I read James Joyce’s classic short story collection, Dubliners, while I was on my vacation. I read it as part of my presswork for tackling Ulysses, which I am slowly navigating now.

I don’t normally enjoy short stories because they usually seem incomplete—cut off just before they got interesting. Short story collections are usually disjointed; I prefer collections that have common characters or plot threads that run through all the stories. I have been reading more this year than in the past, including Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again which I enjoyed very much. (They are called “novels,” but are in fact short story collections.)

The stories in Dubliners, of course, compose one of the archetypical collections of short stories. They are famous for the epiphanies that characters arrive at toward the end of each tale, and are devastating for the reader because those characters who recognize their personal failings or their poor lot end up doing nothing to fix things. Over and over again throughout the collection, his characters live rigid, bleak, repetitive lives, and choose comfort—and not even much comfort at all—and certainly over fulfillment and uncertainty.

I see the same themes in my own life. Everyone I know, including and especially myself—lives inside a rigid, repetitive routine: school, work, cooking, cleaning, a little leisure, maybe a vacation once or twice a year. Furthermore, I know that I, like some of Joyce’s characters, have chosen comfort over fulfillment—at least in terms of my career choices, and in some respects in terms of vacation travel as well. If I had taken more risks, perhaps I would have more money or status, and I might have made more of an impact on the world. My life, however, is nowhere near as bleak as the Dubliners Joyce writes about. I have a great family, a great home, and have done some great things I can be proud of. But it is chilling to think how repetitive everyday life is, and how much drudgery it entails; like Joyce’s characters in Dubliners each of us is stuck in a loop.