Where should I start?
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Which brings me to Faulkner. Short stories aside, where should I start with his novels? If I have a shortlist of say, 4 or 5 must reads for the beginner/layman/reader who knows nothing about him historically, and the order in which people reckon I should read them, I think it would help me organize myself.
If you are just breaking in to the Southern Gothic genre, let me recommend you save Faulkner for a later day and open you experience with a collection of Flannery O'Connor stories, or if you feel really bold, try The Violent Bear it Away, the better of her two novels.
Another recommendation is Tobacco Road. This is a book that will give you insight into the minds, hopes, fears, and outlook of the people Faulkner and O'Connor put out there for you to observe.
But if you want to dip your toes directly into Faulkner, I suggest As I Lay Dying.
I read As I Lay Dying and, suffice to say, I got really lost. I plan on rereading it, especially with my Faulkner A to Z handy, since it has nice summaries.
Jorge Luis Borges has a wonderful review of Absalom, Absalom in his Collected Non-fictions
If you enjoy Souther humor, check out A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Wow, I couldn't agree with that statement more. I'm currently reading Absalom, Absalom! for--well, probably the third time in 30 years or so--and I feel like this time I'm really getting it. I think there's something to be said for reading Faulkner along with some sort of handy "aid," even if it's nothing more than an online chronology. There's a useful reading aid that I found online for Absalom! that was put together by English students at the U of Virginia--the link is here. Another useful tool is simply to find a list of Faulkner's characters. As was mentioned, Faulkner was writing about several generations of an intertwined community, so family names recur, but also the same people are used in several novels or stories. You might want to browse Faulkner on the Web as a general orientation/introduction. A good list of his characters can be found there.
Having said that, some people will prefer to just jump into the reading and see where it takes them. There's plenty to be said for that approach as well. However, I've found that many people give up on Faulkner because they get frustrated with him, and some of these reading aids might be useful in that case to get over that initial confusion or frustration.
Where not to start? Absalom, Absalom!
Faulkner had a profound influence on European literature in the first half of the 20th century--much moreso than Hemingway. And in actuality Faulkner's writing style is much closer to Dos Passos who also was very experimental in his time.
Perhaps a tad too worshipful of its subject matter, but this looks like a great introduction to the superstars of Southern Literature -- Faulkner, Harper Lee, John Kennedy Toole, Harry Crews, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, and others.