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Friday, September 11, 2009

Man Completes S.F. Public Reading of 'Finnegans Wake' in 29 Hours, 15 Minutes -- Nobody Knows Why

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 3:05 PM

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Several minutes before 6 p.m. yesterday in Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco writer Lars Russell read the final sentence of James Joyce's hilariously incomprehensible novel, Finnegan's Wake. Then, still gripping the tome, he executed a forward flip into the shrubbery, inadvertently ripping the cover.

Russell had been reading aloud for 29 hours and 15 minutes, sometimes by himself, sometimes surrounded by food-bearing friends and the occasional stranger. He had done this because of a proclamation he made at Finnegans Wake Popcorn, a recently dissolved Finnegans Wake reading club in the Haight. If he had no job, Russell explained to the members one night, he would attempt a comprehensive, public reading of the novel.

Less than two weeks later, he parted ways with his job as an editor at SPIN Earth, a San Francisco-based world music Web site  tied to Spin magazine. Russell's commitment to carry out the public reading was so freshly made that he was pretty much obligated to follow through.

So on Wednesday morning, Russell donned multi-colored socks and a pair of jeans inscribed with a red-ink excerpt from one of his own works of fiction and headed to Civic Center Plaza, across from the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. He stayed all day and all night and all day again, surrounded by piles of sweaters, bags of food, a record player box for change collection, bottles of water, sunscreen, and a pair of fingerless black gloves.

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SF Weekly paid Russell a visit around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon. By then, he was sweaty

and sunburned and seemed quite dazed. "Off with your Persians!" Russell read from page 533, mustering a certain amount of passion. "Search ye the finh! The Sinder's under shiving sheet. Fa Fe Fi Fo Fum! Ho croak evil doer!"

After several hot minutes of watching Russell's sweaty performance and answering rapid-fire questions from the rest of the audience -- a single curious bum -- it was time to get out of there. 

In a later interview about the experience, though, Russell said that although he finds Finnegan's Wake to be "a valid experiment in narrative," after reading the entire thing in one standing, out loud, he feels qualified in his assessment that the book simply doesn't work.

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Ashley Harrell

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