It is clear from Dubliners why James Joyce is so highly regarded.  The most impressive thing, for me, was his ability to capture so much emotion, so realistically, in so few pages.  Without feeling forced, or cliched, he would perfectly express anger, jealousy, fear, or love.  I also enjoyed how these short stories each had their own unique voice.  It wasn't one narrator telling 15 different tales, but 15 different narrators, each telling their own story in a style perfectly suited for their respective themes, characters, and plot.

All of this becomes even more impressive when we consider Joyce was only 25 when these stories were first published.  If you enjoy short stories, I would definitely recommend this collection.  For the rest of us, though, I think there is still a lot to like about these tales.  Plus, what with them being so short, you don't have to read them all at once and, taken individually, there's no reason not to give each of these stories the mere 10 to 30 minutes that they require.

“He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed to him” (66).

Full database entry on Dubliners.  Beware spoilers.

The rest of this post is a more general discussion on short stories and reading for depth, so if all you were interested in was Dubliners, no need to keep reading.  Otherwise....

I'm not sure if I "get" short stories.  Granted, my experience with them is limited (all I can remember right now is a few Poe stories and Philip K. Dick's The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories), but there is a certain rhythm to them that doesn't come naturally to me.  I think this is a combination of not giving each story the same consideration I would a full novel (I will typically move on to the next story without meditating on the first) and the fact that many short stories end without the sense of resolution or satisfaction that you get from a full novel (and this doesn't even consider the tendency many short stories have towards the "gotcha" ending).

In spite of all this, however, I chose to read Dubliners for two reasons:  I knew that, being written by Joyce, there was going to be a lot of depth to the writing, and I felt that short stories would offer a smaller, more manageable opportunity to put to use the tools I discovered in How to Read Literature.  On the whole, I think the endeavor was mildly successful.  I say only mildly because, while I was able to read in a slightly more professorial manner, I also find myself not always wanting to.

For me reading is a pleasurable hobby, and I don't want that to change.  However, the more I considered the multiple layers of meaning that may be present within the text, the less I found myself enjoying the experience of reading.  With all that said I've decided that, going forward, my main concern will be enjoying what I'm reading, with or without the tools of professorial reading.  Then, if I loved what I read, I can take the time to meditate further upon the text and pursue essays and literary criticisms on specific subjects that interest me.   This combination, I think, will allow me to still enjoy reading, while also improving my ability to read at a deeper level.  In theory, at least.


Scott on 03/15/2010 6:45 a.m.

Yes, I think it took an effort in focusing on the details for me to realize that the journey, and the overall experience of a book, is what is most important to me. If I get something out of a particular moment or metaphor, great, but it's not the end-all be all for me.

Thanks for the short story recommendations. I think I have <i>The Martian Chronicles</i>, and may have even read it years ago, so I'll probably start there among those 3.

Do you often find yourself enjoying short stories? Is there some trick to reading them, and enjoying them more, that I'm not aware of? Or, like with most things, does it just take time to get used to them (compared to novels)?

Scott on 03/17/2010 8:23 a.m.

That makes a lot of sense, especially since I've always had a hard time with poetry as well. And thanks for the suggestions - between yours and Shawn's I think I'll be able to find some more short stories I enjoy, and I'll be sure to give them each a little extra reflection once I finish them.

I really want to read Joyce's other works as well, but they are so intimidating I feel like I really need to work my way up to them!

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