Top 10 Books by James Joyce

 

James Joyce was one of the important voices of the modern literary world in the 20th century. An Irishman, his narratives involved reworking and imbibing myth into the new world scenarios and giving the cityscapes a character of their very own. The Irish novelist, poet, essayist, and storyteller left a huge mark to the modernist avant-garde literature and is considered to be a part of the most influential group of wordsmiths of the epoch, yet extremely standalone in his style and stance.

Best known for Ulysses, published in 1922, a magnum opus piece of work in which the episodes of Homer’s Odyssey are referred to and given a new form is perhaps the best stream of consciousness style ever. Charming and detailed, the best James Joyce books were major contributors to the revolution of English literature.

 

Ulysses

We read about a day in Leopold Bloom’s life – a Dubliner, and his various encounters with other residents of the city, and slowly his experience transcends the one of another day in Dublin and becomes an epic one.

Read it For:
Its subtlety and a structure that upholds a constant stream of consciousness that travels from mundane to an epic.
Don't Read it For:
It is extremely complex to read and is quite difficult in places to absorb and comprehend.
What makes this book stand out?:
In spite of being a not so easy read – it is one of the finest specimens of contemporary literature that emerged in the 20s. It is also the top James Joyce bestseller all over the world.

Dubliners

Exiles is Joyce’s first publication of prose and the only collection of short stories published during his lifetime. The stories revolve around the middle-class Irish families during the era of Home Rule as the island country was fighting to claim its independence and identity from the colonial British Rule.

Read it For:
The true depiction of the various issues that infested the Irish society at that time - classism, Catholicism, nationalism, traditionalism and so on.
Don't Read it For:
They are true stories of the struggle that marred the Irish history and thus too honest in its emotion. Steer clear if they are not for you.
What makes this book stand out?:
Being short yet extremely powerful tales of love, loss, death and all other emotional turbulence.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce’s first full-length novel introduces to us his fictional alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus, who is tired of the conventional ways of the Catholic Church and Irish society as a whole and thus decides to leave and settle in mainland Europe – reflecting the writer’s own will and the direction he followed.

Read it For:
The spectacular use of less dialogue and more narrative to delve deep into the protagonist’s mind and slowly unravel the fierce will of breaking free and intellectual salvation.
Don't Read it For:
It uses a lot of free speech than dialogues, and that can tend to become bland in places.
What makes this book stand out?:
Doing true justice to the novel’s name and mirroring the emotions going through Joyce’s younger self when and where he was in the situation as told in the story.

Finnegans Wake

The story is in one way about some people of Dublin but in other way an epic saga that transcends the boundaries of time and reality and merges mythology with the contemporary world in a complex verse.

Read it For:
It is a redefining piece of literature that breaks the rules and diverge from the norm of the narrative by far.
Don't Read it For:
It does not make sense in most places. Even the most experienced literary analytics have debated over the years only to reach the conclusion that it is the most complex and challenging thing the English language has ever seen.
What makes this book stand out?:
Its multiple layered narratives and the fact that it has been written over a period of 17 years.
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Exiles

Joyce’s only play, inspired by his novella The Dead, it revolves around complex family troubles, love triangles and reflects the writer’s estranged relationship with his wife and the city of Dublin.

Read it For:
The plea of trapped souls in the shackles of life, time and existence that shows itself through human relationships.
Don't Read it For:
The stage performance of the play was not a huge success which might put some readers in doubt about its quality of being a play and not just a story.
What makes this book stand out?:
Being muted and subtle in its complexity compared to his usual exuberant style and use of expression; and yet being able to bring forth the complications that the protagonist faces in old Ireland – infidelity, guilt, longing for freedom and so on.

Pomes Penyeach

A man mainly known for his prose, this book is a collection of 13 of his best poems which gives us a look into his post-Dublin international life, which he attained after leaving behind Ireland and living around the world.

Read it For:
A different taste of the writer’s perception of the world.
Don't Read it For:
If contemporary poems are not your genre of choice.
What makes this book stand out?:
Being exploratory and a bit nomadic in nature, as was Joyce’s life during the times the poems were written.

Finn’s Hotel

A posthumous publication, this book includes ten short narrative pieces revolving around events of Irish history and myth staged in a real-life scenario with mythical characters in various guises.

Read it For:
It’s one of a kind nature where the epiclets, as Joyce liked to call them, draw intriguing stories out of epochal moments and tell a story about it.
Don't Read it For:
If history, fantasy and modern world does not go hand in hand with your literary taste.
What makes this book stand out?:
Mixing myth and contemporary situation in a short but seamless manner and yet staying true to his style.

Chamber Music

Originally a collection of 34 love poems, two more - "All day I hear the noise of waters" and "I hear an army charging upon the land" – were added before the book was published in 1907.

Read it For:
tow witness the poetic genius of James Joyce at its best.
Don't Read it For:
If romantic poems against historical backdrops are not your thing.
What makes this book stand out?:
For each of the poems holding their emotional voice in the whole collection, and telling a story worth listening.

The Ondt and the Gracehoper

The book is James Joyce's humorous take on the age-old Aesop's fable – The Ant and the Grasshopper. This version comes along with series of hilarious illustrations in colour by the Irish artist Thomas McNally. The graphics and the text together makes a very interesting retelling of the fable altogether.

Read it For:
A very differently flavoured James Joyce book that brings to the table humour, sarcasm and underlying meanings.
Don't Read it For:
If rereading fables makes you feel childish, don’t risk it.
What makes this book stand out?:
Being experimental and peculiar in its way, and a complete diversion from what James Joyce otherwise devoted his life to.

The Cats of Copenhagen

It is a posthumously published short story of James Joyce, which reached the people very recently in 2012. It hides behind a façade of puns and references and is critical of corrupt authority figures – “fat cats” and many more. It is based in the city of Copenhagen – the Danish capital where things are not what they seem at all.

Read it For:
The sheer joy of reading how sarcastic criticism can take a brilliant form in the complex yet on-point narrative of James Joyce.
Don't Read it For:
The storyline calls for controversial discussions and if they make you uncomfortable don’t go anywhere near it.
What makes this book stand out?:
Its sublime criticism of everything that is fundamentally wrong with us or our society at large.

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