August 2, 2010

Literary Pick (***)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
-James Joyce

I honestly didn't know what to expect from Joyce. I've added and removed Ulysses from my to-reads list too many times to count. So here I compromised and decided to start off with "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" to get a general sense of the flavor of Joyce's work before I would dare attempt Ulysses. I began reading this book slowly and cautiously. I felt like if I wasn't careful I could reach a point in the book where I could get irrecoverably lost, and that's exactly what eventually ended up happening.
I don't enjoy reading books just for the sake of reading them, so it was important for me to get involved in all topics that involved this novel. However, when I reached chapter 5, I was lost in the discussion of beauty and aesthetic theory. I decided to cheat a little and consult sparknotes, but it turned out to be a topic that was over my head. The shame is that up until that point I was really enjoying the book. My favorite part was when the priest preached about eternal damnation. I think that's one of the best sections of literature I've ever read in my life. In fact, a while back I had printed a piece on my blog that Umberto Eco had copied in his book "On Ugliness" by St. Alphonsus Liguori, called "Preparation for Death", and I remember thinking how similar it was to the preachers' sermon, and sure enough, later in the chapter it mentioned that Stephen Dadelus often referred to another work which was also written by Ligouri. So that was pretty cool since I always wondered if I would ever read anything similar to that piece again.
Another funny coincidence is that at the same time I was reading "Portrait", I was also reading The Divine Comedy, so I was getting a pretty unhealthy dose of the perils of hell. I have to admit, that piece about hell in Portrait has left such an impression on me. Now I understand what people mean when they talk about the catholic guilt-trip. least I got some enjoyment out of the book even if the end wasn't exactly to my liking. I think Joyce is an amazing writer. I just wish he was more approachable. I still plan on reading Ulysses someday... although I'm in no rush to read it anytime soon.


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