Reading James Joyce's Ulysses for the First Time

June 16. Its a date that won't ring true to many of you, unless its your birthday or the birthday of someone close to you. But I want to introduce the concept of Bloomsday to you all.

James Joyce's Ulysses, a modernist novel spanning a whopping 600+ pages of train-of-thought, takes place over the course of a single day, June 16. And Joyce fans everywhere like to celebrate this special day by reading it over the course of Bloomsday. Or at least starting it.

I'm pretty sure I came across the idea of Bloomsday in a column by Danny Katz once. Of course, back then, Ulysses was just a really thick, scary book.

So how, you may ask, did I come to read it?

Well, first of all, read it is being used relatively here, because I actually didn't finish it. I got through 150 pages, which is pretty impressive because a lot of sources say that if you're going to give up on a book you need to at least give it 50 pages. And I gave it three times that. I gave it a week and a bit of my life. And then something shiny came along and I got distracted...

But like a lot of things in my life, reading Ulysses was about the glory of being able to say "Oh yes, I picked up Ulysses once, tried to read it one winter." A friend of mine sent me an article about those Kindle things... which are a terrible idea by the way... and it was about how when they make the e-Book of Ulysses they have to take the sexy bits out, remove the illustrations and whatnot. (How disappointed was I to discover that my version didn't have illustrations anyway?) And I started thinking about Ulysses. About the kind of people who sat down and tried to read it.

I mean just look at Marilyn Munroe! Image Respectfully Pilfered From: Ordinary Finds

I wondered how many people in the world had read it all the way through. I wondered how many people in the world had understood it. I wondered where the government had hidden these people to make the rest of us look smart. And I realised there was only one way to find out. I had to BECOME one of those people.

Now it just so happens that I vocalise (or raise the subject via online conversation) nearly every thought I have. And someone that I was talking to happened to reply with a statement along the lines of "it's funny you should ask me if I have read it because it's sitting on the pile of books I have yet to read." We decided to have a race.

My intention was that we would read it, and then join that elite club of Joyce readers, and sit in coffee shops wearing berets and tinted glasses, drinking coffee blacker than our skivvies and talking about the magic of Joyce, all the while being extremely pretentious.

Well. You know what they say about the best laid plans.

My grandpa's reaction when I told him that I was trying read it was something along the lines of "People who start that book rarely finish it." I know he's read it. I know that he's read some other Joyce too. And I know that he probably understood them because my grandparents are without a doubt the smartest people I know. And I'm not just saying that because they're reading this. Grandpa probably knows what island the government are hiding the Joyce lovers on. And I, poor fool, said to him "I intend to finish."

I said this to him knowing that the book had sat on my desk for five consecutive days without being picked up. I said this to him knowing that I had no idea what was going on. I said this to him, and even as the words came out, I knew that it would not be true at this point in time.

Saturday night officially marked the end of the reading race. Ironically, it was a draw. Both of us made it to page 150. I think that's 8 chapters.

This quote from Ulysses is ironically appropriate to my efforts this first time around.

" We were always loyal to lost causes, the professor said. Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination. We were never loyal to the successful. We serve them." page 110

Aw now look how sad I've made poor James Joyce! I'm guilt ridden! I vow to try again one day in the future, fear not Mr. Joyce. And maybe I'll even read some of your other work too.

Image Respectfully Pilfered from: The Mad Aardvark (You can read about their attempts to celebrate Bloomsday there too.)

Yours Faithfully,


P.S. I am digging the eyepatch. Very Captain Hook.


  1. Yes. Captain Hook meets Colonel Sanders (or perhaps Billy Connolly) with that goatee.

    Anyway, congratulations on at least giving it a try. I've got a ton of books on my shelf that I'm yet to read because they're too big and complicated for me. One day... one day we'll conquer those books that have conquered us for so long.

  2. It depresses me how many of my friends have read and understood Ulysses. Those bastards.

  3. somethingofafan7/13/2010 9:31 pm

    Will have to attempt to read this myself sometime; like you say, it's the brag value that would really make it worthwhile, as shallow as that is. Sorry, Joyce, but you write something like Ulysses, it's going to be someone's winter intellectual Everest.

  4. Wow. A fan. A mystery fan. I like this.


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