I just finished reading Ulysses. After five months of slogging, here’s what I would say are the key takeaways from one of the world’s most revered and feared reads:
- James Joyce was as horny as the next guy, maybe more.
- Joyce should be worshiped as a feminist.
- If you’ve ever wished you could read somebody’s mind, Ulysses may cure you. The mind is the star of this 1922 banned book. But every mind needs its filter, the mouth, to regulate the flow, because so few of the thoughts that come out of it are worth the proverbial penny.
- Joyce needed an editor. More than Tolstoy, even, who I thought needed to scratch 100 pages from War And Peace.
- Joyce was purposely trying to play a great practical joke on the literati.
I’ve wanted to read Ulysses for my entire adult life, and my book club took it on this spring. Not far in the gang voted Joyce off the island. But I knew that I’d be unlikely to ever commit to it again. So I told everyone I was off to Dublin in my mind, and I’d be back when I was finished.
Everybody thinks you can’t understand Ulysses, so I know what you’re thinking. But the notion that Ulysses is unintelligible is a college English professor’s threat. I never felt lost. And I see what made this a great book. Stream of consciousness was new, and Joyce pulls English apart and reconstructs it like it’s German. The work is an encyclopedia of Irish pop culture of the time, and it’s unapologetically pornographic. But it feels purposely dense and obfuscating, and Joyce’s methods are no longer scandalous enough to warrant the uphill battle.
Still, it was a life goal, and I’m glad I did it.
Read a great book that you’ve always wanted to tackle. It feels great to tick something off the list, and even if you don’t like the book you’ll appreciate understanding why and being part of the conversation about it.
Tags: books, classic literature, James Joyce, Tolstoy, Ulysses, War And Peace