The next book on my list was another James Joyce masterpiece: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
You’ve probably heard of this one before. (In fact, I think there’s a Family Guy episode about Brian, titled A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.) It’s a famously semi-autobiographical account of James Joyce’s early life, education, adolescent misadventures, and dreams of fame as a writer. The central character, Stephen Dedalus, makes his way through life as a very challenging and unique third-person narrative matures with him. The narrative voice is astute and precocious at first in his young years, then becomes clearer and more mature as Stephen ages, until he reaches manhood and we finally read Stephen’s own words – his diary – at the end.
What’s cool about this book is that it was heavily censored while Joyce was trying to get it published, and was banned in many places afterwards. The realistic but not graphic description of a teenage boy’s life in Dublin – I’ll let you read it and find out what publishers objected to – was enough to hold up the book’s publication for years. Today, it seems positively modest when compared to what we see in even PG-13 movies, but back then, it was totally scandalous. This is a reason you should love this book (along with many, many other classics, including To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and even Harry Potter and The Hunger Games) is because it was banned, and who doesn’t love to carry around a banned book? It’s your own act of personal expression and intellectual rebellion… much like Stephen Dedalus himself!
I also read this book because Stephen Dedalus appears in Ulysses. Intellectually and literarily, Ulysses is the zenith of my preparations, and I had/have to work up to it slowly.