Ulysses James Joyce

3 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.


Random Thoughts: July Edition

  • Summer vacation giveth and summer vacation taketh away. Yes, there is more time for reading, which is why you carried that extra piece of luggage to paradise, but there are also more family and friends buzzing about, sometimes visitors for a day (or two) and sometimes visitors for a week (or two).
  • Company and reading are like oil and water, taxes and savings, Trump and intelligence. Mismatches all around.
  • I am presently reading a book called Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale. I get comments from people who see me reading it or see it lying around. “Light reading, I see,” they say sarcastically. Or, “Great beach read you have there!”
  • I guess I’m a future corpse and they’re not. Which is the book’s point entirely. Or one of them.
  • I’ve been looking at markets for poetry and reacquainting myself with the forgotten fact that many poetry markets are centered at colleges and universities. In other words, the reading periods there are closed until (surprise!) September.
  • And really, do we have to say “September” at a time like this (read: July)?
  • The Fourth of July is behind us and, as is the new trend, private fireworks (now legal in this state, for instance) continued all the way till midnight or thereabouts. I wrote a prose poem about this last year. It’s a bit sarcastic. Tongue in cheek, maybe.
  • But I love my country as much as the next guy! Especially when it’s quiet.
  • (Both the country and the next guy, I mean.)
  • Because I often get new ideas for new poems and especially specific lines for new poems, I’m trying to carry a little notebook about (and if you’re thinking “Use your cellphone, fool,” recall that I don’t own one). Trouble is, the notebook in my pocket seems to work like kryptonite against new ideas. Remember the notebook, and my mind goes blankety-blank. Forget it, and the Muses begin warming up in the orchestra pit (with smirks on their nine faces).
  • It’s 63 degrees Fahrenheit this morning with a forecast for the high 70s today. No need for air conditioning. This is why Maine was invented, thank Odin. It is the antidote to air conditioning.
  • As my poetry book (to go with my prose book), I’m reading Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass. I like her stuff. A lot. And the great thing about the poetry world is how huge it is, and how often you can discover a “new-to-you” poet who you like. A lot.
  • Thank you, Ellen.
  • Usually I pick out one classic I’ve never read to tackle over the summer. This year, though, I’m going biography (also tome-like in size). I have one on Grant (U.S.) and one on Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da). How’s that for variety? But I can only pick one. We’ll see if I’m in an American or Florentine mood come August.
  • PBS is having a nationwide reading group and now asking everyone to vote from a list of 100 books. It’s a hilarious mix of genres and styles, from 100-page YA books to Moby-Dick and Don Quixote (two books, it so happens, that I have read on past “must-read-a-classic” summers). To what purpose, this vote? To show how inclusive PBS is?
  • Everyone has classics they have never read and insist they must before they become a future corpse. For me, the biggest “must finish” is James Joyce’s Ulysses. If Hemingway can do it, so can I. (So there, Ernie.)
  • And then there are classics we just don’t give a damn about reading. Ever. No matter how much other readers crow about them. For me this includes anything by Virginia Wolff, Henry James, William Faulkner, and many, many Victorian novelists (whose books, in fairness, I will consider as doorstops on windy days).
  • Oh, if only readers (and non-) would purchase my books as doorstops! (Um, screen doors only, please. Or maybe mouse-hole doors, considering how light they are — the mouse doors, not my books.)
  • Meaning: the subject matter of my poems is not “light” like this blog entry. Oh, no. Some poems even muse about death. Which implies future corpses. Again.
  • What was it Ben Franklin once said? Ah, yes. “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except future corpses and taxes.”
  • Other sure things in life (missed by Ben)? People willing to take your picture if you ask them to while out and about in public. In my case, it’s my wife’s phone. Because my wife cares about pictures (it’s in the job description under “wife,” I think). And everyone, it seems, loves to play Good Samaritan with a camera So quick. So easy. So kind.
  • Ask any writer who submits regularly. Checking Submittable for updates is like watching grass grow.
  • I wish it were like watching weeds grow. Results would come much faster.
  • Keep summer reading, friends! And summer writing! And staying un-corpselike!