Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

Leave a comment

100 books by 40: ULYSSES

Book: Ulysses
Author: James Joyce
Published: 1920

I was warned about this book. The warnings were justified. Aside from the more obvious difficulty around a lack of quotations, the lack of prose tires my eyes in unanticipated ways.

And then there is my honed scholarly habit of rereading sentances that I failed to comprehend. I find myself doubling back numerous times on the same page. This habit served me well in my studies in organic chemistry and geology. In this context, my habit isn’t useful.

I have to enter a semi-meditative state and let the words flow over me. The book is less a dissection of form and plot and more about learning new reading habits. Allowing my mind to let go of what I don’t understand is liberating.

Will I understand critical plot points? Probably not. I struggled to identify when Leo Bloom was taking a crap, a bit of ammunition used to classify this work as obscene. There are references to Ireland’s relationship to Great Britain for which I am missing critical context. Let it all wash away or commit to reading this book for the better part of 2015.

I know this book is supposed to take place over the course of one day. I also know that there are two main characters who’s lives careen together through the course of that day. I know that the chapters seem to be written from different people’s perspectives, and in significantly different writing styles. I also know that primary themes are the meaning of life and the part that religion plays in our lives.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, but I find my feelings for it difficult to grasp as I do many of the details of my dreams. There’s subjective experiences that the book captures better than any writing I’ve seen. The cacophony of a full bar, and the happenstance of new friendships that crop up there are perfectly translated to letters. The flighty nature of consciousness is flawlessly captured. It’s this precise capture that puts this book in my repeat read list. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but the bits I did were beautiful.