31 December 2010


I'm very ashamed of myself for taking this long to update. *peers around, desperately looking for a fitting distraction* Look! My first ever review of a short story collection! :D
In my Foundations of Literary Studies class, we were assigned to read James Joyce's novella "The Dead," which is featured in his collection Dubliners. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Dead," so I decided to read Dubliners over my Christmas break. I love short story collections, and Dubliners by far is one of the best I have ever read. I consider it the literary equivalent of a concept album, for each story is united by a common theme of social, psychological, and personal paralysis afflicting Dubliners of all ages. Joyce himself was terrified of the prospect of ending up like these characters--jaded and internally suffocating--and listed this fear as one of the reasons he fled Ireland. I think Joyce's strong feelings about the subject, justified or not, is exactly the reason why these stories are so powerful.

The fifteen short stories are divided up in four sections that span childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and public life. Most of the story lines are fairly commonplace--unrequited love, jealousy, and inferiority complexes. But, if you're even the slightest bit familiar with any of Joyce's work, you'll know that you don't read Joyce for plot. Joyce is a genius at creating complex characters and evocative atmosphere and absolutely gorgeous prose. And those three things are exactly what stand out so much about these short stories. Even if you've read a hundred stories about someone in a relationship with commitment issues, I dare say Joyce's "Eveline" will be the most exquisitely crafted one you'll ever read. That being said, as much as I liked the stories about children and teens, the aforementioned "Eveline" and "Araby" being my two favorites from those sections, I think the latter stories about adults and public life are the most memorable. My three favorites are "Little Cloud," a riveting tale of frustration and friendship; "A Painful Case," a heartbreaking story that relates the doomed relationship of lonely bank clerk and closet socialist Duffy and the wife of a sea captain; and "The Dead," the novella that chronicles painfully awkward intellectual Gabriel Conroy's night at his aunt's party, which leads to a startling revelation about Gabriel's own wife.

As you're reading this review,you may be thinking, "Ahem, Zella, it's all fine and good that you want to read dreary stories about sad people in Ireland, but I don't need to read a whole book full of it." I can understand that. The stories are certainly sad--a book devoted to the study of figurative paralysis isn't exactly a pick-me-up read. And because of the emphasis on character and atmosphere, the pacing is measured and the stories can seem a bit anti-climactic, if the endings aren't flat-out sorrowful or shocking. I know that type of fiction isn't for everyone. In that case, perhaps just read "The Dead," easily the most famous of the selections in Dubliners. The story is full of the superb characterization, atmosphere, and wordsmithing that is a hallmark of the other stories and is perhaps the most blatant in its portrayal of paralysis. The final paragraph is one of the most analyzed in all of literature. Regardless of whether you want to delve into the text that deeply--though it actually is fun! No, really! Don't glare at me and curse English majors under your breath--Joyce's beautiful prose, which there are not enough adjectives to adequately praise, is well on display here.

If you're looking for some meaty reading this holidays, give Dubliners a read. This selection is probably one of the more accessible of Joyce's works. If you want to sample Joyce but would prefer not to read through the whole book, at least give "The Dead" a chance.


Announcements: I am so, so, so, so sorry for not having posted a book review in three months. Things have been crazy lately, but I would like to return to posting regularly, if not weekly, in 2011. Next semester, I am taking four literature classes *gulp* and I am going to have a slightly easier work-study job, so maybe I'll be able to keep up better than this semester.


This Week in Literary History: 29 December 1916: This ties in so well with my review today, but on this date in history, James Joyce published his novel Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Though Dubliners was published in 1914, this novel is the one that brought him fame. Of course, Joyce being Joyce, he followed this success with his landmark stream-of-consciousness novels Ulysses, which was censored for years after publication, and Finnegans Wake, which is widely considered one of the most difficult novels in the English language.


Next Week: Probably a review of Stephen King's The Green Mile.


  1. Zella! You're back! YAY!

    I hope everything is going good. It must be tough having so many history and English courses! I am but a senior in high school and still have trouble getting it all done! :)

    I have always admired Joyce, though I have never read his works. I am Irish (which, if you could see me, would be very hard to believe) so I feel a "connection" to him. And I just love literature.

    I think I'll see if my library has this. Seems like something good to get my mind back in working shape after the holidays.

    Guess what I'm about to start reading today? The Book Thief!!

  2. You should post a review of A Streetcar Named Desire, if you can. We will be reading it in my lit class next semester. I'd love to talk with you about it beforehand!:)

  3. Thanks, Sweet Tart Girl! I am going to try to be a more regular blogger. I think you'll really enjoy Dubliners based on what you've told me. It has a great Irish atmosphere and it certainly is literary but not overwhelmingly so.

    Oooh, tell me what you think of The Book Thief! Tis one of my favorites. :D

    I'll try to post a review of Streetcar. It's one of my favorite plays, and I actually read it a few weeks ago again for my American Lit class and wrote an essay on it. Let me dig up my notes and see what I can do. :)

  4. Well, I have been through about 3 Chapters of The Book Thief. The format surprised me, but I like it so far. I have to start reading for school now though, so it may be awhile.

    Thanks! I don't know when we will be reading Streetcar. First we will read Othello, then Harry Potter 7. I'm so excited! It's my first only lit class ever!! :)

    Have you ever read The Picture of Dorian Gray? I bought it but I'm not sure if I will like it. I feel like it will have a lot of dirty sex, which I don't like so much but I am trying to get over that.

    I think I'll buy Dubliners because Barnes and Noble are having their sale on classics. I've already bought 2 sets!! :)

  5. Oh I just remebered! I finally got to read The Poisoner's Handbook! I thought it was pretty good. I really enjoyed the chemistry parts but I felt that she sometimes didn't have good flow. Like the chapter would be about mercury but the murder she focused on was cyanide. That was my biggest complaint.

  6. I'm sorry to comment so much! But I just found your review of Dorian Gray so I'm just going to go read that. Thanks! :)

  7. Whoot whoot for lit classes! :D

    I have read Dorian Grey--as the review indicates :D--and it's one of my favorites. True, it was considered beyond scanadalous back when it was written in the 1890s, but by today's standards, it's pretty tame. There are no sex scenes of any kind. There's some implied drug use and vague discussion of Dorian corrupting his friends, which is usually interpreted as involving that sort of thing, but there is never any discussion of how this happens. We English majors spend our time trying to figure out what Wilde is talking about because we have a lot of free time on our hands. :D

    Yay! Do tell me what you think of Dubliners. :)

    Yes, my biggest complaint with the poison book was the way she jumped around. She kept it surprisingly coherent, but that was still distracting.

  8. I was actually thinking that same thing. That what was scandalous in those days is normal for our time. YAY! Now I'm really exciting to go read it. It may even move up on my list of books to read now. Then I will watch the movie with Ben Barnes in it. :) Have you seen that? It originally premiered in England, and hasn't really caught on in America.

    I just started reading Othello, and I have to say that I am already obsessed with Iago. I think I will definitely do my analysis essay over him, though I do not know the exact emphasis yet. I still have 100 pages left. I really want to finish it tonight though.

    Bleh. I start school again tomorrow. At least I don't have anymore math classes! :D

    You read Wicked right? I didn't like the sex in the first section, in fact, it made me give up on the book. But I think I'm going to read the one he wrote for NPR and ease my way into his style. What do you think? :)

  9. I actually have not seen the Dorian Grey movie. I'm sort of like a crotchety old woman when it comes to film adaptations of my favorite books. Sad but true. If you see it, tell me what you think. If it's good, I'll have to watch it. :D

    OMG! Iago is one of my favorite characters ever! He is so fascinating! He'll make an awesome essay topic. Have you ever watched the Laurence Olivier version of Othello? The guy who plays Iago is perfect.

    I'm sorry about class starting so soon. :( Mine start this Monday.

    I did read Wicked. It's a good book, but I do think Maguire went overboard with all of the sex. I stopped reading it and had to go back to finish it. The NPR one--is that the Christmas story? It's good! But my favorite Maguire book is his rendition of Cinderella. It's not vulgar and it is so well-written. He really is a talented author; he just sometimes includes too much sex for absolutely no reason in my opinion.

  10. Ooh! Cinderella? I might have to read that one. And yes, I do believe that it is the Christmas one. I felt he had WAY too much sex. It's not that I hate sex in books, it was just that he had so much, and it was kind of dirty sex. Ew.

    My teacher really loves Iago too. I just finished the first Act, and I am fascinated at his two-facedness. I think I will probably write somehing similar to that. But I have 4 more Acts, so it may change. I haven't watched any film of it yet but I may once we are finished reading it.

    I'll definitely let you know about the movie. :) I plan on reading the book this weekend, so I will probably watch the movie too. Although it is supposed to have a lot of sex, unlike the book. Hopefully not too much though. :)

    So what do you know about French during the Nazi Occupation? I am going to write my history essay of that. I will probably concentrate on the treatment of Jews, or the Resistance.

  11. I agree about Wicked. It's not a bad book if you can get past that, but it certainly is a turn-off. Read the Cinderella one, though. It's good! I have a review of the Christmas one on here somewhere. *checks index* Aha! here's the link: http://zellakate.blogspot.com/2010/02/unblogged-chronicles-jan-and-feb-2010.html

    Hopefully not. :D

    I don't know a lot about the French during WWII--my readings have primarily focused on Germany and Russia and Allied military operations. I do know that a lot of Jewish Holocaust survivors despise the French because of several incidents during that time, but there were French people who certainly risked their lives to save Jews, too. If you're looking for good book resources, ask your library if they have a book that compiles recommended readings by subject. I can't think of what it is called, but your librarian should know. That'll give you some good books to read and then you can use their bibliographies and footnotes to find further sources. :)

  12. Oooh. Good idea. I will have to do just that.

    I actually never realized how great a resource my library was until this year. It's a such a shame. I wanted the new Witch and Wizard book, but I was like number 200 and something at the library. Then I asked my school librarians and they got it for me the next day. How awesome is that? :D