James Joyce

2 posts

Reading Ulysses: Now I Know How Odysseus Felt

Wait. What page am I on in Ulysses? Only 186 with over 500 to go?

You can never be too old for an Irish door-stopper, I realize, but what about the eyes? Here I have this Oxford paperback of the 1922 version, and my eyes are killing me.

What is the font, anyway? Four? I’ll be blind as Joyce himself by the time this is over!

And really. In the head of first one Bloomin’ protagonist and then another (the inventive young Dedalus)? Stream of consciousness can’t help itself. It’s bound to be penny-ante trivial now and again as it babbles through this thought and that. Almost like Twitter.


But, no. Repeat after me (and my English professors): This is clever stuff.

I know because I am co-reading The New Bloomsday Book, a guide to Bloom’s odyssey, if you will (or even if you won’t). It tells me what I should know before Joyce tells me what I don’t know.

Worst of all for bibliophiles who don’t dedicate 18 hours a day to reading (raises hand)? All the other books mocking me.

I see this 200-pager and that 250-pager, each flashing its wiles, each saying, “Hey there, Big Reader. You could be reading me, and you know it. Why don’t you just put down that there little big book and come over to my place?”

Like the Sirens, they are.

My kingdom for two gobs of bee’s wax! Plugs for the ears! Here, here! (vs. Hear, Hear!). Now, now!

But I can’t let myself get distracted. If I do I”ll never make it to the final page (or, as I call it, “Penelope”).

And I admit it.  I’ve peeked — Joyce signed off on that page, writing “Trieste-Zurich-Paris, 1914-1921.”

Seven years, he took to write this thing! And probably somewhere in the many inches of pages that remain to be read, I’ll learn that “7” appears 735 times in the Bible, 54 in the Book of Revelation alone (duck!).

I guess this means I soldier on. In honor of Jimmy’s seven years. In honor of God’s seven days. In honor of the seven months it might take out of my reading life!

(As the Jesuits would say: Pray for me.)

Filling Holes in the Reading Résumé


Filling holes. Classical holes, yet. Not just any “dog-just-dug-it-up-in-showers-of-dirt” holes.

Every year or two I take on a behemoth that I haven’t read but should have read because so many better readers than me have and have been the better for it. Accomplishments on this list include The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky), Don Quixote (Cervantes), and Moby-Dick (Melville).

In each case, they’re the type of books that people expect to find on your résumé and are surprised when they don’t. You are, after all, “well-read” (or at least rumor has it).

This year, as of yesterday, the intimidator of the moment is James Joyce’s Ulysses. I am not traveling alone, however. Per advice of better-read friends, I am reading a companion book at the same time: Harry Blamires’ The New Bloomsday Book.

The routine is this: Bloomsday Book about chapter you are about to begin, followed by same chapter in Joyce’s book. Kind of like Virgil walking you through Dante’s wine cellars.

Not that I’m any Joyce neophyte. I have read both Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I even see this web site (I would say “blog,” but they are hopelessly out of date) as an ongoing Portrait of the Poet as a Getting-On (I refuse to say “Old”) Man. So there’s that. But neither of those quite measures up to the reindeer games found in Ulysses. 

The trouble with reading a “filling-a-hole” book? It pretty much clears the deck on your reading schedule for huge swaths of calendar. That’s because you’re scratching your chin and going, “Hmn” so much. Or rereading a curious paragraph or three. Or making a notation for future reference (that will never be referred to).

But that’s OK. Keep your eyes on the prize, because, when you reach Chapter the Last, it’s always worth it. You feel like you do coming out of church or donating blood. You know: that certain nobility of spirit. As if to say, “Yep. Uh-huh. That was me over there, chatting up Joyce like we were old pals.” (It helped that Jimmy couldn’t see who he was talking to, but….)

So cheer me on, why don’t you. And if you’re not filling any holes in your own reading résumé, ask yourself why not. Then pick a doorstop — any doorstop — and get reading! You don’t need Penelope to tell you that you’ll be the richer for it.