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Monday, December 20, 2010

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: my tentative and personal adventure

James Joyce (and yes, I posted him
looking away on purpose)
I've never read any Joyce before.  Pathetic?  Yep.  I've even actually assigned the reading of Joyce to students before, though I hadn't read him myself!  But I've got a good excuse.  Mostly.  


Let me explain:  I didn't really "get into" reading, not like I am now anyway, until after I'd finished my bachelor's degree.  I read, sure, but I didn't (this is going to smack of hyperbole) require it as sustenance to my mind and soul like I do now.  I enjoyed it, but passively.  Considering I only graduated nine years ago, I don't really have all that much experience.  Take that relative inexperience and mix it up with my gained and tremendous respect for the truly great writers, especially as I've attempted to become somewhat of a writer myself (see my issues with some of my favorites authors here), and I just haven't exactly garnered the guts necessary, for me at least, to pick up the reputedly greatest writer of the English language.

Is it all in my head?  Most likely.  I'm not stupid.  But it's emotional, and, as we all know, powerful emotions manage to supersede all sense.

Back to Joyce.

I've got a copy of Ulysses downstairs on my shelves.  It looks nice there--thick and intellectual, like its very presence elevates its owner.  I recently disinterred my copy of Dubliners: less intimidating, of course.  Short stories.  The first stuff he published.  Easy.

I'd steeled myself to make the jump.  I had the book in hand with the name of the eponymous author a-cover.    I sat in my beautiful, comfortable reading chair, opened the book, and--

Well, and I read the introduction by Brenda Maddox and all was... well, not "lost," but intimidation grew, much to my chagrin, and that mixed with the great difficulty of focusing for more than a minute or two with little kids around led to the book shutting, nearly on its own, and me standing to make dinner.  I've tried three more times to get through the first story, "The Sisters," and it's only eight and a half pages long!  Tonight, three weeks after the book's initial resurgence, I've finally succeeded.

So this is what I'm going to do, and may the public--though little-read--nature of this display encourage me against past repeated itself: I will read each story one at a time, approximately one per week, and attempt to understand it without relying on some other critic's or scholar's thoughts and discussion.  I want this for me.  I want this to maybe prove to myself that I am actually a better reader than I think I am--or that I will become a better reader for the experience (and any of you who may think "Hey, you're a great reader!" well, I think I know how to ask the right questions to help others get more out of their reading, but their answers to my questions almost unequivocally better than any answer I myself could give).

This also brings me to my optimistic theory of The Classics (the pessimistic side being that there's a conspiracy bridged between scholars and publishers to keep resurrecting the same old piffle and fooling the public into buying and pretending they've read it because someone else says it's great lit):

Any book of the "canon" wouldn't still be here and interesting and in the canon at all, and therefore bought and read, if that book weren't of interest to contemporary culture.  That means I should be able to garner an enjoyment, appreciation, and/or new/refined perspective from the given book without having to dig into the historical, political, cultural contexts of the work, because that's what scholars do, and I'm no scholar; I am, this time, a passive reader.

Of course, the context from within which the work in question was written is always sure to increase the potential for enjoyment, appreciation, and perspective, and I will likely do a little research for each story, but only as much as I can infer is necessary from the text itself--not from what someone else wants to tell me.

So there it is.  My challenge to myself, the results of which I will post here faithfully and serially.  Join me if you'd like; there is nothing like good discussion to crack open a text.

Here goes....


  1. Abandon all hope ye who enter here?

    I 100% agree with you on the classics btw. I've been disappointed a few times, but I've rarely questioned why it is considered great.

    On Joyce, I find it funny that you are using Joyce as your benchmark because the main reason I read "Ulysses" was to prove to myself that I could finish a really tough book if I put my mind to it. Apparently, that is what James Joyce boils down to--proving that we can read. If we weren't so insecure about our own basic abilities, he would have no market. :)

    But I have to say. I'm pretty excited for this feature. It will allow me to get more use out of my copy of "Dubliners" than I had originally thought.

  2. The more I read a book--a good book--the more I enjoy it, the more I get out of it, the more I recognize why others may also think it's great. But the book has to be able to make an adequate first impression to merit a second read in the first place. The first time I read Inferno, I liked it, but predominantly because I was fascinated by its premise and I've always loved monsters and gore (dark side of me). The second and third times I read it, however, the thing opened wide and I "got it." I know I'm not going to really "get" "Dubliners" this first time around. I just hope it's good enough on the first read that I'll want to read it again, otherwise expectations will possibly ruin all.


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