NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!

Lezlie



Sunday, May 31, 2009

ULYSSES

by James Joyce



According to Jack Murnighan, author of Beowulf on the Beach, and I'm paraphrasing here, James Joyce was far too intelligent for his own good and puts it on gaudy display in Ulysses to the point where he might be the only one who actually gets all the jokes. I have no reason on earth to dispute that conclusion. Thankfully, my goal was not to understand the book, but to get a feel for it. I wanted to have a "big picture" when I was finished and an idea as to whether or not I would like to potentially revisit the book in more detail sometime in the future or if a passing familiarity is good enough. I've waffled between both of those answers a number of times during the book, but I believe I will ultimately come back to Ulysses in the future. It's a weird piece of work, no doubt about it. However, even though large portions of it were lost on me, I think I can see why it has attained the place it has in the world of literature. It will never be my favorite classic, but I respect it. And if the truth be told, I liked it in a currently-inexpressible kind of way.

It was a lot like reading The Faerie Queene in that I had times of complete lucidity and I was thinking, "Wow! This is really good!" Then all of a sudden I was mired in long passages where I had no clue at all what was going on. As long as I stayed focused on my goal of "the big picture", I was good. I do admit to serious frustration during some of the more difficult chapters. Remember the episode of I Love Lucy when she went to work in the chocolate factory?



That was how I felt sometimes. The thing was just getting away from me. But then the chapter (aka "Episode") would be over, I'd read more Sparknotes, I'd get a fresh grip, and I did okay. My method was to read the Sparknotes for an Episode before the actual book so I had a preview of what it was about. That was the correct way for me to handle it. It gave me the ability to pick up bits of the story even in the midst of utter confusion.

It's difficult to know what to say about Ulysses, what other potential readers may be curious about. In light of that, here are a few of the random notes I jotted during the reading:

Do you ever starting thinking about one thing, then minutes later you're thinking about something completely different and wonder how on earth you got to that subject? Ulysses is just like that!

Keeping track as well as you can of which parts of The Odyssey Ulysses is paralleling does help with the more difficult episodes. They didn't make a ton more sense, but at least I felt I could understand why they were presented in the manner they were. The Sparknotes Reading Guide was very helpful with this.

(Thoughts From Episode Six: Hades) I loved all the distracted thoughts during the funeral! Unless the deceased is someone close, I'll bet that's what's going on in most of our brains during funeral services.

I didn't realize that Ulysses was written in so many different styles. For example, I knew about the stream-of-consciousness aspect that permeates the entire work, but there is one episode written in a manner that follows the development of the English language beginning with early English and ending with what at the time was modern slang. Another is written entirely in "question and answer" format.

If any of you have a question about reading Ulysses, please ask! I'll answer the best I can. This was the book I feared above all others, and maybe I can make it a bit less scary for other readers. Maybe. :-)



25 comments:

Rebecca Reid said...

I am so impressed that you read so close on the heals of Faerie Queen! I'm incredibly scared of reading Ulysses, but like you, I'd like to read it to get a feel for it. Great job. You are so inspiring.

I'm glad I read The Odyssey recently. Sounds like that will help.

Lezlie said...

Rebecca ~ Thanks! I did think The Odyssey parallels were helpful. Some disagree because the basis is so loose, but I felt the comparisons seemed more compelling the more I considered them.

I think using the audiobook for the initial go-round was a less painful way to break the ice. You might want to look into that. I also had a physical copy of the book at home so I could look at it when I wanted to check something, which was a big help also.

Lezlie

Andi said...

Brava!!! I'm proud of you for getting through it. I made a pact to read it with some of my grad school friends a couple of years ago, and I think all but one of us punked out (note: I was one of the punks). I'm glad you could appreciate the book and that it was a worthwhile experience. I still have it and will definitely tackle it one of these days.

Jaimie said...

I haven't attempted Ulysses yet. It seems like such a monster to read. I liked your Lucy comparison, sounds about right for some of these tomes. It reminds me of the time I tried to read War and Peace. Just when you have a certain part figured out, we're on to the next complicated part with twenty new characters. Whew!

Lezlie said...

Andi ~ Thanks! How far did you get? My favorite was Episode 6, but the final one with Molly as narrator was pretty memorable, too.

Jaimie ~ I wasn't sure how many people would get that comparision. That's why I included the video clip. I'm glad others can relate! I can totally see War and Peace being a beast for people, but for some reason I took to that one. I loved it! It *was* tough keeping track of characters, but at least I understood what was going on most of the time. How far did you end up getting before you threw in the towel?

Lezlie

Rose City Reader said...

Congratulations! I am going to take your suggestion and listen to it the next time around.

Is Finnigans Wake next? :)

Lezlie said...

Rose City Reader ~ *That* one has now replaced Ulysses as The Book I Fear Above All Others. :-) It will be awhile for that one, I'm thinking.

Lezlie

BooksPlease said...

Awesome, Lezlie!

Maybe I'll get round to Ulysses one of these days and then I'll come to you for help.

Lezlie said...

BooksPlease ~ Thanks! I'd be tickled if I could actually be helpful to someone when it comes to Ulysses. :-)

Lezlie

joanna said...

Very impressive Lezlie! I've never read this, although I did consider it - but my Irish boyfriend says that he doesn't understand why anyone non-Irish would want to read it. ;-)

Lezlie said...

Joanna ~ Does it actually make more sense to Irish people? :-) I just wanted to read it because of it's status in literature. You know, so I can say I did. It's an ego thing. LOL!

Lezlie

joanna said...

apparently it makes more sense if you know Ireland and Dublin... who knows? ;-)

Lezlie said...

Joanna ~ I can see where that would actually be helpful. But that's probably true of most books. If you're familiar with the setting, just about any book is more interesting. Even Ulysses! :-)

Lezlie

Matt said...

Reading Ulysses would be a literary stunt! It requires courage and patience. I didn't enjoy it as I had to rush through it for a course in college. I would like to read it over again--slowly, in order to get the most out of it. :)

Lezlie said...

Hi, Matt! My husband and I were just discussing that very thing! I would have hated it if I had been reading it for a lit course. On my own, I was able to approach it in whatever manner worked for me and it ended up being oddly fun.

Lezlie

Ladytink_534 said...

I know the story of Ulysses but I'm not sure if I ever read it or not lol.

Andi said...

Lezlie, I didn't get very far at all--maybe episode two'ish? Definitely gotta try again!

Lezlie said...

Ladytink ~ You're a step ahead of where I was. All I knew was that it was the story of one day in a man's life in Dublin.

Andi ~ Take your time. Ulysses will be around awhile I'm thinking. :-)

Lezlie

Literary Feline said...

I like the approach you took in reading this one through for the first time, Lezlie. I have never really given any thought to trying Ulysses. Maybe someday. :-)

Lezlie said...

Literary Feline ~ The Faerie Queene taught me a valuable lesson. :-) Any other approach and I would have been too intimidated to start or too frustrated to keep going. You might want to try the audio version of Ulysses the first time out. While I missed some things by not seeing the printed page, I think I gained a broader knowledge of the book than I would have otherwise.

Lezlie

Trish said...

Hmmm-I've never thought about reading Sparknotes before. I should have done that with Middlemarch--especially some of those annoying political chapters. Kudos to you for finishing. Joyce in my book = Ick. :)

Lezlie said...

Trish ~ Thanks! Sparknotes and Cliffnotes are my best friends during reads like this, otherwise I'd be lost!

Lezlie

Paperback Reader said...

Congratulations!

I am impressed that you completed it and you have given me faith! I am taking it slowly, setting my own pace, and haven't worked out my "strategy" of approach yet but think, like you, I will just persevere and refer to notes. I think the most important thing first of all is not hype it in my mind as an insurmountable task because then I'll never overcome it; I want to enjoy the experience, if possible.

Thanks for your advice and influence!

farmlanebooks said...

Thank you for explaining it so well! I too am going to tackle Ulysses and your review has given me new hope. I haven't got very far into it, and already I don't know what is going on!! I'm going to get a study guide, keep going and aim to get a feel for the book rather than a full understanding.

Lezlie said...

Paperback Reader ~ That's a big thing. You have to conquer the mental game of believing you won't get it before you even start. If you have any questions as you go along, just ask. I really just kept right on going through the rough patches and eventually I'd get to parts that were really fun. Back and forth and back and forth. . . :-)

Farmlanebooks ~ I'm glad my post was helpful! I would have never made it without the study guide. I just used the one I've linked to in this post, and it was wonderful. Keep an open mind during the whole book and you'll suddenly find yourself loving bit and pieces along the way.

Lezlie