Ulysses: Hello, Leopold Bloom!

The_ButcherShop_TinSign_largeI have finished ‘chapters’ 4 and 5, and by jove I might be getting the hang of this thing. Or probably not. I have a feeling that this book is going to keep me on my toes.

Chapter 4 is ‘Calypso’ where we meet Leo and his wife Molly Bloom. They are an interesting couple, let me say that. Leo has a penchant for ‘the inner organs of beasts and fowls‘. Here is the line that made me laugh and cringe at the same time:

Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

If that doesn’t conjure up some senses for you, I can’t help you. Joyce really knew how to paint a (scented) picture.

This chapter was relatively easy to follow along with. Molly is some sort of singer who likes to lounge in bed. Leo (as mentioned above) likes organ meat. They have a cat. Molly has some sort of lover who writes letters to her at her house. Turnabout is fair play, as they say. Leo has a female friend that he is writing letters to – under his fake name – Henry Flower. Wait! I just got that….Flower….Bloom. Boy am I dim.

Anyhoo….these two chapters basically are about Leo going about his morning routine, feeding the cat, going to the butcher to get a kidney for breakfast, and getting ready for a funeral at 11:00.

Here is my fear, we are only 70 or so pages into the book at it’s already 11:00 am novel time – what’s going to happen for the rest of the day that takes 600 more pages to relate! <insert scared face emoji here>

Here is what Joyce is a master of – this stream of consciousness thing. I mean, duh! I remember in high school (or university) the teacher speaking about this and learning that’s what Joyce’s style is. And I was like, yeah cool. In my advanced age, I feel like I have a better understanding of what that means. I still think it’s cool, even after all these years. Here is the thing, you get in your car and drive to the grocery store, get out of your car and go shopping. Your mind is off in about a million different places during that time. Oh apples, I need to get some, remember that apple pie that my mom made that was so delicious, and onions, I need one of those too, I need to remember to do the laundry when I get home, do I need laundry detergent…..and so on. (See, I’m no James Joyce.) But you get the drift. Our minds don’t work in a linear way, and I think he really gets to the heart of that. And to me, it’s fascinating.

As BJ mentioned in his potato post, there are tons of references, allusions, and other (I guess you could say) easter eggs in the book. And that’s great if you want to pick through them an understand it. I think, (and I am also hoping) that if you can just get in the current and ride the waves of words and let them wash over you, you can actually enjoy it.


Ulysses, Chapter 1: It’s not as bad as I thought

joyce towerHere is what I forget sometimes: that books are deemed classics for a reason. Although I am 20 pages in, I would say this book qualifies.

I read the chapter straight through and tried not to get tripped up by the latin quotes or the sometimes odd language. Once I finished, I looked up a summary of the chapter to see if I understood it. I wasn’t too far off. First, I wasn’t sure how many people were actually involved – it was sort of like a Russian novel where people were called by different names – so I wasn’t sure if there were three or four dudes. Second, Joyce basically drops you right in the middle of a scene with no explanation – so I didn’t know if they were on a ship (there is lots of talk of the sea) or on some sort of battlefield or castle.

It turns out there are three dudes, and they are living in a tower. The tower is actually based on one that Joyce stayed in (pictured above) for six nights in 1904. (It’s now a museum dedicated to the author.) The main character in the chapter is Stephen Dedalus (who I remember from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and if I recall correctly, is a representation of the author. Basically, Stephen gets mad at the dudes he is sharing the space with and gives him they key and it looks like he won’t return.

The chapter is ‘titled’ Telemachus – he is the son of Odysseus and is a central character in Homer’s Odyssey. Telemachus is the one who goes out searching for his father when all of the suitors come calling on his mother. Here is what we know: Ulysses is based on the Odyssey BUT does not follow it exactly. (Also, Ulysses is the Latinized version of the name Odysseus, according to Wikipedia.) So I take from this that Dedalus is going on some sort of journey.

There are some strange words – BJ and I just had a discussion on what an ashplant is. It’s a walking stick, FYI. It’s sort of like (but not as difficult as) reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. There are strange words put together in a way that we don’t use here. However, it’s very lyrical. The sounds of the words paint a picture. I know that sounds super weird, but that’s how it seems to me. Even though I don’t exactly know what’s going on, the way the words sound give you a clue. If you haven’t read it, you will just have to trust me on this one. The other difficult thing is, I think he also makes up words. So I can’t tell the made up words from the ones that I just don’t know the definitions of.

I think what makes this so interesting is – you can just read it and get the gist of what is going on. Or you can study it and get into the meaning and symbolism. But you don’t have to do both to enjoy it. Keep in mind, I am only 20 pages in so I might change my mind.

Overall, I liked it. It’s definitely challenging but not impossible. Let’s see what happens next!

It’s Bloomsday….what else is a book nerd to do?

james joyceWell, it’s that time of year where the book nerds start their summer reading project. This year: Ulysses by James Joyce. (Previous projects include, War and Peace, Infinite Jest and Brothers Karamazov.)

I am actually pretty excited to read this. I was a bit of a James Joyce fan girl back in my university days. (I may have had a poster of Mr. Joyce on my wall. My book nerd blood runs deep.) I was trying to think back to why I was enamoured with him and his writing. I think it has something to do with the fact that it was different from anything else I had ever read. The short story “The Dead” and his novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” were to me, at the time super cool. They were a different style. And I felt pretty literary, to be honest. I remember reading “The Dead” in high school and my mind exploded. It was just so good and so different. I am a bit afraid that it was easier when I was younger to have an open mind about reading his stuff. At my advanced age I have expectations of how a book should be, and might not be able to go with the flow. However, I do have confidence in the fact that this book has been around for a while and people are still reading it, so it can’t be THAT bad, right?

As BJ mentioned in his post the book has been in the news lately, being referred to by political figures lately as favourite books. BJ’s right, we don’t want to be thought of as being mainstream. (But, if it’s good enough for Pete Buttigieg, it’s good enough for me!)

After we decided this was our book for the summer, I found a Facebook group: Keep Calm and Read Ulysses. I asked for some advice on how to read it, and got a wide variety of responses. (27 of them, to be exact.) They ranged from: “Read Portrait of an Artist. And Dubliners. Familiarize yourselves with Irish political history. Read the Iliad and the Odyssey” to “Just jump on in.” I am going to go with the jump on in suggestion.

BJ was spot on in his blog post when he compared this to experiencing art – just let it wash over you. I love looking at a Rothko – I have no idea what it means, but I just know it’s something I like. So I am going to be awash in Leopold Bloom….wait, that didn’t come out right.

So as the Facebook group says…let’s Keep Calm and Read Ulysses!