Finnegan's Wake: A Decoder Ring

Before plunging into Finnegan's Wake (still the perennial champion of Literary Labyrinths) I exclaimed to a few friends, 'I'm going in!', so strong the impulse to let someone know where I was going should I never return. (More erudite readers than I have disappeared in the Dubliner's Bermuda Triangle). Like many, I found myself intrigued but also nonplussed by the seemingly lunatic locution and began (somewhat embarrassingly) a search for commentaries, something I rarely do prior to reading a work. Thankfully, before becoming too mired in Joycian conjecture (where labyrinth becomes Gordian Knot) I stumbled across a short essay by James Stephens, a friend and, more importantly, desired accomplice: James Joyce, afraid of not completing his life's work, asked Stephens to finish Finnegan's Wake for him in case death preceded publication. So, it is with no small authority that Stephen's offers the following as, perhaps, the best decoder I've yet discovered:

Every other prose book is written in prose. This book is written in speech.

Speech and prose are not the same thing. They have different wavelengths, for speech moves at the speed of light, where prose moves at the speed of the alphabet, and must be consecutive and grammatical and word-perfect. Prose cannot gesticulate. Speech can sometimes do nothing else.

Finnegan's Wake is all speech. Now it is soliloquy; now it is dialogue; it becomes at times oration and tittle-tattle and scandal, but it is always a speech, and however it be punned upon by all the European and a few of the Asiatic tongues, it is fundamentally the speech that used to be Dublin-English.

- James Stephens, 'Finnegan's Wake', The Oxford Book of Essays

James Salter's Favorite Books and Writers

I was at the time under the spell of books which were brief but every page of which was exalted, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying. This sort of book, like those of Flannery O'Connor, Marguerite Duras, Camus, remains my favorite.

- James Salter, Burning The Days

From The Paris Review Interview:

(Nabokov) Admirable writer. One of a kind. When did he write Speak, Memory? I read chapters in The New Yorker and was struck immediately by the voice. Of course, here’s a poet. You say to yourself, Vladimir, let’s be honest. You are a poet, and you’re just writing a lot of prose. It’s quite good, but we know what you’re really interested in. Speak, Memory seems to me eminently that kind of book. I think, all in all, it’s his best ... It can be read and reread. The notions in it, the leaps of imagination and the language are essentially poetic. When I first read him I said to myself, Well, you might as well quit. But you forget about that after a while ... I’ve nothing but admiration for (Graham) Greene ... (Isaac Babel) has the three essentials of greatness: style, structure, and authority. There are other writers who have that, of course—Hemingway, in fact, had those three things. But Babel particularly appeals to me because of the added element of his life, which seems to me to give his work an additional poignancy ... Of all the stories I have read, the greatest number that are near the top come from Babel and Chekhov.