ULYSSES readalong Ch 16: Eumaeus

May 25th, 2015

eumaeus

Welcome back, Ulysses friends; we’re in the home stretch! And we’re rewarded this week with a relatively straightforward chapter mostly about Bloom and Stephen hanging out in the wake of the bizarre events, real and imagined, of chapter 15, Circe.

Any thoughts on what this chapter’s song should be?

Bloom picks up Stephen, who says he’s thirsty, and they go to a cabman’s shelter since the bars are closed; it’s 1 a.m.

In the Odyssey, Eumaeus is the faithful swineherd of Odysseus’, and Odysseus and Telemachus meet up in this tent. Their loose analogs are Bloom and Stephen and there is no direct analog to the swineherd.

The style of the writing is loose and loopy–think of a student staying up too late to write a paper. It’s not the crisp intellectual prose of chapter 1.

Bloom, on how the stories are always about the husband coming home, never the wife on a journey:

Never about the runaway wife coming back, however much devoted to the absentee. The face at the window! (Vintageg 624)

Stephen, in a rare moment of empathy, and in one of his several points of departure from Bloom, who is nagging him about prostitutes:

Fear not them that sell the body but have not power to buy the soul. She is a bad merchant. She buys dear and sells cheap.

The Irish hero Parnell is mentioned throughout. His political career was wrecked after his affair with a married woman was made public. The questions of who is a hero and cuckoldry continue.

I enjoyed many of the sentences in this chapter, like this one about bad coffee:

Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee…

followed by:

Stephen…shoved aside his mug of coffee, or whatever you like to call it.

The chapter ends with Bloom inviting Stephen to his home. He’s thought variously of exploiting Stephen, first for his writing, and at the end for his good tenor singing voice. This is one of their points of disagreement. Bloom is thinking like an agent, Stephen like an artist. Still, though, they have more in common than not, and walk off looking like a married couple, sharing stories.

What did everyone else think of Eumaeus?

We only have two chapters, but 3 weeks to go! I propose we take next Monday off, and “meet” up again in two weeks to discuss 17, Ithaca, in full. That will give those who are behind time to catch up.

Schedule and past posts:

6/1/15 week off to catch up and read section 17
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18 and the whole thing!
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3
Week 13: book 15 part 2/3
Week 14: book 15 part 3/3

BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea

May 20th, 2015

I read Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea for a parent/kid book group I attend. My 5th grader had already read the book in class, but enjoyed hearing it again. My boys enjoyed it more than I did. There are several students who narrate the book, about a school year with a new, enthusiastic, and sometimes unorthodox teacher. We know a tragedy happens, and the book circles around it for a long time before we find out what happened. I didn’t feel a drive to find out though, and I was very much bothered by the book’s implication that tragedies happen for a reason we don’t understand, but that if good things come out of them, then that’s why they happened.

Ahem. Bad things happen. Good things happen. Roll with the former. Celebrate the latter.

The different kids’ voices, stories and personalities were the book’s strength. Mr. Terupt himself, though, was left a deliberate cipher, with no family and little background. Apparently the follow up book/s explain this, but it was a significant, weird void in the first book that made me speculate that he’s in witness protection and the FBI got tired of him interrupting them, so they made his new name Terupt. But I don’t care enough to read the sequel, or even read reviews of them to find out what the deal is. Not my cuppa.

RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA by Kimberly McCreight

May 20th, 2015

After reading Citizen, and alongside reading Ulysses, I needed something enjoyable, and so finally got around to picking up Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. A friend lent it to me some time ago, and I was reminded of it during my recent adventures in KonMari clearing. So I read the book, enjoyed it, and returned it to my friend. Voila, one fewer thing in my house. Yay!

This is a murder mystery where a teen girl dies, apparently of suicide, but probably not, since that’s the mystery. It’s told in alternating bits that switch time between the single lawyer mom, and the dead Amelia. This was a fast entertaining read. I thought early on that it was obvious what would happen, and I was very wrong, so the book did surprise me. What I liked best was the complex and creepy subculture of mean rich kids in NYC. What I liked least was the mother going on about her guilt over working in a career she clearly loved and was good at. This was a fast, engaging read with little to no subtext but well plotted and strongly finished.

ULYSSES readalong ch 15: Circe 3/3

May 17th, 2015

circe_stephen

Stephen, prone, breathes to the stars. (Vintage 607)

The above illustration is by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, who read Ulysses last year and started a project to illustrate it.

Welcome back, fellow friends and masochists, who continue to blaze and slog through Ulysses. Congratulations on making it this far! In my Vintage edition, we are over 3/4 of the way through, and this chapter, 15, Circe, was nearly a quarter of the book, pages-wise at least.

The song for this week is “Start Me Up”, by the Rolling Stones, which has a lyric that matches a passage I’ll quote below.

After the full-on masochistic fantasy of last week, I thought I’d reached my limit of being shocked by this book. But no, Joyce had further provocations in mind, as he brings us back to the erection of a hanged man, earlier referred to in the Cyclops chapter:

—There’s one thing it hasn’t a deterrent effect on, says Alf.

—What’s that? says Joe.

—The poor bugger’s tool that’s being hanged, says Alf.

—That so? says Joe.

—God’s truth, says Alf. I heard that from the head warder that was in

Kilmainham when they hanged Joe Brady, the invincible. He told me when they cut him down after the drop it was standing up in their faces like a poker.

—Ruling passion strong in death, says Joe, as someone said.

—That can be explained by science, says Bloom. It’s only a natural phenomenon, don’t you see, because on account of the…

And then he starts with his jawbreakers about phenomenon and science and this phenomenon and the other phenomenon. (Vintage, 304)

Lo and behold, in the final third of the very long chapter 15, Circe, look what pops up again when The Croppy Boy is hanged. Forgive me for the naughty pun, but I don’t think Joyce would disapprove. Also, if I didn’t do it, reader Vince probably would.

He gives up the ghost. A violent erection of the hanged sends gouts
of sperm spouting through his deathclothes on to the cobblestones.
Mrs Bellingham, Mrs Yelverton Barry and the Honourable Mrs
Mervyn Talboys rush forward with their handkerchiefs to sop it
up.)

I must say, that’s an image I’d prefer to not have encountered.

And the other eyebrow-r

aising passage for me was:

Bloom, holding [Stephen’s} hat and ashplant, stands erect. A dog barks in the
distance. Bloom tightens and loosens his grip on the ashplant. (Vintage 609)

If you, as I am, read Stephen’s ashplant as an extension of his phallus, then that is pretty explicit, and not necessarily the kind, fatherly figure of the rest of the passage.

As for the rest, we zip in and out of Bloom’s and Stephen’s brains. Stephen has an encounter with his dead mother, reminding me of the ghost scene in Gertrude’s closet from Hamlet.

The reality of this last segment was clearer to me, though, than in the earlier parts of the chapter, as Bloom pays for and looks out for Stephen, who ends the chapter drunk and passed out, but not beaten or in jail or robbed. The paternal care is emphasized by the appearance of Leopold’s dead son Rudy, as he might’ve looked if he’d lived.

What did everyone else think?

Join us next Monday 5/25 (yes, I know, it’s Memorial Day) for chapter 16, Eumaeus (the poor but loyal pig keeper of the Odyssey.) Just over 4 weeks till Bloomsday!

Past and future:

Schedule and past posts:

5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3
Week 13: book 15 part 2/3

Jung’s Letter to James Joyce on ULYSSES

May 17th, 2015

After reading chapter 15 of Joyce’s Ulysses for our pre-Bloomsday readalong, I noticed again some interesting sex and gender blending and switching in the text. It reminded me of Jung’s theory of anima/animus.

From Freud, Jung, and Joyce: conscious connections (via the Ulysses page on www.planetbookgroupie.com):

Although, Joyce vehemently denied being influenced by the ideas of Freud and Jung, referring to them derisively as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, his writings indicate that not only was he very familiar with the substance of their ideas and theories but that he could also apply them when exploring the minds of his characters.

I also found (in what Jung refers to below as one of the zillion ‘peregrinations’ that reading Ulysses prompts), found this on Open Culture about Jung’s review of the book, his letter to Joyce himself after the review was published, and a little about their ongoing relationship after that (Jung treated Joyce’s daughter Lucia for schizophrenia.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about three years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I’m profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter.

Over the course of reading and reading about this challenging (the MOST challenging) novel, I empathize with Jung’s struggle. That Jung would find it difficult and boring, but ultimately not only worthwhile but also deserving of singular praise, bolsters my spirits, and makes me look forward even more to the final chapter, Molly’s, which Jung says is “a string of veritable psychological peaches.”

CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine

May 15th, 2015

When I saw Citizen by Claudia Rankine on several best-of and award lists for 2014, then found it was published by local treasure Graywolf Press, I knew I wanted to check it out. Her poems and essays on race are necessary, if painful, reading in these fraught times where racism is so ugly and present in American life.

Hey you —

All our fevered history won’t instill insight,
won’t turn a body conscious,
won’t make that look
in the eyes say yes, though there is nothing

to solve

even as each moment is an answer.

Rankine is sometimes intimidatingly intelligent. Her prose is so erudite and her vocabulary so complicated, that it demands slow, careful reading, which is perfectly suited to the difficult, eye and soul-opening race problems she documents. This small book is big and important. While it was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, it was snubbed for consideration by the Pulitzer, an egregious oversight.

GOBLIN SECRETS by Will Alexander

May 15th, 2015

Goblin Secrets by Will Alexander had been on my kids’ shelf for a while. My 11yo, Drake, had started but abandoned it, and my 9yo Guppy was not interested, so I knew if we were going to read it I’d have to do it aloud, and by the end of the book everyone was fully engaged, and we finished in a big push one night because the boys needed to know how it ended.

This is a dark fantasy, set in a world called Zombay, with clockwork creatures, and goblin performers who are misunderstood and feared.

Our selves are rough and unrehearsed tales we tell the world.

Young Rownie, an orphan, runs away from his foster grandmother Graba to search for his older brother Rowan. He is taken in by a goblin acting troupe, but his defection causes more trouble than he’d expected.

Alexander has created a rich, complicated world. We were enthralled by it and Rownie’s adventure. An excellent read-aloud book for kids that’s satisfying for all ages.

MAN AT THE HELM by Nina Stibbe

May 15th, 2015

I loved Nina Stibbe’s debut, Love, Nina, and my husband said her first novel Man at the Helm, while much darker, had some of the same irreverent humor. Since he had it from the library, I decided to have a go.

It’s narrated by an adult woman recounting her childhood, but the point of view is sometimes too childish for an adult, and vice versa. A well-off family splinters with the father has an affair and the parents divorce.

My sister and I and our little brother were born (in that order) into a very good situation and apart from the odd new thing life was humdrum and comfortable until an evening in 1970 when my mother listened in to my father’s phone call and ended up blowing her nose on a tea towel - a thing she’d only have done in an absolute emergency.

The mother moves to an insular village, and struggles to raise her three children. The eldest daughter decides the family won’t be taken seriously without the titular man at the helm, so she enlists her younger sister, the narrator, to help find a new dad. Alas, the pickings are slim in the village, and much disaster ensues before we arrive at a happy-ish ending.

While much is laugh-out-loud funny, as was Stibbe’s previous book, much of this is terribly sad. The tone veers so wildly that it felt more accidentally unever to me than deliberately complex. Good, but…

THE PENELOPIAD by Margaret Atwood

May 15th, 2015

Margaret Atwood’s entry into the Canongate Myth series, The Penelopiad, seemed like an obvious addition to my reading list given my recent reading of Homer’s Odyssey and current reading of Joyce’s Ulysses.

From the book jacket:

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope – wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy — is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumours, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and — curiously — twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged Maids, asking: ‘What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?’.

Before I read Atwood’s book, I was curious about her contention that they killing of the maids was mysterious. It is clearly stated in the Odyssey that the maids who are killed were sleeping with the enemy, and possibly spies.

What Atwood does is simple, but brilliant: she gives a background and history to the maids, gives backstory and motivation for Penelope, and fills in the “she said” of a historical story taken for granted. It hadn’t occurred to me, I’m abashed to admit, that the supposedly treacherous maids who were sleeping with suitors might have been doing so without consent. Odysseus treated them like property, not people. Atwood, giving voice to these women, is a sort of posthumous, fictional justice.

I also appreciated the voice Atwood gives to Penelope. While Penelope appears as a strong, vocal presence in The Odyssey, she is given even more agency, even more power, in Atwood’s take.

Cleverness is a quality a man likes to have in his wife as long as she is some distance away from him. Up close, he’ll take kindness any day of the week, if there’s nothing more alluring to be had.

This is a short but powerful complement to The Odyssey.

Things I’ve Learned about Books from KonMari

May 14th, 2015

Perhaps you are as sick of hearing about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as my 9yo son Guppy is. He has been a less-than-enthusiastic participant in our recent attempts to clear stuff from our house. But even his resistance is a lesson, one to have less stuff to organize, and just enough that one can enjoy it but not be burdened by the having of it. Her method is called KonMari, and I’ve used it thus far to clear out clothing and books from our house. She recommends starting with clothes, then doing books, then “stuff”, then papers, then mementos, because this tends to be in order from least to most attachment issues.

Her books exhort the reader to keep the things that “spark joy” and give or move out those that don’t. What I found as I went through my books, though, were many books I didn’t want to give away for a variety of reasons: I knew the author, they’d been inscribed to me, I’d spent money on them, I’d received them as gifts. Many sparked guilt, or regret, rather than joy.

I noted that one bad habit of book buying I’d got into over the years was going to an author reading, buying books of theirs and having them inscribed to me, sometimes with a personal note. This is great if I loved the book and read it, but a burden if I never feel moved to read the book, or don’t like it. My solution was to either rip out the signed page, or black out my name and give away the book in the hope that someone else would be excited to find it.

With growing horror, I realized I’d been foisting this bad habit off on family and friends, too, buying personalized books as gifts that they might feel obligated to read, or reluctant to give away because of the inscription. I foolishly thought I was doing something cool by getting them signed; it didn’t occur to me I was sending something that could be a burden.

I make many book vows, as regular readers of this blog know. I’ve written before about the burden of books as gifts, but I didn’t take it to heart till I saw evidence of this on my own shelves, and witnessed my own guilt over gift and inscribed books.

I fervently hope I have finally learned the lesson to buy a gift with the recipient in mind, not an agenda or a ’should’ factor, and to make it as free of burdens as possible, with gift receipts, no inscriptions, and the assurance that it is freely given, for the person to do with it what they will.

Also, in future I hope I’ll attend author events simply to hear the author, and not feel compelled to buy the book, especially if it’s not one I plan to read next. And I don’t want to have it inscribed. I want to feel free to do with it what I will.

So please, if I’ve ever given you a book that doesn’t spark joy, I apologize, and do whatever you want with it. I’ll not be getting inscribed books for you again.

I did keep the small collection of books by people I know who might visit my house. Most of these do actually spark joy–the happiness I feel for friends who have published books.

What I found after I’d weeded out the non-joy-sparking books that had been inscribed or given to me, was that I had much lighter shelves, which allowed me to see better which books I really want to read soon. I’ve read, enjoyed, and returned one book a friend lent me last year. I read immediately one another friend lent me. And of the books I’ve bought in the past few months, I’ve read most immediately.

In fact, I think the only books I’ve bought since we’ve done the purge was one for 9yo Guppy, since he started it in the bookstore and wanted to finish, and my own copy of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, which I wanted to have my own copy of to refer to and read again.

I’ll be interested to see if I gradually return to my old, book-acquisitive ways. But one of the benefits of the Kondo book and KonMari process are the changes in perception about buying and having stuff, and these changes feel like they’re takign place on a deeper, more permanent level than my many years of “book vows.”

ANNIHILATION by Jeff Van Dermeer

May 13th, 2015

annihilation

I read Annihilation by Jeff Van Dermeer for The Morning News Tournament of Books. I’d heard good things from friends about this first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, but less good things about the trilogy overall. It was short, though, and sounded cool:

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

The twelfth expedition is also all women, so this book was automatically going to pass the Bechdel test, a sort of lowest-common-denominator of a book or movie, in which the work contains two women who are named that have a conversation that is not about men.

I loved having a smart, scientist woman narrator, and the world the author describes is mysterious and fascinating.

I leaned in closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read.

The book does a great job setting up whether our narrator is reliable, how reliable, what is going on, and is it “real” or paranormal. But it didn’t sustain the momentum to the end, which was more a whimper than a bang for me. I’m writing this less than two months after I read it, and I cannot remember much about the ending, so it did not stick with me. I will not be reading 2 and 3 in the trilogy.

YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler

May 13th, 2015

yes_please

I listened to Yes Please by Amy Poehler via Audible.com, and I recommend listening to it. Not only does the charming and funny Poehler narrate, she has great guest stars like Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner as her dark side, her parents, and Seth Myers.

I was expecting a light, smart, funny book with bite like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Yes Please is bigger than those, though, both in size and scope. It covers Poehler’s life, from childhood outside Boston to the present, including her divorce from Will Arnett and the last season of Parks & Recreation, one of the best, sweetest shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. (But start with either the gay penguins episode, or season 3; it took a while to get its groove.)

It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Can we figure out what we want, ask for it, and stop talking? Yes please. Is being vulnerable a power position? Yes please. Am I allowed to take up space? Yes please. Would you like to be left alone? Yes please. I love saying “yes” and I love saying “please.” Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. “Yes please” sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman. It’s also a title I can tell my kids. I like when they say “Yes please” because most people are rude and nice manners are the secret keys to the universe.

What I didn’t know about Poehler is how much she’s done to train up young talent. Additionally, while I was expecting, and enjoyed, the SNL and celebrity anecdotes, I much more appreciated her honesty about things like the difficulty and sadness of divorce, and the frequent forays into empowered feminism in practice. That should not have been a surprise coming from one of the founders of Smart Girls and A Mighty Girl.

Some friends have commented they were disappointed that it wasn’t as funny as Bossypants, but I really enjoyed it, and appreciated how much more it had to offer. My especial favorite was her metaphor for wanting an award: wanting the pudding, and her stories about learning to not want the pudding.

Poehler is an honest, funny person, and listening to the book was like spending time with a smart, funny friend.

“The Quirks: Circus Quirkus” and “The Quirkalicious Birthday” by Erin Soderberg

May 13th, 2015

I read all 3 of the Quirks series with my boys, 9 and 11, for a parent/kid book group we’re in, which the author, Erin Soderberg, leads. As I wrote about with the first book, Welcome to Normal, the Quirks are an odd family. Most members have a quirk, or a secret ability except for twin Molly, who is immune to the others’ quirks. the books are fast and fun to read with sweet and funny illustrations.

In Circus Quirkus, the kids are being taught circus skills in phys ed at school.

NB: here in Minnesota where I live, people say Phy Ed but I thinks that’s weird. I’m from OH, where we said PhysEd, and the z sound of the s provides a nice connector, so I’m sticking with that. Another weird fact about MN: they don’t play Duck, Duck, Goose here. They play Duck, Duck, Grey Duck.

Penelope, the Quirk twin whose imagination can come to life, continues to struggle with keeping her quirk a secret, while the whole family is worried that their nosy neighbor is seeing too much through a hole in then fence.

9yo Guppy wondered, reasonably I think, why they didn’t just patch over the hole in the fence, but hey, suspension of disbelief.

In The Quirkalicious Birthday, the twins are going to have their first ever birthday party, and tension builds as the twins argue over who to invite and what to do at the party. They also have to solve a series of clues in a scavenger hunt over the week before their birthday, each clue coming with a little gift. Both my boys found a week-long birthday celebration to be over the top, and figured out the clues long before the kids did. While this was not our favorite of the three, it did have some great stuff about sibling rivalry and individualism, and the importance of family.

Talking about the three books with the author and kids there when our group met resulted in the most animated discussion I’d seen, with the kids more interested and involved. Soderberg is a sweet and funny author, and the kids engaged with her more than they have with previous authors.

The series is better suited to younger kids depending on their reading level. They were probably too young for 11yo Drake, but he still enjoyed them. 8 and 9 is probably about the perfect age.

ULYSSES readalong: Bk 15 part 2, “Circe”

May 12th, 2015

Circe by Waterhouse

Welcome back, you few, you happy few, who are still brave enough to continue with Joyce’s oh-so-challenging Ulysses. This week finds us in the mucky middle of book 15, Circe. Oh, what a long, strange trip it is.

I picked the section that begins with Zoe saying “Talk away till you’re black in the face,” which is an interesting twist on the “blue” we’re more accustomed to. Blue indicates lack of oxygen, while black points to death. Bloom has a short interlude of lucidity with Zoe, but he goes in and out of fantasy. I could tell what was fantasy and what not mostly but not always by when the “real” people in the room spoke, rather than the objects, such as Lynch’s cap, Zoe’s buckles and Bella’s fan; or imaginary people, such as Virag (Bloom’s grandfather), and others.

An extended and jaw-dropping (and likely censor-enraging) dream sequence begins when the madame, Bella Cohen enters and says “My word, I’m all of a mucksweat.” Everything from there till when she asks “Which of you was playing the dead march from Saul?” is Bloom’s imagination, his subconscious and secret thoughts dragged out of the dark and brought to life.

To briefly summarize, Bloom and Bella switch roles. She becomes a man named Bello, he a woman referred to still as Bloom but with feminine pronouns. Bello, like Circe did to Odysseus’ men, makes Bloom piglike and alludes to many porcine things. In an inversion of the play Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, many of the things Bello as a man does to Bloom as a woman echo those that Wanda does to Severin. I was fortunate to see a modern retelling, Venus in Fur, a few years ago, so I recognize the references.

Bello rides Bloom as a horse, which the other prostitutes clamor to do also. Bello puts out a lit cigar on her ear, and auctions her off to other men, after this: “[Bello] bares his arm and plunges it elbowdeep in Bloom’s vulva.”

For the record, Joyce got his words mixed up. Vulva refers to all of woman’s external genitalia such as the labiae and the clitoris, south of the pubic bone. North of it, with the hair, is the mons. The reproductive canal is the vagina, which is what Bello plunges his arm into up to the elbow. This is not, as schmoop notes in its summary of 15: Circe, the same as “Bello elbows Bloom in the vulva.”

The above terminology, and the importance of using it correctly, is from one of my new favorite books, which I’ve found not surprisingly often relevant to this reading of Ulysses, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. The subtitle of the book is probably more for getting attention. I find the website’s description a better one: “An essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works—based on groundbreaking research and brain science.” Poldy and Molly could really have used this book. So could Joyce. Here’s Matisse’s take on the anatomy in Chapter 15, Circe:

matisse_circe

Back to Ulysses. Bloom gradually returns to a state of masculinity and Bello to Bella. Reality is again broached when Bella asks about the piano.

You can visit the summary at Schmoop.com and the analysis if that helps. Again, they’re not precise, but I do find them broadly helpful.

Did anyone else see Venus in Fur when it was in Minneapolis? Excerpt video here, and review here.

What did you think of this part of chapter 15?

Let’s meet here next Monday 5/18/15 to discuss the last part of chapter 15, and the chapter as a whole.

Apologies for this week’s late post. I visited my parents this weekend with my sister to help them clear out the house while they’re still alive and well, which I wrote about here. I highly recommend doing this, both getting together with the nuclear family, and going through things before one has to. We’ve all been influenced by one of my other recent favorite books, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Too see a video where she helps a woman sort her books, go to this link at Boing Boing.

Blogging about it on Monday was perhaps an ambitious goal. I’ll adjust the schedule to Wednesday, I think, when we read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer.

Future schedule and past posts:

5/18/15 discuss and tweet 3475-end, and all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14
Week 12: book 15 part 1/3

A Moment of KonMari

May 11th, 2015

My two sisters and I visited my parents to help them clear out decades of stuff. Before you ask: No one died. They’re not moving. This visit was prompted after I got my mom one of my new favorite books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

After reading it, my parents started to sort through the basement and attic, but soon realized they’d need to ask each of us if we wanted this or that thing that belonged to this or that relative. Our solution was to go, without partners or kids, to my parents’ house for the weekend, identify what sparked joy, and move out what didn’t.

We spent the weekend going through bags and boxes. We laughed, we cried, we recoiled in horror. And we had the great good fortune to spend a whole weekend with each other, our nuclear family, as adults.

My mother was the most reluctant participant. She has trouble letting things go. When she and had a few hours to tackle her books, we weeded four shelves, plus one cabinet (not pictured). We filled five banker boxes to donate, and by the end she was getting the hang of it.

Before:

before_konmari

What you can’t see is that the four shelves are actually double stacked, with books behind and in front. Both in front and behind, many were stacked horizontally, not vertically, so Mom could pack more in.

After:

After KonMari

There are no longer books hidden behind; all books are visible. Almost all the books are stored upright, with extra space on each shelf.

I think the biggest challenge my mom had was with books she’d bought in the past, fully intended to read, still wanted to, or felt she ’should’, but hadn’t.

I had the same problem when I went through out books. What helped me was to ask, do I feel excited to read this book? Is it something I could read now, if time and too many book groups allowed? Or, is it something I feel I ’should’ read because I bought it, or it was given to me, or I wanted to really read at one point and didn’t get around to. Giving the latter books away was a huge relief to me, and really opened up my shelves to show me the books I really wanted to read.

Have any of the rest of you tried the KonMari method?

ULYSSES Readalong Ch 15: Circe, 1/3

May 5th, 2015
"Phyllis and Aristotle" by Baldung

“Even the allwisest stagyrite was bitted, bridled and mounted by a light of love.” 15.111-12

So says Stephen Dedalus, having an anti-feminist moment on his way to visit prostitutes. In Ulysses Annotated, Gifford links the line to the above work of art, “Phyllis and Aristotle” by Hans Baldung, from the Louvre.

After the dense and thorny chapter 14, Oxen of the Sun, we are given a breather, in both white space on the page, and humor. Alas, I’m feeling rather glum and beaten down by Ulysses. Unlike the many other recent readalongs I’ve done–Bleak House, David Copperfield, Moby Dick, Sandman, and OdysseyUlysses continues to confound. With other books, I’ve thought, wow, there’s a lot of great stuff in here, and it’s not as intimidating as I’d feared.

I’m not sure if I’ve disclosed this before, but in literature, I’m basically self educated. I had a typical low-quality US education through high school, required to read not that many classics, and skiving off reading several of those. I was immature and my teachers gave me As because I was clever and they were easily fooled, and I was more interested in the works of Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey, and Kathleen Woodiwiss at the time.

In college I majored in marketing, and took one English class in which we read (and I actually DID read) only 3 books: The Iliad, War and Peace, and Hemingway’s In Our Time. After having my soul sucked from working in marketing for several years, I went to graduate school in religion, and finagled a Shakespeare class out of that but not much more in literature. So I am far from an expert in literature, just a very curious amateur.

Ulysses is at least as intimidating as I’d feared, not least because Joyce was being wilfully abstruse and trying to push the envelope of the novel. While I can admire the ambition, and agree that he succeeded, this doesn’t make the novel much of a pleasure to read at least on this first time through.

In my attempts as moderator of this readalong, I’ve explored different things to try to better understand this book. I’m reading the notes in the exhaustive and exhausting Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford. I am reading Schmoop.com’s summaries and analyses of the chapters. I have gotten both the original and updated version of Harry Blamires’ Bloomsday Book from the library. A work by Joseph Campbell looked promising, but was only mine for a few weeks in which I was too busy to appreciate it.

When I came across a title called Virgin and Veteran readings of Ulysses by Margaret Norris I was excited, because I had begun to wish for notes and references geared to me as a first-time reader. Alas, this is not that book. It is written in what I refer to as high academ-ese, and is a book about the pedagogy of Ulysses and how to teach it. As I tried to wade through the introduction, though, two things caught my notice.

Ulysses can arguably be “read” by a first-time or virgin reader, but can be fully “understood” only by a veteran reader who brings knowledge of the whole work, including the ending, to any part of it. (p2)

Norris notes that many guides to Ulysses, in explaining certain passages, give spoilers from the veteran readers. For example, most notes talk about Bloom’s Jewishness before it is made explicit or even implicit in the text.

The most notable example for me was when schmoop noted that Poldy and Molly hadn’t had sex for ten years. Yet the text only said something that alluded to this, which is gradually explained over the rest of the book.

Which raises (NB, does not “beg,” which is so often misused) the questions: do the notes “spoil” in multiple meanings of the word, the experience of reading this book for the first time? Is reading Ulysses the first time rather like having sex for the first time: awkward, bewildering, embarrassing, sometimes painful, fleetingly delightful, but seriously, it gets GREAT the more you do it? Is there a point to reading Ulysses one time only?

On that cheerful note, let’s talk about the first part of 15: Circe. Overall, 15 is a hallucinatory play that alternates between fantasy and reality. I was reminded both of Kafka and of A Christmas Story. Then I watched last night’s Mad Men; that series is full of imaginary episodes comes to life, sometimes with no clear mark of what is read and what is not. Schmoop mentions Mel Brooks movies, and I’m sure there are loads more works of art we can think of that alternate and blur fantasy and reality. The stopping point I chose, at about line 1955, is just as Bloom is coming out of an imagined Alleluia chorus and brought into reality by Zoe, a prostitute, (I will not use “whore” to refer to these women as the notes often do. Prostitute is a job; whore is a suitcase of value judgments.) who comments:

“Talk away till You’re black in the face.”

The gist of it, though, and I’m trying to stick to just the facts, ma’am, and not include any spoiler-y notes, is that Bloom is following Stephen and Lynch into Mabbot Street and nighttown, a bad area. Bloom wants to get Stephen before he spends his money and body and inner self with prostitutes. Bloom’s stream of consciousness comes to life, though, and we see his ego and insecurities played out, as well as some of his past.

The lemon soap gets its own line, the shriveled potato is mistaken for a sign of STD, and Bloom seems to have a very confused, or defiant, sense of what is kosher. Camels make an appearance, and they’re not kosher, as they have cloven hooves.

What did everyone else think? Stay with me; we can get through this. I will climb out of my slough of despond.

Your assignment for next week, should you choose to accept it, is to read to this line, which signals another shift from dream to reality:

“(The figure of Bella Cohen stands before him.)”

It’s on page 554 of my edition, the Vintage. In the online Columbia, it’s 15.3474

We’ll meet here next week to chat about the middle of chapter 15 to that point. The schedule for the rest:

5/11/15 discuss and tweet on 15, lines 1956 to 3474
5/18/15 discuss and tweet 3475-end, and all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13
Week 11: book 14

ULYSSES readalong Ch 14: Oxen of the Sun

April 27th, 2015

bass_luck_health_

[Personal note: Bass Ale was my favorite beer when I was drinking, before I became a teetotaller who favors ginger cordials. I used to drink it at The Black Rooster Pub, at 1919 L Street NW in Washington DC with my friends who went to George Washington, and condescended to hang out with me even if I did go to Georgetown.]

Sorry, but I’m still researching this chapter, trying to figure out why all the women wanted to have sex with a bull, whether those guys were getting drunk in a hospital, and whether Mrs. Purefoy and her baby lived. So if you are ahead of me, and understand more of it, comment away!

Proper entry to come. 11yo Drake just got over strep, 9yo Guppy got pneumonia, I got pinkeye, and G. Grod become very afraid. Things have not been very good in the plague house but we’re on the mend, so things should be back on track soon.

This was really not my ideal week to read chapter 14, which I found extremely challenging. Maybe I was just feeling Cyclopean from the pinkeye. I hope you all had an easier time parsing this one than I did.

oxen-of-the-sun

[imagined version of Buck Mulligan’s from Romping Through Ulysses)

EDITED TO ADD: I strongly recommend the summary and analysis at Schmoop this week. It notes that Oxen of the Sun is perhaps the hardest chapter, perhaps more so coming right after Nausicaa, one of the more accessible.

Also, my husband G. Grod and I borrowed a copy of Harry Blamires’ The Bloomsday Book from our local library, and it’s short chapter on this long one helped immensely. It’s more intelligent than schmoop, and more helpful in understanding content than the Gifford, in my opinion. BUT hard to find at library. Pro tip: use Interlibrary loan via MnLINK.

Yes, they WERE drinking in the hospital, and had to be told more than once by the nurse to whisht. Mrs. Purefoy had a boy and both are alive and well for the moment. And the bull was a metaphor for Henry VIII, among others, hence many women wanting to have sex with him. Glad I got those questions cleared up.

Interesting analog to the Odyssey is that the Oxen of the Sun episode is Odysseus’ worst point, and Nausicaa is a chapter in which he’s fed, clothed, lauded and sent on his way. This is another example of how super-meta this chapter is. I did not enjoy reading it (cue recording of me whinging: “it was HARD!”) but can’t argue that’s it’s bloody brilliant. It’s written to mimic about 20 different styles of English/Irish literature, and so shows a progression of literary history. Also, the styles and substance are married, so they mirror one another. Also, the chapter progresses as does a woman through pregnancy and labor. I’m stopping here, because the list of also’s from this chapter is, perhaps, infinite.

Important takeaways: Bloom (and presumably Joyce) has sympathy for women especially around pregnancy and birth. Bloom and Stephen connect in this chapter. Bloom feels paternally to Stephen, and they’re both shown as outsiders, lonely, and Stephen perhaps smarter than the rest, Bloom more empathetic and kinder than the rest.

How about this for an example sentence:

An exquisite dulcet epithalame of most mollificative suadency for juveniles amatory whom the odoriferous flambeaus of the paranymphs have escorted to the quadrupedal proscenium of connubial communion. (14:351-354)

Gifford’s Annotated Ulysses has almost nothing on this, but that it imitates work by the aforementioned Fletcher and Beaumont, and I think means roughly:

a pretty poem to persuade young lovers whom the witnesses with flaming herbal torches escort to the bridal bed for sex.

Which I think means that the pretty poem makes the sex sound much more nicer than the awkward painful, excretion-filled mess it’s about to be.

For those of us who read Moby Dick there was a mention of spermacetic oil in line 600.

And for those of us who read David Copperfield, that was nodded to both in style and substance from lines 1310 beginning:

Meanwhile the skill and patience of the physician had brought about a happy accouchement.

And the homage is cemented with the use of Doady (Dora’s nickname for David) and the phrase “with the old shake of her pretty head” similar to what Dickens wrote of Dora on her deathbed.

On the re-read, I think my favorite sentence is:

The aged sisters draw us into life: we wail, batten, sport, clip, clasp, sunder, dwindle, die: over us dead they bend. (14.392-3)

The notes in Gifford says this equates the midwives with the three fates, which are familiar to those of you who participated in the #SandMN readalong: mother, maiden, crone.

I wondered at this:

First saved from water of old Nile, among bulrushes…at last the cavity of a mountain, an occulted sepulchre. (14.394-5)

The Gifford says both the beginning and end reference Moses, but the latter brought to mind Merlin to me, trapped in his cave by Nimue.

I think that’s all I have for this week, but I haven’t yet re-read the pages, and am girding my loins to do so.

I have not yet figured out how we’ll take the behemoth 15 online, but I’ll keep you posted. Ideas welcome; email them or put them in comments.

What did everyone else think of 14? Do you feel you lived through a giant ordeal?

Future and past:

(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13

ULYSSES readalong: Ch 13 Nausicaa

April 20th, 2015

to-catch-a-thief

Welcome back the Ulysses readalong. We’re through more than half the chapters, but not quite through half the book.

I was excited when chapter 13 began with three women friends on a beach, with straightforward storytelling, albeit in romanticized prose. As we spend more time in Gerty’s mind, it becomes clear she has been brainwashed by women’s magazines and novels and thinks in romantic cliches.

This chapter has a lot of close echoes of the analogous scene from the Odyssey, in which Odysseus is washed up on the shore of a river and falls asleep in a shrub. He wakes when a group of giggling young women, led by the princess Nausicaa, play with a ball that lands near him.

Gerty is daydreaming about a young man named Reggie, when she spots a dark man a little way up the beach. Her romantic imaginings transfer to him as she catches and holds his attention. Fireworks start, a nearby church is having a temperance meeting and service, Gerty shows some leg to the man, and becomes aware that he’s masturbating. Around the part of the chapter, the POV switches and we find it’s Bloom (Joyce had been withholding this detail from us till now) and we’re back in his stream of consciousness. I may have the sequence mixed up a bit–they are tangled in my memory.

Ah!

Mr. Bloom with careful hand recomposed his wet shirt. O Lord that little limping devil. Begins to feel cold and clammy. Aftereffect not pleasant. Still you have to get rid of it someway. They don’t care. Complimented perhaps. (13.850-854, Gabler)

I sensed Joyce provoking the reader in this chapter. We open with a seemingly charming tableau, which becomes less lovely as we read Gerty’s silly romantic notions, her dislike of the mess and noise of children, and her deliberate and escalating provocation of Bloom, who is a willing participant. This felt like Bloom at his least likeable, ogling and jacking off to a young woman, one he thinks less of once he sees that she’s lame, also one not much older than his daughter, Milly. We hear more about his troubled marriage with Molly, and the scene ends with him dozing, interspersed with the cries of “cuckoo,” which I took as reminders of his supposed cuckolding by Boylan.

I suppose this interlude with Bloom’s masturbating was inevitable–we’ve read about him taking a shit, farting, and now this. Bloom is a man with a messy, noisy body. Additionally, Gerty, for all her outward beauty, has some ugly thoughts, and a disability. She is a virgin, but also sexual, so she denies the madonna/whore dichotomy.

What did everyone else think?

I’ve found the resources at schmoop.com helpful for summaries and analysis. Like Wikipedia, though, it’s not to be trusted completely. Searching this weekend, I also found posts on a book blog I admire, The Sheila Variations, here is the LINK to the post on Nausicaa.

Join us next Monday 4/27 to discuss chapter 14: Oxen of the Sun.

The rest of the schedule, and what we’ve done already:

The schedule for the rest:

4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12

ULYSSES Readalong Ch 12: Cyclops

April 14th, 2015

cyclops1

Well, sort of. I read the chapter in its entirety and was left with the uncomfortable feeling of having bathed in so much anti-semitism that it wouldn’t wash off. The things people say about Bloom are so appalling, and I take umbrage on his behalf as if he were a friend, which he is rather getting to be over this book, even with all the TMI of shitting and farting and such.

I do not yet feel I can write a proper post on Cyclops, though, because I’ve only read it once, and am not yet even halfway through the Gifford notes. Which, if you’ve read the chapter and encountered those long Biblical-begat-esque lists, you know are a killer this week as they attempt to ’splain every Tom Dick and Harry in a chapter Joyce was working hard to make the most reference heavy EVER.

But I’m a day late in putting up this post, for two reasons. One, I had to take my elder, 11yo Drake, in for a strep test yesterday. It’s a weird parental thing where I both hope he is positive to justify having schlepped in for a test, and negative because, well, duh. He was positive so now we have to make sure he takes his anti-b’s 3x a day for 10 days. I made a chart so we don’t forget.

Also I started the book Reconstructing Amelia that my friend Sam lent me ages ago, and while I almost put it down at the beginning because I felt like I could see where it was going, I’m glad I didn’t, because it spun out to satisfying and in many ways unexpected conclusions. But that meant I didn’t get to chapter 12 of Ulysses till Sunday, which was too late for this behemoth of a chapter. It’s not like I wasn’t warned: the title is Cyclops after all.

So, before I delve back into the notes and a re-read, here is what I’ve got for you: the chapter is narrated by a nameless man, one who nearly loses an eye right off the bat:

a bloody* sweep came along and he near drove his gear into my eye

The chapter is interspersed throughout with long parodies of other written material, such as legal writs, Irish folktales, newspaper articles, and more. These alternate with the conversations of the unnamed Cylopean character with others in the bar as they drink. A lot. One man, named only The Citizen, becomes increasingly incensed at Bloom.

*Gifford’s note: A mysteriously offensive curse to the Victorian and Edwardian ear that continued to be offensive until the 1930’s; no one can quite explain how or why. Joyce thought, or at least said he thought, that it derived from By Our Lady; others suggest By God’s Blood.

My own idea: no matter its origins, I suspect an inferred connection to menstrual blood is what made it so offensive for so long.

On a completely different note, I enjoyed this malapropism, which made me picture someone throwing edible flowers at people:

Don’t cast your nasturtiums on my character. (vintage 320)

I will embiggen this later after I’ve finished Giffording, Schmooping, and re-reading. EDITED TO ADD: I found this note at Schmoop.com helpful. The myopia of the chapter applies to nationalism, to racism, and even to just sitting in the bar:

As readers, we’re subjected to the narrator’s very limited point-of-view, and we begin to notice just how constraining it can be to hear a story in the first person. The pronoun “I” becomes another metaphor for the Cyclops, for only being able to see things one way. It’s directly opposed to the idea of parallax – seeing one thing from a number of different points of view in order to get a fuller sense of the thing– that runs through the entire novel.

What did everyone else think?

See you here next Monday 4/20 for chapter 13: Nausicaa. Which I might just supplement with a viewing of Miyazaki’s debut masterpiece of the same name.

The schedule for the rest:

4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11

ULYSSES Readalong Bk 11: Sirens

April 6th, 2015

ormond

Welcome back the Ulysses readalong. You can join in by commenting here, or by tweeting with the hashtag #TCUlysses. This week we tackled Chapter 11: Sirens. The first time through was somewhat bewildering for me, as is often the case. I was helped immensely by the note in Gifford that this is a musical chapter, and the opening is like a rehearsal, or perhaps an entr’acte?, that glides over the major points to follow, and concludes with “Done!” and the action begins with “Begin!”

As in music, several motifs are repeated throughout. The sirens of the title are most obviously the two barmaids who flirt and are flirted with. Less obvious, though, I suspect it’s the siren call of the past and the lotus-like inertia brought on by nostalgia.

Bloom sees Boylan for the third time that day, and dares to follow him into the Ormond hotel. I’m not sure I have this right, but it seemed like Bloom feared Boylan’s assignation with Molly would take place at the Ormond, but Boylan leaves before Bloom does. Is he off to see Molly? Is Bloom imagining the affair?

In any case, Bloom eats lunch, listens to the music, then feels lonely, writes back to Martha, then breaks the spell by leaving before the end of the song The Croppy Boy that the other men are so moved by. And ends the chapter by avoiding a homely prostitute he’s been with before, and farting intermittently then loudly when loud street sounds will cover it.

What did everyone else think this week?

Join us next week on 4/13/15 for Book 12: Cyclops. The schedule for the rest:

4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Ulysses readalong week 1, books 1 and 2
Ulysses readalong week 2, books 3 and 4
Ulysses readalong week 3, books 5 and 6
Ulysses readalong week 4: book 7
Ulysses readalong week 5: book 8

Ulysses readalong week 6: book 9
Ulysses readalong week 7: book 10