by James Joyce
The fact is that every book changes our lives. But Kerouac kicked me around when I was 13. I was a suburban kid living in Dublin, and he peeled me open with On the Road. Several years later, when I was 21, I took a bicycle across the United States. I was looking for the ghost of Dean Moriarty. After that it was all Ferlinghetti, Brautigan, Kesey. And then I discovered who I should have known all along—Joyce. Fancy that, I had to go to America to find an Irish writer. I've been discovering and rediscovering him ever since. Ulysses is the most complete literary compendium of human experience. Every time I read it, it leaves me alert and raw. I recently had a chance to look at a rare first edition. When I cracked open the spine, a tiny piece of the page dropped out, no bigger than a tab of acid. Nobody was looking, not even Kerouac. So I put it on my finger and did what anyone else would do: I ate it.
Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin won a National Book Award in 2009.