Jamelah Reads the Classics: Ulysses, Part 2

Progress: pathetic and sad.

Since the last time I wrote about my experience reading this book, I’ve been busy. I got distracted by… things. And my reading time ended up falling by the wayside, which means that when I finally got un-distracted and picked the book back up, I had pretty much forgotten everything I’d read. I mean, I know what I read, but I lost the rhythm of it.

In short, I’m starting over.

I’m reminded of being 17 and being assigned A Tale of Two Cities to read before school started, and I’d begin the book, get distracted by life and put it down, rinse and repeat. By the end of July that summer I had the first chapter memorized. (I hated A Tale of Two Cities, by the way, and I’ve never tried picking it up again to see if I hated it because I was 17 or I hated it because, well, I hated it.) Though the beginning of Ulysses may be worth memorizing (my internal jury is out on this), here’s hoping that I don’t start over enough to memorize the beginning. Here’s also hoping that I’m not still reading this in July.

So as not to be entirely pointless, I do have some things to say about the book. Having gotten through the first section of it (and being a bit of a nerd about Homer), I had a fun time looking for parallels between the beginning of Ulysses and the Telemachiad (the beginning of the Odyssey) — no really — and who knows? Maybe the second time around it’ll be even better. I have a question, though. I remember a time when I used to be able to read books without constantly looking for symbols and allusions and other assorted what-nots, and I sort of wonder if the fact that I don’t seem to be able to do this now is something of a hindrance. I mean, isn’t there something to be said for just reading a book? Does working at literature make it more or less enjoyable? I’m not sure, but it’s something I think about a lot.

Maybe if I’d spend less time thinking about the act of reading and more time actually reading I’d be further along. But then, thinking too much has always been one of my very favorite pastimes.

I guess I’ll leave it there. Until next time (when I hope I’m not on my third beginning of Ulysses).

10 Responses

  1. Warren — I’m not bored with
    Warren — I’m not bored with it, but I just haven’t had time for it.

    But if I ever get far enough to get bored with it or end up hating it, then I don’t feel it’s something I need to finish. I spent enough of life reading things I didn’t care about because I had to read them, and now that I don’t have to, I’m not going to.

    Brian — Ha! I wonder how I could get that to happen…

  2. You say, “I remember a time
    You say, “I remember a time when I used to be able to read books without constantly looking for symbols and allusions…”

    Don’t be too concerned with that. I find that my exposure to Ulysses and other “deep” books has made even casual reading more fun. I see connections and subtle meanings much more often, but it’s not a forced thing where I have to concentrate to do it. It’s like, once you know the definition of impressionist painting, you can still enjoy a Monet with getting bogged down in all the blobs of color.

    Thanks for the update. I can see that you have the right idea – have fun with it!

  3. There’s no two ways about it:
    There’s no two ways about it: Ulysses is hard. I read through it in college (many years ago as an English major) more as an act of devotion than comprehension. Recently, I “re-” read it, this time using Richard Ellman’s Ulysses on the Liffey and Nabokov’s chapter on the book in Lectures on Literature as guides. Cribbing, chapter by luscious chapter, helped tease out the complicated allusions and difficult diction and did not detract from a thorough enjoyment. Best of luck!

  4. Speaking of being interrupted
    Speaking of being interrupted while reading Ulysses. When I was in college, I checked this bad boy out of the library and attempted a read. I carried the damn thing around with me everywhere. I renewed it umpteen times. I read and read and it seemed like I got nowhere. I would read. I would doze off. I would lose my place and have to start over. One day I carried the damn tome along with me to the apartment of a friend. While there, we partook of a massive amount of hashish. I left the flat hours later, and, while sitting in my room, I opened the book and read. It made friggin’ sense! I read for about an hour, then I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. The next day, I awoke and remembered what I read, but a guy from across the hall started talking to me about an upcoming exam. Like Coleridge with Kublai Khan, the whole experience vanished

  5. I have tried at the beginning
    I have tried at the beginning myself–but instead of reading Joyce I am trying to read the beginning of another book I put down. Hey I heard a voice recording of Joyce on-line before–to hear the words out loud is eerie and beautiful. Maybe you can find it on-line??

  6. I was talking to my honors
    I was talking to my honors director who happens to have her doctorate in Irish literature, I mentioned my own ventures toward reading Ulysses. She gave me a little insight, which came off to me as a shock. One of the direct quotations was “Don’t read the Odyssey”. But! She said I should pick up a copy of the Tain bo Cauilnge. Still an ancient epic, but not greek; Irish. She said all scholarly like, “Though Joyce makes direct references to the Odyssey, like molly being a siren [laughs], he was very well versed in Ancient Irish literature.” Yum! FYI, the book is about a cattle raid (of epic proportions lol). Also, it’s riddled with random poetry due to bored scribners back in the day who thought it would be cool to throw in a few verses here and there to spice the work up a little bit. This effect gives the Tain a very random approach that a lot of times doesn’t make any sense. Joyce emulates that style and, of course, also makes references to the Tain. In the end, if you really set your heart to it you could very easily to become a Joycian scholar trying to read Ulysses..or you could just read it 😛

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