It Takes Reading A Favorite Book…

…to get me back in a bloggy frame of mind.  Thanks to Chris Lott, I have, for the moment, put aside the many books piled up waiting (just finished Alexandra Fuller’s truly beautiful The Legend of Colton H. Bryant), to return to James Joyce’s Dubliners, a book I first read in ninth grade, and that didn’t do much for me then–I was a confirmed Hardy Girl (Thomas, that is–having read all of his books once and some of them twice by then) but found its way to my heart in college and several times since.


I’ve never joined in a loosely-connected reading group, and I’ve always hated book groups though I have cherished some classroom/discussion rooms around books.  Since leaving teaching I’ve become a bit of a solo reader, ravenous, making my way through books I never seemed to have the time to read.  I’m ready for company.  I miss fellow readers embarked on the same adventure.  What I love about this reading experiment is that it’s bringing people together from all over the reading map, people I know, people I don’t, and we can respond however and wherever we like.  Already people are talking about some creative approaches to responding.  Who knows where we all will post/respond/connect.  Postcards are going to wing through the air.  Blogposts, Twitter, Posterous–who knows what else, where else, how else we will discuss and respond.  How different from a book group or most formal settings.  How intriguing…

I’m only one story into my reading, but already I have been struck by how much there is to get out of reading aloud (and committing to heart).  Perhaps especially the work of Joyce who struggled with poor eyesight and thus felt the world acutely through his ears?  Some think so.  Some think his musicality has to do with his being Irish (the Irish English being a sort of music, the Irish language resonating through accent and phrasing), leaving Ireland and moving about so much, country to country, languagescape to languagescape.  I think he just understood how language and storytelling, the world of place and people, are so much about meter and sound.

Nancy White’s post about finding an Italian copy of the book, and then links to audio recordings of the collection got me to thinking about how important it is to me to read aloud and to listen to others reading.  And how sound creates such a problem in translation, especially for a writer so sensitive to the soundscape.  I just read the first story aloud to myself, and wish I could hear my fellow readers’ voices on the stories–not someone hired to read–but those trying to understand the text alongside me as part of this exploration.  It would bring me closer to them as they respond and it would, I am sure, bring me ever closer to the stories and make them live again.

To that end, I’ve recorded the first paragraph of the opening story, “The Sisters”, and in so doing slowed down enough to feel with the narrator that night, the power of the words in their sounds–paralysis, gnomon, simony, to notice the “darkened blind” and feel the flicker of the candles through the staccato notes of the phrase’s syllables.

dreams before dawn

I had no idea that when I joined this group for the month of February that I would be recording myself reading the opening paragraph, dusting off the dormant blog, and searching about for stamps for postcards…

Come join us–see what crazy things you’ll do!


11 Responses

  1. Ah, now you have me thinking… a Voicethread! Maybe I can read the same bit in fractured Italian!

    • Yay–you read Italian divinely, correctly or not.

      I love how hearing it in another language, especially such a melodious one as Italian, adds even more to what he accomplished in English, NOT a musical language. I am “filled with “fear” with him because of the puffs of those “f” sounds followed by the vowels. I am fascinated by the psychology of the sounds of words, how they affect us without us knowing it. I love the sound charts and photos in John Frederick Nim’s _Western Wind_–I’m going to unearth my copy and scan in those charts in a post!

  2. Ninth grade: that hit me, Barbara. I read this at about the same age, 10th grade, and haven’t thought about the experience for a while.

    What a starnge world Dubliners revealed to me. I knew nothing of Ireland and Irish lit, then. It was probably the first modernist thing I read (knowingly). And the first time I thought about the short story as reflective art.

    • I’ve been traveling to Ireland since I was eleven, grew up in an Irish-American family, and lived there for a year, so feeling Dublin, feeling the world of growing up Catholic in that time and place has been pretty easy for me to access. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t hit me as a ninth-grader–I nodded my head, yes, that’s it, but I yearned for the dramatic, romantic tragedy of a Hardy at that age. I was one strange kid.. ;-).

  3. Barbara,

    I taught my Masters class of Palestinian students The Dead this year, and they were so profoundly moved by it. In public, they voiced horror that Gretta had carried this secret in her marriage for all of those years. Then privately some told me that they had done the same. Others scoffed at Gabriel in public, and then quietly wrote of their connection to his struggle to be a complex person in a world where you are defined by your political loyalties. What amazed me is that they read it as a profoundly Palestinian story. I imagine that students in countries of conflict all over the world would personalize it in the same way. They certainly made me read the entire story anew.

    • Stephanie,

      So so great to hear from you here on the blog about your experience teaching your Palestinian students “The Dead.” Didn’t we read it when you were in my class? And then you visited us in Ireland that year and had your own Joycean experiences with Mike and Uncle Moss. Lovely thought that…

      That your students read the story as profoundly Palestinian would have pleased Joyce, I bet. That they had public/private responses makes such sense–they are living the story. I’ll look forward to circling back to your comments when I get to this story during this reading.

  4. I’m trying to read this as something completely new, as it is, not looking to expert opinions or analyses elsewhere.

    That’s kind of scary among the rather literate #motleyreader crowd, since in 9th grade, by Hardy reading was likely Frank and Joe –just kidding that was maybe 4th grade.

  5. Alan voices some of my thoughts!

  6. I’m trying to read it as new, too–which is hard for me as I turn to Joyce as a teacher in my own writing journey. That’s why reading with you and the others is already proving quite rich for me as I can feel these stories as though reading for the first time. And without scholarly opinions.

    As for my bookwormish ways–I was a weird kid. Seriously.

  7. […] it another go. I read the first story, “Sisters,” this afternoon. Then I listened to this recording of the first paragraph, and I started thinking about dissemination of information. In […]

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