Five Books I’ve Read While I Was Supposed To Be Reading Ulysses

Hey, remember when I said I was going to read Ulysses? I have to say I’m still not quite ready to admit that this book has kicked my ass. (I maintain that it’s really not that hard once I get into the rhythm of it, but it’s just that every time I think about picking it up, I look at it and say “Why the fuck is this book so long?” I don’t like reading a few hundred pages of something and looking at my overall progress in terms of total pages and feeling like a failure.) I’ll finish it at some point because I’m stubborn, but yes, I’ve been cheating on it with other books. It happened gradually. At first I pretended that I was still reading Ulysses, except I really wasn’t reading Ulysses, and so for awhile, I wasn’t reading anything at all. But I got bored with that soon enough and started picking up other books. Out of those, here are five:

1. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Oh sure, I saw the movie ages ago, but I figured it was time I actually read the book. This decision may or may have not been partly made for me by the fact that I was looking for something to read and this was lying around the house. I’d pretty much forgotten most of the story (I said I saw the movie ages ago), so I was easily able to go along with it, and it was a good time.

2. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson – Emily Dickinson
Like Ulysses, this is a very long book. In fact, it’s much longer than Joyce’s novel (and also rather heavy and awkward to read). The upside is that it’s broken into many small pieces. I’ve read many of Dickinson’s poems over the course of my life, and so this time I picked things I hadn’t gotten to before, of which there still were plenty. Now I’ve read them all.

3. Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
I felt like I had to read this book so I’d know what other people were talking about, but are people still talking about it? I don’t know. What I do know is that for the most part it was a light read, and it was definitely an easy one. Perfect for beach reading, if I were one to go to the beach. Sometimes books like that are necessary.

4. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair – Pablo Neruda
Okay, yes, I’d already read this one before, but sometimes Pablo Neruda is a necessity of life. “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Ah.

5. Persuasion – Jane Austen
Despite my status as something of an Austen nerd, I’d actually missed this one up until now. It had been awhile since I’d read any of her books, and I was reminded again of what a masterful writer she was, and this is now my favorite book of hers.

23 Responses

  1. What happened to Paradise
    What happened to Paradise Lost?

    Also, love that Neruda. Did you know he was originally planning to be a Vice Principal for the local junior high, but then decided to try poetry? True story. Although one can only imagine how those detention slips would read.

  2. Try Joseph Campbell’s Ulysses
    Try Joseph Campbell’s Ulysses abbreviated. Not fun reading as well.

    Check out Jim Carroll’s Fear of Dreaming. And Hubert Selby’s the Demon.

  3. ‘Why the fuck,’ indeed!
    ‘Why the fuck,’ indeed! Lengthy, complex novels don’t fit in with an MTV attention span and South Park vocabulary and are therefore neither written nor read much today.

    Try Dr. Faustus, by Thomas Mann, and of course the Russians for some extended pleasure. There is also Stendhal (Red and Black). They will ‘kick your ass’ in a good way.

  4. Like, totally, dude…
    Like, totally, dude… sometimes even Twitter doesn’t fit into my, like, short MTV attention … wait, what were we talking about? Oh right … books. They still publish those?

    Er yup.

    Also, Jamelah, if you don’t read Ulysses right now I am so going to call your mom and tell on you! FOR SHAME!

  5. Caryn — Those really would
    Caryn — Those really would be some detention slips.

    dlt — Thanks for the suggestions.

    Bill — Do I have to kick you again?

    Daniel — Excuse me, who are you? My dad? Do I have to clean my room next? Or mow the lawn?

    Dan — I just read an article not too long ago… let me find it… here it is: it’s about the internet changing the way we think, thereby making it less likely that we do deep reading of long, difficult novels.

    Caryn — Well, 140 characters is a lot to read sometimes, you know? Dang.

  6. i think Ulysses is a myth far
    i think Ulysses is a myth far greater than the one that ADHD doesn’t exist.
    Just remembering picking up the book in the 10th grade, and discarding it for Finnegan’s Wake gives me a case of serious shakes.

    But I’d sure like to read a Neruda note for a bathroom pass. Notes are small, aren’t they?

  7. I dislike thick, impenetrable
    I dislike thick, impenetrable classics as much as anyone. But I found “Ulysses” not as hard to get through as, say, a typical Faulkner novel. We all have our undigestible texts.

  8. Joyce’s Ulysses is a jigsaw
    Joyce’s Ulysses is a jigsaw puzzle, just tip it out and find the corners, then fill it in like a Bloomtown rat scurrying all over the place. 140 corners is a lot of corners, everyone worth a turn on the table.
    Before you know it you’ll be singing ‘cockles and muscles’ with Molly alone with Saint Joan. I’ve actually spent 20 years not reading this book, but I have read every written word by Raymond Chandler in the meantime. Thats the great thing about Joyce he really does encourage the reading of other writers.

  9. Lately I’ve been reading
    Lately I’ve been reading about the relative denseness of information in various novels. Someone suggested that I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I get the general feeling that Rainbow is similar to Ulysses in it’s layers of reference and meaning. Would anyone here agree with that?

  10. judih — The Neruda bathroom
    judih — The Neruda bathroom passes would be a sight to see, I’m sure

    TKG — I have read the first chapter. I read it, then stopped, then picked the book up again, decided I needed to start over, and read it again. I’ve gotten about 300 pages into it, but that’s still not even half. I can figure out what’s happening just fine, but when 300 pages isn’t even half, I have a problem.

    Michael — You make it sound so fun.

    Levi — True. I love Faulkner, though, so it takes all kinds.

    Duncan — I know. I’ve gotten a lot of other reading done, so it’s not a total loss.

    Bill — It’s a hell of a thing, or, in other words, I don’t know. But I’m sure someone else here does.

  11. I still have yet to ‘get
    I still have yet to ‘get into’ Raymond Chandler. I’ve thumbed through a few of his short story collections and was so unimpressed with the writing, that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one of his books. I would consider him beach reading.

  12. A few years ago, by the way,
    A few years ago, by the way, I stopped reading Ulysses about halfway through it. I just couldn’t stay interested, even when I knew what was going on.

  13. I read the first chapter of
    I read the first chapter of Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers at least 5 times before I finished the actual book, but have read the entire thing a few times since. Ulysses I probably started 10 times before going through with the reading, and often reread the brothel scene and a few others. In both cases, the end was all the sweeter for it. They are books that will not allow you to continue until you have picked up the style and rhythm. In most books, the reader can adapt as he goes along, but these truly special books need you focused on the prose throughout. Chromos by Felipe Alfau was a bit like that as well.

    I predict that a little less than a year from now (June 16), you will be sitting in an Irish pub trying to explain to them why it is there obligation to celebrate Bloomsday.

    On your next Ulysses break, try something Irish, but a little less intense. I recommend: The Third Policeman, Cadenza, Adventures in Skin Trade, The Gingerman, etc. I think they help to acclimate a person to the wonders of the Irish. And you won’t lose all the momentum you’ve built up.

    Just a suggestion.

  14. Duncan – brilliant – Ulysses
    Duncan – brilliant – Ulysses as a stimulant to read other books par excellance.

    Bill – You *must* read Gravity’s Rainbow. It is quite accessable compared to Ulysses, but yes the denseness of reference is there. To read Pynchon, you need to be versed in History, Literature, and Drugs. And have a sense of humor.

  15. The end is the best part
    The end is the best part Jammie!

    OK, so you have to get past the longest “sentence” in English literature, 4,391 words expressed by Molly Bloom, but then again you will be able to finally say:

    “…yes I said yes I will Yes.”

    [I will never, ever read this convoluted crap again again again again again twas brillig and
    then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thous-
    endsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a 15
    long the….
    riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend 1
    of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to 2
    Howth Castle and Environs.

    NO NO NO NO NO MO dancing Jotas!!!!

    [God, please kill me now – even if you don’t exist’]

  16. Once the scene with the
    Once the scene with the brothel starts the book skips along. That scene is like 250 pages long. So if you’re at page 300 you’re more than halfway.

  17. I’d like to agree with you
    I’d like to agree with you Bill, but I havent read ‘Rainbow’ either. I’ve decided not to read Pynchon again until he gets more familiar with the idea that vowels make better titles than consonants. Thats very arbitrary, but how do you decide what to read when this increasingly tidy and recycled world wont leave magazines or newspapers on trains or buses anymore.
    ‘Relative Denseness’ sounds like a collective boiography of the Bronte sisters. Two of whom I haven’t read, but shop lifted one when I was a student.
    Jota, God is good and she wont kill you even if you dont exist and have read Ulysses-its a Hindu thing about Karma.

  18. I prefer reading bio’s or any
    I prefer reading bio’s or any of Bukowski’s poetry books to kick back but try Jerzy Kosinski’s “the Painted Bird”…a beautiful, macabre War novel or C.S. Lewis great Christian satire “The Screwtape Letters”.


  19. You can’t go wrong with
    You can’t go wrong with Raymond Chandler… he gets over looked a lot because of the negative bias against genre fiction.

    Reading Ulysses is kind of like drinking prune juice when you’re constipated. It’s important, and can be a relief… but with any luck, you’ll never have to do it again.

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