ULYSSES readalong, books 1 and 2


Whose idea was this Ulysses readalong? I don’t think it was mine. I think somehow I just got swept up in someone else’s idea, ‘Yeah, let’s read Ulysses, what a great idea!’ and then made a schedule because I was avoiding something else, and told people about it, and got some friends interested, and now here I am, on the first date of the schedule, committed to writing something about Ulysses.

In the words of Anastasia Steele, she of the blockbuster weekend, Holy crap, people.

I started to read. Lo, and behold, what people told me was true: IT’S HARD!

I clutched my head and moaned. What did I sign up for? I’m no English major. I was a business major as an undergrad! Marketing, for heaven’s sake. I’m in no way qualified for this. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

And then several kind people on Twitter assured me, in large friendly letters: DON’T PANIC. Just read. Appreciate the words. Don’t fret about what you don’t know. It will be legion. Don’t get lost in annotations. Joyce meant it to be difficult. But he also meant it to be funny, and naughty, a riff on Homer’s Odyssey, and on Hamlet as well. I just finished The Odyssey, and found it not just accessible, but a thumping good read as well. I know Hamlet. I CAN DO THIS!

I read the first two books, then skimmed the annotations so as not to drown in them, then waited a few days, and read the two books again. The language is beautiful, the allusions plentiful, and the humor bawdy. Here, there is treasure, if I can brave the dragons Joyce planted throughout this deliberately challenging, boundary-pushing work of art.

I’m unsure how best to post about the books as we read them. Summarizing them would be long, and has been done elsewhere. I found the summaries of the books at Schmoop to be decent and readable: Book one: Telemachus and Book Two: Nestor.

Instead I’ll try super-short recaps, and what I noticed and appreciated. Let me know if this works, or or you want more, or less, by chiming in with comments. Comments don’t appear immediately. I have to moderate them so we don’t get slammed with spam.

buck-mulligan from http://ulyssesseen.com/

Book One, Telemachus. Just as The Odyssey starts off with Telemachus rather than Odysseus, Ulysses begins with Stephen Dedalus rather than Leopold Bloom. He’s living in a tower with two men, Malachi “Buck” Mulligan, and Haines (which means ‘hate’ in French). It’s not long before we get the famous ’stream of consciousness’ for which Ulysses is known:

Stephen bent forward and peered at the mirror held out to him, cleft by a crooked crack, hair on end. As he and others see me. Who chose this face for me? This dogsbody to rid of vermin. It asks me too. (p. 6 Vintage 1990)

Book Two: Nestor. Stephen is off to work as a teacher. The headmaster, Mr. Deasy, is an anti-semite and know-it-all who thinks he has the solution to hoof-and-mouth disease. Deasy is unpleasant, yet the last sentence of the book is about him, and poetic and lovely:

On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins. (p. 36 Vintage 1990)

Who is reading along? Introduce yourself in the comments, or tweet along with the hashtag #TCUlysses. TC is for Twin Cities, where this discussion starts but I hope is not limited to.

What did everyone else think?


2/16/15 discuss and tweet sections 1, 2
2/23/15 discuss and tweet sections 3, 4
3/2/15 discuss and tweet sections 5, 6
3/9/15 discuss and tweet section 7
3/16/15 discuss and tweet section 8
3/23/15 discuss and tweet section 9
3/30/15 discuss and tweet section 10
4/6/15 discuss and tweet section 11
4/13/15 discuss and tweet section 12
4/20/15 discuss and tweet section 13
4/27/15 discuss and tweet section 14
(3 week break to read the very long section 15)
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!

8 Responses to “ULYSSES readalong, books 1 and 2”

  1. Amy Says:

    I tried to just go with the flow, and yes, it’s hard, but I finished week one still planning to continue to week two. :)

  2. Heidi Raatz (@heideland) Says:

    Brave Kiki, you *will* succeed as our guide!

    I know I’ve wanted to read Ulysses for a long time so I’m fairly certain I was one in the chorus of people saying YES! to this scheme.

    First: stuff I’ve found helpful/delightful.
    1) that wikihow article Amy shared: http://m.wikihow.com/Read-Ulysses It gets cuts right to the heart of the academic elitism and snobbery surrounding the reading of Joyce’s masterwork and says, in essence, “Screw that. Have fun w/ this book because it’s a hoot.” And guess what? They’re RIGHT. There are some terrific summaries of the sections in terms of theme, how written, etc. that really demystify this intimidating tome. Bookmark it if you haven’t alre done so.
    2) The schema Joyce himself drew up as helps to his pals Carlo Linati http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linati_schema_for_Ulysses and Stuart Gilbert http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_schema_for_Ulysses These are great for picking out themes, characters, structure; even colours (hey, was Joyce a synesthete?). I love these schema so much I devoted a handy little notebook to them.
    3) Keep a notebook. No, really. If there’s stuff that puzzles you jot it down. Don’t break the flow of Joyce’s wonderful words (and they really are wonderful). Look it all up later as Kristin has done in annotations or Wikipedia or Google it. How fun is it to learn that Joyce (”Stephen”) himself lived for a brief time in a decommissioned military tower overlooking the sea? The rabbitholes are there to explore and delight. Have an adventure!

    Thoughts on this week’s reading:
    Episode 1 - Telemachus was more enjoyable for me than Episode 2 - Nestor. I’m a sucker for a seaside setting and how gorgeous is a description like “…wave white wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.” [Modern Library, 1946, p. 11]. The passage about the elderly milkmaid took my breath away with its beauty and Mulligan’s bawdy songs made me LOL (oh hey, guess what again, the real life person Mulligan is based on, one Oliver St. John Gogarty, also was infamous for bawdy verse. And he rented Martello Tower in Sandycove. Google it!). You really do have to read some of this stuff aloud for full effect. Try “A horde of heresies fleeing with mitres awry: ” [ML p. 22].

    Episode 2 was a bit tougher going so I just decided to relax and enjoy that flow of words. Again, read some aloud. My favorite passage from this episode is on pp. 28-9 of the Modern Library edition: “A poor soul gone to heaven: and on a heath beneath winking stars a fox, red reek of rapine in his fur, with merciless bright eyes scraped in the earth, listened, scraped up the earth, listened, scraped and scraped.” Truly. Gorgeous stuff.

    Thoroughly enjoying the odyssey,

  3. Beth Says:

    I too simply went with the flow. Not much insight on the story overall, but here are some of my favorite bits:

    Funny line (page 6 in my edition): “He kills his mother but he can’t wear grey trousers.”

    Moby-Dick parallels? Sort of? Page 7 in my text, “… like the snout of a sleeping whale.” But good ol’ M-D- was never sleeping…

    In section one, there was an interesting repetition of the word plump–one of the first words of section one and again in the last few paragraphs of section one. Not sure of the meaning for this, but it’s an interesting observation.

    And wise words of the day: “Life is the great teacher.” (page 35 in my text)

  4. Amy Says:

    I also liked the Walt Whitman sampling (Whitman sampler?): “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.”

  5. girldetective Says:

    Tee hee. Whitman sampler. Good one. I wondered whether “oakpale” was sound-play on “opaque”.

    Also, for those who recently read Zealot with me, how about those “Hellenise” suggestions and the quote about how complex the statement of “render unto Caesar” is–did those remind you of Zealot too, and give you a little dizziness of book groups crossing?

  6. crystal Says:

    Yep, its weird but beautiful. Stephen’s depth of his dissection of the mundane is exciting and Mulligan’s flippant mockery of everything is freeing. The interactions can be uncomfortable and sad but so full up with thought and imagery.

    I found the moment Mr. Deasy is standing in the light shaft caught up by his own supposed “enlightenment” such a wonderful way to portrait his own darkness blindness.

  7. Janet Says:

    Oh, I’m so in over my head. But will keep trying!

  8. girldetective Says:

    Janet, we are ALL in over our heads, and hang in there! We’re in this together for a reason. I just read a bio of Sylvia Plath, and one of the things that led to her downward spiral before her first suicide attempt was starting to read Ulysses and not understanding it and feeling less intelligent because of it. We have each other and the internet and know that Joyce was messing with us, so we’re so very fortunate!