June 25, 2014
[In honor of this month’s 100th anniversary of Joyce’s Dubliners, here’s a guest post from Peggy Gordon, whose relationship to the blogger shall remain unspecified.]
A few nights ago when Letterman was over but I was not quite ready to go to bed, I spent some time browsing on the overburdened bookcases in our family room. With the lifetime collections of two English majors in the room, I can always find something I want to read or read again—especially now when the first reading could possibly have been over 50 years ago. I came across Ulysses, which has been on my bucket list for many years, but did not feel up to that challenge yet. Luckily, Dubliners was right next to it, and I had just seen or heard a suggestion from some scholar who said that if you want to read Ulysses you should read Dubliners first. Bingo, I had found my book.
The copy of Dubliners that I now held in my hands had been printed in 1963. Its overall condition was what the online booksellers call “fair”: the pages were fairly yellow but—horror of horrors—the previous owner had taken voluminous notes on every story in the collection. Words were circled, sentences underlined, paragraphs called out with asterisks, and long summaries written in the white space at the end of each story. This was all done in sloppy handwriting in light pencil. Much of it was faded and hard to read. The book would not even merit the usual 75-cent paperback purchase price on Half.com. But lucky me … the previous owner was my husband, a studious young lad back in the ’60s, who clearly had taken a course on Joyce (and done very well in it, I’m sure). So I was presented with the exciting adventure of reading not just Joyce but also my husband’s annotations—whether notes from his Berkeley professor’s lecture or his own thoughts on the story or what were clearly my husband’s comments on what the professor had just said. This turned out to be a multilayered adventure indeed.
And what of Joyce readers in the future? When the Kindles and Nooks have been replaced and the backup files forgotten, how will the aging spouses or children or grandchildren share the reading experience of a great book in this way? Oh, the loss if the world really does become completely digitized!. But my luck continues: my husband read—and annotated—Ulysses that same semester, and I might just get to that item on my bucket list next.