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Inside a Dog

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

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Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
Mary Ruefle


Dubliners - Jeri Johnson, James Joyce I'm surprised looking at my site (latereviews.blogspot.com) that I hadn't in all the time I did audiobook reviews listened to a version of this classic collection and reviewed it. I'm currently only reading "The Dead" for Flaky Genius' class, a story I've written about for undergraduate and graduate level classes, so nevertheless it's a story I'm very familiar with. Since the last things I've read of Joyce's were Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, I had forgotten just how precise and how luminous Joyce's non-experimental prose can be. How his descriptions of character have a spot-on truth to them that is instantly recognizable.

Consider this, one of my favorite passages in the story. Gabriel Conroy, the protagonist, is looking over a speech he's prepared, knowing he'll be asked to give on at his aunts' holiday dinner. He's having an anxiety attack or something quite similar, a stage fright moment of doubt. The chain of mental processes here is dead on:

He waited outside the drawing-room door until the waltz should finish, listening to the skirts that swept against it and to the shuffling of feet. He was still discomposed by the girl's bitter and sudden retort. It had cast a gloom over him which he tried to dispel by arranging his cuffs and the bows of his tie. He then took from his waistcoat pocket a little paper and glanced at the headings he had made for his speech. He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognise from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.

That's just wonderful. Good stuff there. I haven't gotten far into the story, but what I've read just reminds me of how good Joyce is. I've meant to sit down with Ulysses again for some time. It's a book I read every couple of years, but re-reading this story makes me think I might just sit down with earlier Joyce instead.