The last time I tried to read James Joyce’s Ulysses I got to page two hundred and twenty-two. A torn metcard still marks my shameful capitulation point.
This time, however, I’m determined. I’m starting again, and here are my Reading Ulysses Rules:
1. At least ten pages per day must be read and understood.
2. Notebook and a pen or pencil to be within reach at all times.
3. A Reading Ulysses Diary entry of no more than one hundred and fifty words is to be added to this page no fewer than three times a week.
4. A long post (at least five thousand words) on Ulysses must be up within a week of the day reading is completed.
Until I can figure out a way to make this more streamlined, all my diary entries will be below: so watch this space.
Let the odyssey (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that) begin…
Reading Ulysses Diary 1: 02/03/2010
Vital statistics first. Pages read: ten; words or phrases googled: twelve; pages of notes: nearly one and a third; reading/googling/note-taking time: one hour and seven minutes.
I have no idea how people read this book in the dark and slimy days that preceded the internet. In theory you could guess at some meanings, but I’m getting an incredible amount out of it by chasing up everything I don’t understand. Even in the first ten pages you know you’re in the hands of someone who can really, really write. Utterly intimidating and exhilarating at the same time.
My favourite sentence so far: ‘The scrotumtightening sea.’ I love it.
Reading Ulysses Diary 2: 03/03/2010
Pages read: thirty five; words or phrases googled: seventeen; languages encountered other than English so far: six; pages of notes: two. I lost count of the hours: possibly four and a half.
You don’t read Ulysses. You study it: sweat over it. It’s quite unlike any reading experience I’ve ever had before. After you put it down and turn to some other book it’s as though you’ve walked for miles with a heavy load, and suddenly the load is gone and you can walk freely again. Reading anything else seems utterly effortless.
This morning I bought a paper-back edition (Penguin Classics) so that I can scribble in the margins and underline things (I’ll be damned if I deface the Bodley Head hardback edition I stole from my father!) – the Penguin Classics edition has generous margins and neat, readable typeface. I like it. And it was a bargain at sixteen clams.