Colorful prose

My friend Jim Donahue sent me a link to this interesting story about a limited edition of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury that is color coded to facilitate reading the Benjy section of the book.   I love stuff like this!

I’ve long thought this Faulkner novel to be one of the most original and powerful works of American literature.  There are passages that have stayed with me through the years with a clarity  that is startling (especially given my famously poor memory).  But even so, it is a book that leaves you feeling like you’ve had the mental workout equivalent of a boot camp session run by the Louis Gossett, Jr., character in  An Officer and a Gentleman.  Which is why I get such a kick out of color coding the disjointed, stream-of-consciousness, Benjy section.

Of course, this piece makes me wonder what else should be color coded to help the reading process.  I’m thinking Kant’s work could use some fuschia and lime text to help us with the categorical imperative.  And, man, you’d need to invent new shades for Finnegans Wake. 

What books have you found so impenetrable that you need a rainbow of highlighters to keep track of things?

4 Responses to Colorful prose

  1. Chet says:

    Conceptually it intrigues me.

    In actuality, it’d probably be mental harassment to me. I have synaesthesia as it is, so trying to read whole pages of a novel which is color-blocked like that would not facilitate my reading at all.

    Though for others, it sounds like a bright idea.
    Innovation and progress never cease to amaze me.

  2. 14 colors sounds like a lot for most people to track, based on my own experience. I have a Bible that is sort of like this. Every verse is highlighted to show whether it is prophecy, history, law, or related to a specific theme like sin, salvation, judgment, etc. I don’t remember what any of the colors mean, and though I could flip to the guide in the front, I find that takes me out of processing the text, which is the most important feature.

    I imagine color-coding could be useful to keep track of a few things in certain books. For example, a book with lots of flashbacks or references to past events could have those color-coded. Unreliable narrators could have their lies or half-truths indicated (although that would take out all the fun for the reader!). I think no matter what, though, you’d have to stick to a few colors only for most readers. Casual readers won’t want to deal with more than that.

    Scholars, on the other hand, would probably love things like this Faulkner edition.

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    IMHO, “The Sound and the Fury” was nothing more than a tour de force, an opportunity for the author to show off. The first time I read it, I thought, “How long can he keep this up?” Well, he did, but is there anything to it?

    I believe a piece of writing requires an underlying framework, but, like the frame of a house, it should not be visible (or even evident).
    What’s that phrase from the musical “Gypsy”? You’ve gotta have a gimmick.

    Color coding is another gimmick: Look what we can do. If the work requires that much effort and interpretation…maybe the writer has failed in his primary mission: to communicate.

  4. Anonymous says:

    When Joyce was living in Paris, he persuaded the American author Robert McAlmon to type out ‘Ulysses’ for him. Unfortunately it was still very much a work in progress and Joyce kept coming up with new material to be inserted into the ms. There were so many of these that he ended up colour-coding them – there were revisions of revisions of ….inserts. Later he accused McAlmon of being sloppy. I know who I felt sorry for!

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