A Los Angeles Book Club Has Spent 28 Years Reading James Joyce’s ’Finnegans Wake’ and Still Doesn’t Understand It

once famously , “The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works.“ After 28 years, members of a Venice, California-based book club have come pretty close.

Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s last and most famously challenging novel, has been as a “30-dimensional polyglot crossword puzzle,” and the club’s reading pace certainly reflects its difficulty. For nearly three decades, the book club has met once a month to spend two hours deciphering just one to two pages of the novel, and begins with members reading the pages aloud. It’s a surprisingly challenging task due to Joyce’s tendency to make up words (sometimes of more than 100 letters) and play with sound. When asked to describe what reading Finnegans Wake is like, club founder Gerry Fialka it’s “almost like tripping on acid.”

But what exactly makes Finnegans Wake so indecipherable? For one, the novel rejects the very concepts of beginning and ending. It bucks convention immediately, as page three (the first page) right in the middle of a bewildering sentence: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” The novel’s last line, seemingly unfinished—“A way a lone a last a loved a long the”—is actually the first half of the novel’s first sentence, making the novel a circular reading experience. And the over 600 pages in between are equally peculiar.