The Confederacy of Dunces Project

Have you ever been wrong?  About a book?  I am sad to say that I have been.  Wrong.  Terribly wrong.  More recently than I would really care to confess.  But I am here to make amends.

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole came to me most highly recommended by someone whose literary opinion I value immensely.  And, to this day, I’m not sure whether it was the mood I was in or the place I was in my life or what I had eaten for lunch, but for some reason, I didn’t like the book.  At all.  Did not connect with it, did not appreciate it, certainly didn’t find it funny, and would even have gone so far as to say that I hated the book.  Was repulsed by it.  Detested it.  I don’t even know how far into the book I got before I made this assessment.  But I discarded it, with prejudice and (what I thought, at the time, was) permanence.

Time went by.

I found myself thinking about the book.

I found myself thinking about the person that had recommended the book and how they felt about the book.

It gnawed at me.  Haunted me.  I couldn’t get my feelings and his opinion/recommendation to coincide.

So I decided to give the book another chance.  Tentatively.  Circumspectly.  I was committed, not necessarily to read the whole thing no matter what, but to at least give it another try.  And I am so glad that I did.

Now, I don’t want to do for any of you what his glowing recommendation did for me.  I don’t want to oversell it.  Don’t get me wrong, I recommend it wholeheartedly.  This second attempt at the book really grabbed me, and I tore through the entire thing in short order.  This time through, I both loved and found it hilarious.  But you have to proceed with caution.

This is a book that grows on you.  The humor builds.  It only makes sense in the context of the book as a whole.  The more you read, the more context you have, the more the characters make sense, the more preposterous and hilarious it all seems.  But it’s not obvious humor.  It is subtle.  And dependent on mood.  And maybe not everyone could find it funny.  It may not be for everyone.  But I tried it once, and hated it.  Then tried it again, “got” and loved it.  Maybe the same could be true for you.

Now, the humor really is context-specific, but just as a sampling, the main character, Ignatius, says this of Mark Twain:

Mark Twain preferred to lie supinely in bed while composing those rather dated and boring efforts which contemporary scholars try to prove meaningful.  Veneration of Mark Twain is one of the roots of our current intellectual stalemate.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I find it hard not love a character that would feel that way about Mark Twain.

Later, this same Ignatius offers the following, which I am sure any dunce in our midst can appreciate:

I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.


There is a funny bit about “a desperately old male librarian who saw a light in a window of the lecture hall and hopefully came in to escape the cold and the horrors of his personal hell.”  I know this probably delighted Dunce One especially.

And of course who isn’t outraged by how Hollywood “flaunt[s] vulgarity in the face of theology and geometry, taste and decency”?

And so much more…

Don’t be off-put by how outrageous and repulsive the main character is.  That’s all part of it.  And again, that’s not to say it’s for everyone.  You may well hate this book.  I did once, and if you try it, and it’s not for you, I get it, I don’t blame you, and I won’t take offense.

BUT…if it holds any interest for you, and you are intrigued by the fact that both dunce one and dunce two endorse it as a very favorite, here is what I am going to do:

(1)  I have a copy, which I am donating to the cause.

(2)  If you are interested in giving it a whirl, respond to this post, and I will give it to you.

(3)  All I ask in return is that you give it a try, with an open perspective, and all of the above in mind.

(4)  When you are done, please write your name in the front cover, the date you finished the book, and any remarks or thoughts you may have.

(5)  Finally, please then return the book to me, or send it to someone else on the list that hopefully develops here, or give it to a local dunce in your midst that would take all of the above to heart.

I hope this will be fun, enjoyable, and enlightening for all of us.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

22 thoughts on “The Confederacy of Dunces Project

  1. Let’s not dance around it. I recommended it to you and accept your lengthy apology. There’s hope for you yet.

    Just to throw another quote out there that for some reason I still remember:

    “I suspect that you imagine Turkey in the Straw’ to be a valuable bit of Americana. Well, it is not. It is a discordant abomination.”

    • Okay, so that would have been a more succinct approach.

      That quote was great; one of my laugh-out-loud favorites.

      Would that I could get away with being as eccentrically irate.

  2. Okay, now I can’t stop with the quotes:

    “Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking.”

    “Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.”

      • Yes—Toole loved making Conrad references. In his letters he called his decaying apartment in Lafayette, LA a veritable Heart of Darkness as well as the entire island of Puerto Rico. But I tend to think of him making these references filtered through his favorite novelist Evelyn Waugh who ends his novel Handful of Dust with a character trapped in the heart of the jungle reading Dickens aloud. It flips the Conrad reference into layers of satire.

  3. Still not sold. Came highly recommended to me by an accomplished art curator…how could she steer me wrong? Hated it but never told her. Lie by omission?

    • Hey, we don’t mind lies around here. I hated it too, at first (see above). Maybe you’ll come around some day; maybe you won’t. We like what we like, and it’s not all the same. That’s what makes life exciting.

        • My copy is 40 books deep under the table next to my bed. Unfortunately, it could stare at me if it wanted to but thanks for the offer. If the day ever comes where I run out of books, who knows?

          • No. Life’s too short and there are too many good books to read anything you wouldn’t otherwise even consider unless faced with the prospect of having “run out of books.” Hooray for a 40-deep book stack next to your bed, though. A girl after my own heart!

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