Jamelah Reads the Classics: Ulysses, Part 1

Technically, I’m supposed to be reading The Good Earth right now, at least if I were going in order with my list of classics, but I started out of order by reading The Maltese Falcon first, so I guess when it comes to chronology, all bets are off this time around.

So, I started reading James Joyce’s Ulysses a couple of weeks ago, and at the rate I’m going, I’ll be reading it for awhile. Levi and I were emailing about what I was going to write about here this week, and I mentioned that I was thinking about doing an occasional series about my experience of reading the book, my odyssey through Ulysses, if you will (groan), because — perhaps because it’s so long, perhaps because there’s an attitude of “Oh, you’re reading Ulysses? You’re not going to finish that!” surrounding the book — reading this particular classic seems to be as much about the journey through its pages as it does about the book itself. And maybe, just maybe, if from time to time I write about reading the book, it will help propel me through it. So here we are at the first installment. How exciting.

I will admit that I haven’t gotten very far with it yet. This is at least due in part to the fact that I usually read for about an hour at night before I go to sleep because I have a hard time fitting it into my day otherwise, and Ulysses seems to have the ability to knock me out almost immediately, leaving me to wake up five minutes or an hour later feeling completely disoriented and wondering what the hell is going on. So maybe I should try reading it in the afternoon, or something.

Despite the fact that it’s apparently like a lullaby (at least to me), I’m not having a bad time with it. I am incredibly grateful that I know Homer’s Odyssey really well, because it’s been helpful. In fact, I’ve been using it as a companion reference while I read. So far, it’s working. And that’s pretty much all I have to report at present — I’m not very far, the Odyssey is useful — but I will check back in with another update on my progress when I get a little further along in the book. To those of you who have finished Ulysses, I have a question for you: I know it’s not a race, but how long did it take you to finish it?

15 Responses

  1. First time I read it, it took
    First time I read it, it took me a month. I was a senior in high school. Had no friends and a lot of time on my hands. Since then I’ve found it’s a lot more enjoyable if you don’t try to break your neck getting through it… if you read it regularly, but let it take its own pace. Some sections fly by because they’re really fun/smutty/bizarre, others will have you reading paragraphs over and over again trying to digest the million-and-one things that happen in every sentence. It’s so playful and lively, especially once you get through Stephen Dedalus pretentious-yet-occasionally-poignant solipsisms. Just like Citizen Kane is – if not the greatest movie ever made – probably the most “fun” great movie, i think Ulysses is the most “fun” great novel. Looking forward to your thoughts as you make your way through it!

  2. Oh, if only I had a nickel
    Oh, if only I had a nickel for every time I’ve awakened feeling disoriented.

    Near the beginning of Ulysses, was it my imagination, or did a seal stick its head up out of the ocean and say, “Usurper”?

    It took me about a week to read the first half of Ulysses, but it’s taken me a couple of years to not read the second half.

    Here’s another thing nobody asked me. The movie O, Brother, Where Art Thou? is also based on Homer’s Odyssey. According to Wikipedia, the movie is based on a 1989 novella by Howard Waldrop called A Dozen Tough Jobs. Waldrop’s work has been described as “disorientingly strange/familiar.”

    So, as you can see, everything is a circle. Discontinue if you experience dizziness or decreased vision.

  3. I haven’t read it, but it is
    I haven’t read it, but it is on a shelf (somewhere). Perhaps I will, probably I won’t.

    I remember reading a review of an unabridged audio version of it and, apparently, it takes about 27 hours to listen to. Just slightly more than Bloomsday itself.

  4. After I read
    After I read “Ulysses”…

    That’s all. I just like saying that. I try to bring it up in social situations whenever possible. Also works with “Finnegan’s Wake”.

    I’m weird: “Ulysses” was a lot of fun once I figured it out and, for some reason, “Finnegan’s Wake” made me laugh a lot.

    The other weird thing: I couldn’t read other traditional novels while reading “Ulysses” and “FW”.

  5. I read it too long ago to
    I read it too long ago to remember the time it took but I agree with everything Sam said and nothing with Bill. I would say that everything about it you dislike is probably a reflection of inadequacy on the part of the book. I think this point is lost with the conversation surrounding the book as was noted in the post.

    It should be read though simply because it’s better than any other. To take the word “usurper” as an example of a seal parting the two u’s of water (not to go too far but the word “seal” beginning with an s makes the depiction even better. I can’t remember if this is actually what is occuring but I remember the scene) is good to say the least. And if this level of detail is annoying or tiresome than you can tell someone who tries to convince you otherwise to get fucked. You would put it nicely.

  6. Even now, over eighty years
    Even now, over eighty years after Ulysees was published, I find it holds my interest, a day in the life of a man in Dublin, Ireland. When a lot of the literary experiments of the twentieth century now sit in the dustbins, Ulysees remains a masterpiece in my eyes. I’ve never worked up the courage to tackle Finnegan’s Wake though.

  7. The first time I read it I
    The first time I read it I was in high school — it took me about 2 months, and I loved it even though I had no idea what the hell was going on. Second time, in college, took me about 6 months, with lots of secondary reading and intense study. I enjoyed my early method a lot more.

    I wholeheartedly agree that Ulysses is the most “fun” great novel out there (then again, it’s also my favorite book ever, so take that for what it’s worth), and also agree that Dedalus’ musings can get a bit overwhelming at times.

    That’s what’s so great about everything beginning with chapter 4 — after three chapters retreating further and further into Stephen’s head, and wondering how much more of it you can possibly take, suddenly there’s a seal screaming “usurper” (or Stephen calling the seal usurper, or whatever other reading you have of it), and bang — now you’re the property of Leopold Bloom, with all of the “sugarsweet girl” and “she sure does whack it, by George” that that entails.

    Whenever I’ve got friends reading it, I always make them promise to at least get to chapter 4. I LOVE chapter 4…

  8. I agree about Finnegans Wake
    I agree about Finnegans Wake also. Finnegans Wake is better than Ulysses. Courage is less important than diligence and diligence is often the product of interminability which leads to unpopularity or worse! Bad people read Finnegans Wake. Bad people read Finnegans Wake!

  9. In truth, I have much respect
    In truth, I have much respect for James Joyce and his work. I only pick on Ulysses because it seems indestructible & untouchable. It’s like making fun of Albert Einstein for not combing his hair.

    Regarding my decision to set aside Ulysses when I was halfway through it, I can say without hesitation that any shortcomings were mine.

    I’m very much looking forward to Jamelah’s next installment on this subject. I mean, she even made it through the House of Leaves labyrinth and lived to tell about it.

  10. i’ve begun and gotten to abt
    i’ve begun and gotten to abt p 500 of ulysses repeatedly.

    i dont know that i support the consumption of organs. that smell of kidneys frying.

    finnegans wake i’ve only ever read parts of. alas, nonlinearly. i seek the book out for inspiration. for solace. for direction. read aloud. ALOUD. that’s the key to hear the harps & swords.

    next time i decide to read ulysses it’ll have to be from the beginagain.

    and the bog’ll fall round page 500. hm. maybe i shld start there and keep going when i get to the end.

    ‘A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve & Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.’

  11. Kevin said:

    The other weird
    Kevin said:

    The other weird thing: I couldn’t read other traditional novels while reading “Ulysses” and “FW”.

    I agree. I haven’t gotten to Ulysses yet, but reading Infinite Jest completely wrecked me for about a month as far as any other reading. Everything seemed…flat?

  12. Love, love, love Ulysses.
    Love, love, love Ulysses. First read it when I was sixteen in about a month. But I got more enjoyment from my second read of it and various rereadings of individual chapters.

    I agree Sam: Don’t rush Ulysses. I f you start speed reading it, you’ll get bored an frustrated very quickly.

  13. I agree with Bill
    I agree with Bill ok–conversation about Joyce needs a tweaky sense so to speak. My concern being the disuse of material vs conversations about the materials.

  14. I read it over the course of
    I read it over the course of three days when I was sick.

    I didn’t actually process any of it though, so it was kind of a waste.

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