I read James Joyce's Ulysses this spring. It took about two months. I started it on an airplane between Chicago and Denver. I finished it at home, a couple hours before my 28th birthday. I read large swaths of it on airplanes.
Here, in three parts, is my official review of this famous novel.
Part 1 -- Lexicon
Here are two vocabulary lists scrawled, appropriately enough, on the back of airline boarding passes. I haven't looked all of these words up yet. A lot of them aren't in my computer's dictionary.
Not on these lists but recurring and critically important to Ulysses: parallax and metempsychosis.
One innocuous favorite: pelf, meaning "money, especially when obtained in a dishonest or dishonorable way."
Another great one to remember: lagan, a legal noun referring to "goods or wreckage lying on the bed of the sea."
Part 2 -- Chapters
This is the back of the receipt from the Rogers Park used bookstore where I purchased Ulysses on James Joyce's birthday, 2 February 2013.
Ulysses is in three major sections: the Telemachiad, the Odyssey, and the Nostos. Things get knotty in part two. By Chapter 14 I was convinced the journey was worth it; by part three I was in a standing condition of aesthetic ecstasy. Each chapter, as labeled above, is connected to a character or episode from Homer.
A few non-authoritative comments on notable chapters:
Funniest and wildest: Circe.
Most psychologically penetrating: Ithaca.
Most hindering: The Cyclops, for some reason.
Best mid-meal reverie of all time: The Lestrygonians.
Special mention for lyricism: Proteus.
Most linguistically dazzling: Oxen of the Sun.
Best discussion of meats: Calypso.
Lush, complex, passionate, self-contradictory, and transcendent: Penelope.
Part 3 -- Index
Here is the inside cover of my copy of Ulysses. The black handwriting is mine; the blue handwriting is not.
As you can see, I liked the beginning and had a number of favorite passages in the middle, especially in Oxen of the Sun. Clearly I got a little carried away during the last two chapters. Both the vocab lists and this markup of favorite passages demonstrate the waxing and waning of my attention and enthusiasm throughout the experience. Like I said: it was a journey.
Even aided by outside sources, a single reading of Ulysses is just a surface glance. The book is a lake which I cruised across in a little kayak one morning. Every once in a while I dunked a tin cup into the water and took a gulp. The flavor was complex but ultimately nourishing. No parasites (yet).
The next step: Joseph Campbell's series of lectures on Joyce, Wings of Art. Campbell is certain to provide a more substantial vessel for the tasting.
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