Big Books Blog: Ulysses – Introduction

James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses begins with the line “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” – and ends with the great affirmation “…yes I said yes I will Yes.” The 780-odd pages between contain whole worlds, condensed into a single Dublin day, June 16, 1904. (June 16 was also Joyce’s first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.) The book’s main characters are Leopold and Molly Bloom. Thus is June 16 called “Bloomsday” and recognized by bookish types as something akin to a literary holiday. Bloomsday is often marked my marathon readings of Ulysses, drinking, lemon soap, and parties at which guests are encouraged to come in Edwardian dress. Flavorwire has some other ideas on ways to celebrate. Tonight’s Bloomsday celebration is a low-key affair in the Pattison house. I’m drinking Guinness alone and yawning.

Though I love Ulysses, I have never been able to finish the book. My own daughter is named after Molly Bloom (one of my favorite characters in all of literature), but I’ve only come as close as page 680 in my several attempts to read the book straight through. I used to get discouraged by the book; now I tend to get distracted.

Well, no longer. This is the year I finish Ulysses, and I want to invite you to read it with me as the first in our “Big Books Blog” series. I’m going to adapt the reading plan the 92nd Street Y used earlier this year to finish the books in four weeks. There are 18 episodes in Ulysses. Here is my schedule:

Week One: Episodes 1-4: TelemachusNestorProteusCalypso
Week Two: Episodes 5-9: Lotus EatersHadesAeolusLestrygoniansScylla and Charybdis
Week Three: Episodes 10-15: Wandering RocksSirensCyclopsNausicaa; Oxen of the SunCirce ( first half)
Week Four: Episode 15-18: Circe, (second half); Eumaeus]; IthacaPenelope

The links take you to a helpful readers’ guide. I have a few deadlines in the next couple days, so I will likely publish my first reading journal from the book early next week. I’d love to hear thoughts as well.

By the way, the next selection in the Big Book series will be the deathbed edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. We’ll start that book on July 4, the day the first edition of Leaves of Grass appeared back in 1855.



4 comments on “Big Books Blog: Ulysses – Introduction

  1. What a great idea! I might join you… which of the billion editions are you using?

    • That’s a good question. My Gabler Edition is falling apart, so I am just using my 1992 Modern Library hardcover edition. I also have the annotated “Ulysses,” but I’d like to consult that only sparingly. I know it could illuminate many of the text’s obscurities, but this time through is more about immersing myself in the story and the language. The annotated may be a project for next year.

      Have you read “Ulysses” or any of Joyce’s other works? “Portrait of the Artist” and “Dubliners” are two of my favorites. “Finnegan’s Wake” may end up being my white whale, to mix literary metaphors.

  2. Ulysses was a great book, and yeah, it was pretty odd.

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