Suggestions For Anyone Who’s Going to Read Blood Meridian With Us

Before I finally got through Blood Meridian, a book that feels much, much longer than it is, I had several false starts. Today my goal is to give you all a couple of suggestions that will make your first encounter with the book an encounter that will see you finishing it in triumph, not tossing it into the fire in despair and cursing your own reading comprehension ability. I’m half joking. You’ll see.

1. Read Blood Meridian slowly

We’re only going to be discussing one chapter at at time. That’s by design, even though some of the chapters are quite short. Read one chapter, come over here and see what everyone has to say about it, add your own observations if you’re comfortable doing so, and recharge for the next 20 pages or so.

The structure of the book is unusual. The sentences are unusual. And many of the sentences are quite long and the clauses just keep coming and pretty soon, if you’re going too quickly, you can’t remember how the sentence started, and so the point of the sentence has vanished by the time you hit the period at the end.

The way you feel while you’re reading it is unusual. And the words are unusual.

On that note:

2. Keep a dictionary handy

Self explanatory, yes yes yes?

Seriously, this is a book where anyone not named Cormac McCarthy is going to encounter many words they’ve never heard of. And you’re not going to pick them up from the context. Skip over “Suzerain” one too many times and your brain is going to fatigue, betray you, and suddenly the reading is going to feel more difficult than it needs to.

Also, it’s just fun to learn words, please take the opportunity.

3. Try not to rush ahead

If you can’t stand waiting, you can’t stand waiting, but I’d recommend going step by step and seeing what the group has to say. I wish I had taken more time on my first few tries.

4. Ask questions if you have them!

However! Some answers just aren’t there, so we’ll be doing a lot of speculating. McCarthy seems, in my opinion, to write BM in defiance of just about every interpretation we can impose on it. There’s nearly always something to contradict any idea I try to put on it.

And if you ask a question that does have an answer, but I know the answer comes later in the book, I’ll probably just say “Wait (please),  for that is the way of the universe.”

But ask. I will.

5. Stop if you absolutely hate it

I’m not kidding.

This will be my 10th time through Blood Meridian, and each time, part of me wonders why I’m doing it again. That’s my own goal this time around: to actually figure out why the books haunts me the way it does.

The first time I actually finished it, I was so wrung out emotionally that I wasn’t sure what had happened. This sensation has only gotten keener with each subsequent reading. I hate it, and I love it. It is my favorite and least favorite book.

As the calamities pile up, page after page, and as you realize that it’s 1) not going to relent; and 2) it’s probably only going to get worse, try to be honest enough to ask yourself whether it’s worth finishing it.

I do want to mention, at this early stage, that the body count, while very high, has very, very little graphic violence. The book reads kind of like the Bible. You might skip a paragraph and realize that a whole town is now empty. But the events of the book are presented as something of a recitation of chaotic happenings.

Basically, there’s not a whole lot of detail. This is part of what makes it so disturbing. When something truly awful happens, you’re pretty much just told “And then this happened” and that’s about how much ink McCarthy spills to tell you about it. And then you’re on to the next incident. I hope that doesn’t scare you off.

McCarthy is a dedicated pessimist. If you’re very sensitive to what you read, just know that there’s no rainbow just around the bend.

PS: This is a rave review, even though it doesn’t look like one!

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11 thoughts on “Suggestions For Anyone Who’s Going to Read Blood Meridian With Us

    • Hey Boris. It’s going to be tomorrow. My offering, that is. Then Spencer (d2) will take as long as he needs to respond with his own post. In the meantime we’ll be talking about whatever there is to talk about. I expect that we’ll spend this week on Chapter 1 and 2.

  1. The dictionary is going to be a must. Words from chapter 1 alone.

    [Latin parricida killer of a close relative, from parri- (perhaps akin to Greek pēos kinsman by marriage) + -cida -cide] : one that murders his or her father, mother, or a close relative
    [Latin parricidium murder of a close relative, from parri- + -cidium -cide] : the act of a parricide

    (defined as “privy,” which gives you)

    a : a small building having a bench with holes through which the user may defecate or urinate b : toilet 3b
    : a person having a legal interest of privity

    (But “jake” is also)
    : a sexually immature male wild turkey under two years old

    : cudgel (a short heavy club)
    See shillelagh defined for kids »
    Variants of SHILLELAGH
    shil·le·lagh also shil·la·lah
    Examples of SHILLELAGH

    Origin of SHILLELAGH
    Shillelagh, town in Ireland
    First Known Use: 1772

    Many of these words date back to the 15 and 1600s. You know it’s bad when the definition of the word you are looking up uses another word that you are also not familiar with. You should keep the dictionary right handy. It is not enough to just write down unfamiliar words as you go (as I did originally). There will be too many, for one. Not a discouragingly large number, but enough that you are going to need to refer to it sometimes or you will be lost.

  2. I got it all fired up on my Kindle and ready to take the journey. You make it sound sooo not like a book I’d like to read, but I trust my librarian and fellow dunce to not steer me wrong. Sometimes you’ve got to make the stretch. One of my favorite books was so heart-wrenching it made me never want to read it again, but I still count it among my favorites. A beautiful thing about the Kindle is that you can look up the words while you’re reading. I discovered this feature was the ultimate necessity while reading David Foster Wallace for the first time.

      • 1. House of Sand and Fog by Andrew Dubus II. It was a fascinating tragedy where no one was wrong and therefore, no one could be right or the winner in the end. It was made into a movie, but like most movies, not as good as the best book. It took me a long time to work up the time and emotional strength to watch the movie. It still haunts me years after reading it.

        2. Looking up words on Kindle – you use your little 4 -way direction button to scroll to the beginning of the word you want to know. The definition will pop up (unless it’s really, really obscure). You can thereafter hit the back arrow button and it’ll take you to the full definition or extra meanings. It saved me hours of flipping back and forth between two giant books while reading Infinite Jest.

  3. I finished this book this past summer and had much the same feelings towards it. It felt like I was wading through it and good grief do something besides wiping out whole villages of indians already.

    That said, the first few chapters were great and it will be interesting to read the analysis of each chapter and rethink. Like you said it really is a love hate book, I wanted to hate it especially in the last third or so, but I liked it enough to want to finish it and just see what happened.

    Thanks for the discussion, this should be fun.

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