Written by James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is an essential read because the story of Stephen Dedalus carries so much resonance. Growing up in Ireland around the turn of the twentieth century, Stephen faces existential questions that should ring true for a young person coming from any culture at any time. He tries to find satisfaction by giving in to his lust, and when that doesn't work he goes all the way to the other end of the spectrum in seeking fulfillment through religious devotion. In the end, however, neither of these extremes provides Stephen with the answers he's looking for. Stephen's story demonstrates one unfortunate fact of life: when you're seeking meaning, there are no easy answers. Ultimately, as Stephen tells his friend Cranly, he decides that his solution is to "express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can," even if it means making mistakes or being spurned by society. In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," Joyce outlines some important ideas that have since become prominent in literature, notably noncomformity, self-expression, coming of age, and the nature of religious belief. This book may not have been perfectly written, but since Joyce was aiming so high it's easy to overlook any imperfections in his style. "Portrait" was written with plenty of intelligence and soul, so it's easy to see why it's still read after all these years.