Club 28 Years to Read a Single Book

They've gone through every page of 'Finnegans Wake'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2023 11:16 AM CDT
A Book Club Spent 28 Years Reading a Single Book
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/K1tyara)

Most book clubs tackle things one book at a time. Some might divide a particularly long read into chunks to discuss over months. One California book club broke their book into pages—reading and discussing a single page at a time. If you think that pace sounds glacial, you're not too far off: It took the group 28 years to finish the "famously difficult to understand" Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, reports the Orange County Register. Gerry Fialka started the book club in 1995 at the Venice branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and shifted to Zoom due to the pandemic. On Tuesday, the group met to talk about the very last page.

How long can people discuss a single page? "Two hours," Fialka says with a laugh. He explains how he responds when people find out he's in a book club and ask what the next book will be: There is no next book. Finnegans Wake's "last sentence ends midsentence, and then it picks back up at the beginning of the book. So it's like a run-on sentence that ends on Page 628, and then Page 3, the first page of text, it continues. So it's a cyclical book. It never ends." And as such, Tuesday wasn't the final time the group will meet. "The same thing will happen next month," says Fialka. "We'll read Page 3 again next ... There's nothing different, really."

Math suggests the group tackled an average of two pages a month, as 28 years times one page a month is just 336 pages. This June 1996 profile of the effort by the Los Angeles Times notes the group had only made it to Page 8, and it dives into some of what makes the book so difficult: "Joyce melded 60 languages into his playful prose, creating words such as 'bababadalgharaghta / kamminarronnkonnbronnton / nerronntuonnthunntrovarr / hounawnskawn toohoohoordenen thurnuk' [slashes inserted by Newser]—composed of fragments of words in various languages for 'thunder'—to indicate the first thunder, or the first phase of civilization." Fialka's effort isn't unprecedented: In 2015, the Boston Globe reported on a book club that had spent 18 years poring over that same book. (More James Joyce stories.)

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