Ulysses by James Joyce
Where did I get the book and how many pages?
This is unabridged at 783 pages. I bought this book at the PX, not realizing I had a copy on an app on my iPad already. I like having actual books at times, but I kind of wish I hadn’t spent money on something I already owned. In the end I found the iPad app version to be easier to read, even if it was actually longer at 1090 pages.
Have I read this before?
I thought I might have, and then I realized I was thinking of The Odyssey, which I am pretty sure is completely different.
What do I know?
I know nothing about this one. The description on the back is all about it having once had a federal ban on the book.
I thought about it a little, and a few pages in, I decided to look up the book online and see what it was about, and learn why it was banned. According to Wikipedia (since I was looking for a quick answer, not something I could cite in an academic paper) Ulysses was banned for obscenity. It is the story of a man named Leopold Bloom on one day in Dublin and is considered to be a brilliant example of writing human thought and modernist literature.
Because of the way this book it written, I did refer back to this posting in Wikipedia occasionally to keep up with what was supposed to be happening and when.
What did I think?
There is a sliding scale of intelligence in the world, and a person’s reaction to their own intelligence.
This scale of course has no scientific basis that I am aware of, it is simply my own observations.
We’ll begin with those who are a bit dim, but they are okay with that fact. They know there is a lot out there they do not know, and they either do not care to learn, find it funny that they are dumb, or are confident enough in themselves to be willing to ask questions when they want to learn more.
Slightly above them are those who are dim, but they are angry. They don’t like not knowing, maybe they are jealous of those who do know or simply do not want others to know they are not as intelligent.
Right in the middle of course is the average person. They know a decent amount, and know there is much they don’t know. Maybe they admit it sometimes, maybe they don’t, it all depends.
Next comes those who are smart, but they are not confident enough to show it. Maybe they think they are not as smart as they really are, or maybe they are afraid of showing they are not as smart as others think. Sometimes they are angry, but mostly they are careful. They don’t want to slip up and reveal the truth, particularly if the truth is their own lack of intelligence.
Finally, there are those who are smart, know they are smart, and aren’t afraid to show it. They aren’t afraid of not knowing something; in fact something new might excite them, since it gives them the opportunity to learn.
I’d like to think I am a reasonably intelligent person, but I am probably actually average. On a good day, I fall between the average and the smart but unsure person. I don’t always like to admit when I don’t understand something, mostly because I don’t like to ruin the illusion that I might be smarter than people think. The years of blonde jokes from Kindergarten through High School may also be a factor here.
All of that being said, I didn’t get this book. Hemingway recommended that an author write drunk, edit sober. I think Joyce never sobered up, and definitely never edited. Beyond the horrid punctuation, making much of the conversation hard to follow, there are at least 20 different writing styles throughout the book, as well as random lines in other languages. I’m pretty sure I recognized French, and maybe Irish and Latin as well, but I wasn’t sure. It is possible this is a brilliant work, but I think it is more likely this is what they monkeys produced when they were trying to write Shakespeare.
I don’t want it to seem as though this book was completely horrible. There were parts that were actually good and enjoyable to read. They just weren’t as plentiful as the parts that didn’t make any sense. Generally the only parts that were consistently readable were the portions where someone was doing or imagining something sexual. There was no story arc, no exciting events happening, just an average day where a man goes about his business and thinks about sex and death. For any writer who ever fears what too much exposition will do to their novel, they should read a few pages of this book and think a bit on what happens when you forget to add the action.
The worst part of this book was its ability to make me not want to read. I have not had a day of my life since first grade where I did not want to read. Knowing Ulysses was waiting for me, I dreaded reading. It got to a point where I was making deals with myself to push through a few more pages. I had several nights where I would sit to read, look at how many pages I had left and calculate out how many pages I HAD to read in order to finish this book in a reasonable amount of time. (100 pages a night will have me finished in a week, but 75 pages is only 10 days, and means I can stop reading 25 pages earlier tonight!) It was depressing, having my book no longer be my friend.
Should you read this book before you die?
No. This is not a book to be read while sitting in bed with a cup of tea. This is a book to be studied. There is so much going on, and so many things to focus on and understand, you need to take your time and pay attention. Don’t think of this as pleasure reading, think of it as a learning experience. Read this when you have someone to discuss it with, even if that someone is in a chat room somewhere. Reading it straight through on your own, as I did, might work for some people, but I wouldn’t recommend it for most readers. Wait to read this one until you are actually ready to make the commitment.
Now that Ulysses is over, I can finally get into the next book, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. I have been looking forward to this one, but it could just be because it is not Ulysses.
After Frankenstein, I plan on tackling The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I don’t have a pretty picture of this one, as it is a book inside an app, but I hope you will trust me that it does exist.