Finishing “The Recognitions”

I finished “The Recognitions” last night. I’ve written about it as I rolled along, so you can go back and read prior entries if you’re wanting to see how things evolved. It’s an excellent work, and despite its reputation for difficulty, I found it readable. It did take me longer to read than other novels I have read of similar lengths. A few thoughts if you want to tackle it:

  • It rewards close reading. Whatever your reading habits, you’re going to have to focus closely on the text. Gaddis isn’t interested in clarifying things. 
  • You don’t always have to know who is speaking, especially during the party scenes. 
  • It’s helpful to have some basic understanding of Catholic vs Protestant theology; or at least I thought so. You don’t need to be an expert, but knowing the difference between them is helpful. 
  • There’s no one outside of some serious scholars who are going to catch every reference. I don’t think you need to to understand them all to understand the book, but there’s an excellent reader’s guide which will help with anything you don’t get, and it includes translations for the segments in other languages.

That reader’s guide also contains handy chapter synopses; if you’re confused by a chapter (there’s a particular one that takes place on a boat that I found confusing), you can read it and get a general outline to follow. I did fine without it for the majority of the book, and I recommend only reading it either at the end of the chapter or if you’re really stuck. 

I found it worth the effort; it’s the kind of book that, if it hits you right, can change the way you see books and reading for a while. That’s no small feat. 

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