About 6 or 7 years ago, I sat down and read Ulysses by James Joyce with my reader’s group.
I hated it. If there was a word stronger than hate, I’d use it. Other than the anthologized and well-known chapters (like “Penelope”), this 800 page book was pure torture. I sincerely think that Ulysses is just some sort of self-masturbatory exercise on Joyce’s part. I finished the book and considered my reading experience to be akin to the worst break-up I’ve ever had times 100.
Well, maybe that’s too harsh. As I’ve grown older, I’ve often thought of rereading it. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right spot/frame of mind/life point to understand the complexity and beauty of it. I mean, it is considered the greatest novel of the modern period.
Nonetheless, I hadn’t read anything else by Joyce until earlier this week, when at the bookstore, I saw a copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners combined for only $6. I bought it. It seemed time to give Joyce a second try.
I picked the Dubliners because, well, to be honest, it was shorter. And I don’t really know a thing about either text other than some vague comments made by instructors from graduate school. I thought for sure I wouldn’t make it past a few pages and that I’d be bored, bored, bored as, let’s face it, classics are often tedious and difficult to get through (they so don’t complement my read-before-bed lifestyle).
I started reading, and….became engrossed. I loved every story in this book. Characters captured me, the language was beyond impressive, and I was totally absorbed. I finished reading it this morning sincerely not wanting it to end.
I tried to think about what I liked so much about this. In my own words, I liked how each character came to understand something about his/her life, a moment of clarity I called it, while the writer, Joyce, did little to persuade with any moralizing. Then this afternoon, I read some criticism. Though I said “moment of clarity”, critiques called it “epiphany,” which is totally what I meant, though I always saw the word epiphany as more religious in context. Regardless, I was pretty damn happy that my thoughts were in tune with the critiques (this never seems to happen!).
Dubliners, Dubliners, Dubliners: This book was a joy to read and completely changed the way I feel about Joyce. It’s like I fell in love with him a bit. Mended our bitter break-up. Now I can call him, at least this book, one of my favorites. I’ve thought about starting Portrait tonight, but I think I’ll wait until next summer. Until then, I’m thankful for this classic’s engrossing read. I’m thankful for the dreams of visiting Ireland I’ve been having since I started this book. And since I’ve found some Joyce that I enjoy, then I’m thankful that I’m not going to try Ulysses again for a while.