“Ulysses” at 100….

 

I just received an alumnus magazine from my university, and it has an article about James Joyce’s “Ulysses” turning 100 years old.

I’ve never read it, but this past week I listened to EconTalk where Russ Roberts went on about his lifetime reading with Tyler Cowen. Both Roberts and Cowen have read all sorts of literature (I don’t remember “Ulysses” being in their list), so I decided I should start reading those things I missed in high school and college.

Is “Ulysses” worth reading? (Remember, there are no stupid questions.)

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  1. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    My wife read it recently because many of her professors in college said it is the best novel ever written. For her (MA in English Lit) to read it required her to read a synopsis before each chapter and, at times, she said it was painful to read because of its obtuseness. She commented that she thinks it’s sort of a badge that English people use, I Read Ulysses, means that you stuck through a massive, unwieldy, and ultimately useless book just to say you did, and, much like the Emperor and their clothes, to say it wasn’t magnificent would mean you didn’t get it and thus aren’t really “in the club”. 

    • #1
  2. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’ve listened to hundreds of books; a lot of classics.  I’m listening to War and Peace right now.  Ulysses is, I think, the only book I gave up on in disgust.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I don’t know if it’s worth reading. I’ve listened to people lecture about it, but so far nobody has given me a reason to read it. It reminds me to get back to work planning a trip to Ireland, though. I’ve ridden my bicycle from my daughter’s apartment to Howth, which was just a few miles away.  Howth is supposedly associated with James Joyce and his book, but you don’t need to know about that to enjoy it.  There are good fish markets, restaurants, and places to go for a walk.  My daughter was priced out of her apartment by all the monied people who are attracted to the area, but we still find it a good place to go on the day of our arrival, while getting used to the time difference. 

    • #3
  4. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    It took me three attempts but I did finish the dang thing…worth reading? Only if you are determined to be a Joyce scholar. Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are both better. The section when Stephen and his father are talking about the early form of the IRA is interesting, but it ends. 

    • #4
  5. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    “A ‘classic’ is a book people praise and don’t read.”

    Mark Twain

    • #5
  6. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    I have a hardcover copy I purchased in the late 70’s (the Jesuit teachers at my high school loved Joyce) but I’ve never made it past the first 5 pages.  In college a girl that saw the book in my apartment was really impressed, so I guess it was good for that, at least. 

    • #6
  7. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    Joyce was just showing off….like one of those hotshot guitarists who do stuff no one else can, but can’t write a tune to save their life.

    Agree with the earlier comment about Portrait of the Artist and Dubliners.

    • #7
  8. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    My son told me after finishing it that it wasn’t worth the effort. He’s seen things where Joyce talked about it being an exercise to make scholars think well of themselves.

    • #8
  9. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    It took me three attempts but I did finish the dang thing…worth reading? Only if you are determined to be a Joyce scholar. Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are both better. The section when Stephen and his father are talking about the early form of the IRA is interesting, but it ends.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly.  I had to read this in college.  Professor Bien, perhaps the most boring erudite professor in the department, was a lover of all things Joyce.  Bien was a spare man, wore little round glasses and oversized suits, as if trying to become his favorite author.  Ulysses was central to the course, but then there was Finnigan’s Wake…  It was a difficult period.  I took up drinking heavily, in keeping with the novel’s Irish heritage, and mine.

    • #9
  10. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    It took me three attempts but I did finish the dang thing…

    I am sure you meant “started it; quit; started it again; quit again; started it once more, drug myself across the finish line” but I like to imagine “started it, quit; tried it upside-down, quit; tried it backwards, bingo.” I think if I had to read such a book, I’d just dip it, a lot, and at random, ’til I sensed I’d seen it all. This doesn’t quite answer the OP’s question, but no, I never read Ulysses, because in high school I had to grunt through Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 

    On the other hand, it is interesting to read about Joyce. Here‘s a link to the Wikipedia subsection titled Third Stay in Trieste. For fun, after every single clause, say, “You know how it is.”

    • #10
  11. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    I appear to be the first reader to “like” this post. I hope many others will join me. Not out of any affection for James Joyce, or alumni magazines; just because it’s spawned a lot of good comments.

    I see the OP was categorized as General, not Literature. Under the available category Culture there should be a new subcategory, Nuisances.

    • #11
  12. Eustace C. Scrubb Member
    Eustace C. Scrubb
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Doug Kimball (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    It took me three attempts but I did finish the dang thing…worth reading? Only if you are determined to be a Joyce scholar. Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are both better. The section when Stephen and his father are talking about the early form of the IRA is interesting, but it ends.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly. I had to read this in college. Professor Bien, perhaps the most boring erudite professor in the department, was a lover of all things Joyce. Bien was a spare man, wore little round glasses and oversized suits, as if trying to become his favorite author. Ulysses was central to the course, but then there was Finnigan’s Wake… It was a difficult period. I took up drinking heavily.

    I had an Oral Interpretation Speech Class in college and we were all assigned the first page of Finnigan’s Wake. Can’t imagine reading the whole book.

    • #12
  13. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    I just went and found my copy.  Bookmark was on page 7.

    • #13
  14. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Dbroussa (View Comment):

    My wife read it recently because many of her professors in college said it is the best novel ever written. For her (MA in English Lit) to read it required her to read a synopsis before each chapter and, at times, she said it was painful to read because of its obtuseness. She commented that she thinks it’s sort of a badge that English people use, I Read Ulysses, means that you stuck through a massive, unwieldy, and ultimately useless book just to say you did, and, much like the Emperor and their clothes, to say it wasn’t magnificent would mean you didn’t get it and thus aren’t really “in the club”.

    My thoughts exactly. When I read it while in the Army, I discovered it was a great waste of time. But, as you say, it was considered by many to be the entry to a club.

    • #14
  15. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    There’s some occasion (Bloomsday?) annually where a number of people volunteer to read it aloud, trading off after every chapter or so.  I picture the next person in line dragging the previous person off the stage exhausted . . . and again . . . and again.

    • #15
  16. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Chris Williamson: Is “Ulysses” worth reading?

    I’ve heard it’s not.  I listened to the Great Courses lessons on the book (https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/joyce-s-ulysses) and it sounded like total garbage to me.  Michelle Witte, in her book The Faker’s Guide to the Classics, gives it due ridicule.  IIRC, even Joyce was quoted as saying he wanted to write something college professors would be analyzing for years.

    So, no . . .

    • #16
  17. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    I hear that Ulysses S. Grant wrote an interesting book.  

    • #17
  18. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    I hear that Ulysses S. Grant wrote an interesting book.

    Grant’s memoirs, written when he was dying from throat cancer (too many cigars), is probably the greatest memoir I have read; great history of the Civil War and remarkably honest and modest. Samuel Clements, aware that Grant’s death would leave his wife Julia in poverty, contracted with Grant to have his memoirs published. Grant died just a couple of weeks, I believe, after he finished writing it.

    • #18
  19. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    There’s some occasion (Bloomsday?) annually where a number of people volunteer to read it aloud, trading off after every chapter or so. I picture the next person in line dragging the previous person off the stage exhausted . . . and again . . . and again.

    Bloomsday (courtesy of Wikipedia):

    The day involves a range of cultural activities, including Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and other events, some of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday, and retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours.

    The James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandycove, site of the opening chapter of Ulysses, hosts many free activities around Bloomsday including theatrical performances, musical events, tours of the iconic tower and readings from Joyce’s masterpiece.

     Barry McGovern Reading from Ulysses on top of James Joyce Tower and Museum, 16 June 2009

    “Every year hundreds of Dubliners dress as characters from the book … as if to assert their willingness to become one with the text. It is quite impossible to imagine any other masterpiece of modernism having quite such an effect on the life of a city.”

    • #19
  20. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    There’s some occasion (Bloomsday?) annually where a number of people volunteer to read it aloud, trading off after every chapter or so. I picture the next person in line dragging the previous person off the stage exhausted . . . and again . . . and again.

    Bloomsday (courtesy of Wikipedia):

    The day involves a range of cultural activities, including….

     

    zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz…….

     

    • #20
  21. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    There’s some occasion (Bloomsday?) annually where a number of people volunteer to read it aloud, trading off after every chapter or so. I picture the next person in line dragging the previous person off the stage exhausted . . . and again . . . and again.

    Bloomsday (courtesy of Wikipedia):

    The day involves a range of cultural activities, including….

     

    zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz…….

     

    Well, I suspect there are a lot of pubs open for those who choose to avoid the “cultural” aspects of the whole thing.

    • #21
  22. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    John H. (View Comment):

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    It took me three attempts but I did finish the dang thing…

    I am sure you meant “started it; quit; started it again; quit again; started it once more, drug myself across the finish line” but I like to imagine “started it, quit; tried it upside-down, quit; tried it backwards, bingo.” I think if I had to read such a book, I’d just dip it, a lot, and at random, ’til I sensed I’d seen it all. This doesn’t quite answer the OP’s question, but no, I never read Ulysses, because in high school I had to grunt through Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

    On the other hand, it is interesting to read about Joyce. Here‘s a link to the Wikipedia subsection titled Third Stay in Trieste. For fun, after every single clause, say, “You know how it is.”

    Sort of….the first two times, I  got 100, then about 200 pages into it…then I didn’t get back to it for the third and final time for over a year. I had a similar experience with Mann’s Der Zauberberg and Hesse’s Glasperlenspiel. The latter I never did finish, even though I am a huge Hesse fan. 

    • #22
  23. crogg Coolidge
    crogg
    @crogg

    Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker of Powerlineblog.com appear to be enthusiasts:

    https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2022/04/a-joycean-interlude.php

    https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2022/04/the-last-king-ulysses-nero-joe-and-more.php

    From their comments, it appears that if you read it in school when you were younger, the literary merit may have been lost on you. 

    I might check it out one of these days after I read the other 100 books on my nightstand….

    • #23
  24. Nick Plosser Coolidge
    Nick Plosser
    @NickP

    Just listened to the same podcast yesterday and one of Roberts’ rules of reading is to not feel obligated to finish books. I adopted this approach about a decade ago and Ulysses definitely falls into that category for me. Got about 20 pages into it on two separate occasions and put it down both times. It may well be above my head or ability to grasp it because I’ve met some very smart people who swear by it. 

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Nick Plosser (View Comment):

    Just listened to the same podcast yesterday and one of Roberts’ rules of reading is to not feel obligated to finish books. I adopted this approach about a decade ago and Ulysses definitely falls into that category for me. Got about 20 pages into it on two separate occasions and put it down both times. It may well be above my head or ability to grasp it because I’ve met some very smart people who swear by it.

    There are time-saving advantages to not being a very smart person. 

    • #25
  26. Hank Rhody drools. Misthiocracy rules. Member
    Hank Rhody drools. Misthiocracy rules.
    @Misthiocracy

    I vote no.

    Just like the only people who enjoy free jazz are the musicians on stage, James Joyce is the only person who ever enjoyed Ulysses.

    • #26
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