I’ve thought for a while now that I might incorporate beer into my reviews more. But how to do it? I feel lame following in the beer-reviewing footsteps of my friends Oliver and Orr, so beer blogging is out. But then I saw Oliver’s call for submissions for a contest he’s hosting–stories that focus in subtle ways upon the interplay of books and booze.
I won’t depart too far from my wheelhouse, reviewing fine literature, but I will be applying a new technique: reviewing a book as one does a beer.
To make it even more exciting, I’ve also been sampling a fine beverage or two. (When in Rome!) I can only assume that this what my instructors mean when they encourage us to experiment with our writing.
What lucky book gets this new (brew) treatment? James Joyce’s Dubliners, of course.
According to Beer Advocate, there are five key aspects to address in a beer review: Appearance, smell, taste, mouthful, and overall.
Dubliners comprises fifteen stories in a slim volume. I chose it because James Joyce is known as the Irish novelist, and Ulysses was too daunting. Also, I wanted to be seen reading something impressive on the metro. It’s all about appearances, after all.
The narrators grow in age as the tale progresses, which I wouldn’t have noticed if the kind guys over at Wikipedia hasn’t pointed it out. I did notice that I enjoyed the tales in the middle more, which in retrospect may have to do with self-identification.
I read an inexpensive Dover Thrift paperback edition. Books like that remind me of why I still enjoy leafing through a real book, my eBook addiction notwithstanding. Yes, I count myself among those who profess love for that print-book smell. I’m told it has to do with the slow decay of ink, which seems somehow appropriate for this collection of stories.
But I’m being too literal, even for a literary review. Joyce is a master of images, of describing the textures and contours of everyday life. You can’t help but smell that invigorating spring air that entices two schoolboys to truancy, or inhale the suffocating dust in the room of a young woman contemplating departure from her homeland. Readers are submerged in Joyce’s well-crafted, realistic environments.
According, once again, to my old friend Wikipedia, Joyce sent the manuscript out 18 different times to 15 publishers. No dice for the first decade. (You’ve got to admire the man’s persistence.) It was finally published by Grant Richards, but not before a harrowing editorial process; a previous publisher reneged on their agreement and even went so far as to have the printer burn the manuscript. Joyce somehow procured one last copy to turn into the next publisher, which thankfully had less pyromaniacal tendencies.
Why such a hubbub? Apparently some objected to his literary taste. His open exploration of relationships–including sexuality–threw some publishers for a loop. This was the UK’s 50 Shades of Gray–aside from the real 50 Shades, of course.
The book focuses on capturing the voice of the commoner, which is not so unusual now but was in Joyce’s time. He may have been searching for Irish national identity in this collection, and while it doesn’t seem like he he fully succeeds in writing a seminal Irish story here, he does break ground with his use of common speech and taboo but ubiquitous topics.
I liked most of the stories, but I’m not drunk on them. (See what I did there?) The story I liked best was, unsurprisingly, the best-known in the collection, “The Dead.”
I recommend this flight of fifteen stories to Joyce fans and those interested in learning more about twentieth-century Ireland; otherwise, readers might want to brave Ulysses after all.
Yearning for my usual ranking system? Oh, all right. I spoil you.
Author: James Joyce
Release date: 1914 (originally); May 1, 1991 (Dover)
Publisher: Dover Publications
Genre: Fiction (short stories)
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3.5 out of 5