Stories are destinations in themselves. At just a snap of cover, we can be transported across oceans of water, time, and cultures to other places, to other minds. Ah, I love it. Growing up without a lot of money meant that reading was my airplane, that jittery feeling in my stomach when I’m about to embark on some grand adventure, the gratified curiosity for things beyond my own experience.
Even now, I view the stories and authors I read as “cities” that I travel through, because I am inundated with the sights, sounds, smells of the worlds that authors create through their unique voices and subject matter. For that reason, instead of saying that I’m reading an author, it would probably be more accurate to say that I’m traveling through that author.
Right now, I’m journeying through James Joyce’s “Dubliners.” And boy, it’s one of those trips that you remember for a lifetime.
Several stories resonated with me because of their plot. The book in general is full of characters who long for escape from their mundane lives in the inner city, but they end up disappointed, disillusioned, and impotent to change anything. One of the reasons why I read is because I identify with the characters. I am so deeply involved in their lives that I can’t help feeling with them, because I’ve felt before what they have felt. At the end of one story, tears actually sprang to my eyes (“Counterparts” is only for those with easy stomachs.) Other ones that really grabbed at my insides were “Eveline”, “A Little Cloud,” and “A Painful Case.”
Joyce’s story “Araby” is of the same class, but what really impressed me about this story (and the others to a lesser degree) was Joyce’s unparalleled writing ability. I take human lessons from the stories, but it was mostly the craft of writing in “Araby” that left me in awe. His prose is crisp, precise, and yet piercingly descriptive:
“When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street.”
A beautiful destination, isn’t it? Joyce was a genius. And I write and write, but when I read prose like his I wonder if I will ever be that good, capable of tight, simple, descriptions.
The irony of the stories in this book is that resignation, paralysis, and general gloominess defines the life of most people, but the stories are written so beautifully. Joyce’s fine prose negates the idea that nothing is worth loving and everything will eventually disappoint you; it is its own contradiction. His writing is worth loving. In fact, our devotion to literature in general mirrors our belief in the ultimate beauty of the universe.
Hey, I’m not going to lie to you. Life is just plain horrific sometimes, when it’s not just plain boring. In fact, our happy moments may be far from each other. Yet, we must sense the small, more intricate parts of life (like the detail a writer from decades ago used to construct an amazing story) and realize a subtle truth: life is extraordinary.
What stories or authors have moved you?