Most of the time, reading classics sort of puts me off. Growing up, that was pretty much all I read – they came “pre-approved” and I never took chances with anything else. Now that I do have a basis for comparison, I enjoy contemporary fiction so much more – and for several reasons: its actuality (in style and language, if not timeline), its variety, but most importantly, its lack of baggage. With classics – you’re expected to like them and to emit pertinent comments regarding their value. Anything less feels like frivolity, lack of substance or culture. And, in the end, contemporary lit feels rather more challenging – partly precisely because there’s no set in stone opinions that come along with it. It makes you think more.
That’s how it works for me, at any rate.
James Joyce’s little book of short stories brought on this long winded, useless comparison because I didn’t exactly enjoy reading it. Which isn’t to say I hated it – it’s more on the side of indifference. After a while the stories seemed to blend, and, looking at their titles, I’m not sure which was which anymore. My favorites though, were those that show just a glimpse of life – nothing with a particular beginning or ending – because they feel a bit like a crack in a window or an overheard conversation, like a small breach of privacy. Gabriel Conroy’s Christmas celebrations with family and friends, the 2 boys playing hooky and meeting a very strange man, the girl who wanted to leave home but backed out at the last minute.
Bigger than them all is the City – the constant character in each of the 15 stories. Turn of the century Dublin – dirty, crowded, brimming with nationalist working class, reliable, hispitable, overpowering. It is, by far, the most memorable character.
To digress a bit, for about 10 years now I’ve looked upon Dublin & Ireland as some kind of magical lands. I’ve never actually been there – I’m half anxious to go, half reluctant and fearful. I’m not sure what I expect exactly, but it really does hold a spell over me.That’s why I like finding it in books – closer and still very far.
One more thing this book did (besides make me gushy about the Emerlad Isle 😀 ) is make me miss winter. The snow covering every bit of land, uniting for a moment those of such different backgrounds, aspirations and tastes – it’s just such a powerful closing scene, so beautiful and so soothing, that it stays with you even after you put the book down.