Tuesday, July 21, 2009

riverrun . . .

I sort of have a bit of a dilemma. I enjoy modernist literature . . . well, make that, "I enjoy Virginia Woolf, who's a modernist writer, and I wonder if maybe I might be able to consider myself someone who enjoys modernist literature as a whole." Now, I am interested in approaching the Mount Sinai of modernism, James Joyce. Thing is, I'm concerned that he'd be too hard to read, considering the idiosyncratic style he used in his two most famous works, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. If you're not familiar with what I mean, go do some reading at Amazon here. I think you'll quickly understand what I mean.

So, here's the question. Should I go for it or not? I've gone through this with Joyce before. He's widely considered to be one of the greatest masters of the English language and the pinnacle of modernist literature. Furthermore, his work inevitably shows up (and places very high) on the lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century. For a serious aficionado of literature, Joyce is obviously someone that has to be dealt with. I really don't want to miss out on something great, and I do want to be as well-read as possible. That said, is it possible for something to just be too hard to read? I know of someone who read War and Peace for the express reason that it was considered an impossible book to get through, and I believe that she liked it. I've encountered difficult writing before. Anyone who's read Woolf knows that she's not exactly John Grisham. (although that's a good thing) Reading her work takes commitment and determination, but that perseverance has yielded some wonderful results. There are passages and sentences in her work that are among the finest I've ever read. Perhaps the same approach would work with Joyce.