Blooming hell!

This week in my Theory class we looked at Modernist writers and James Joyce's Ulysses in particular. I have to be honest, I tried reading this book for about 7 months last year and got as far as chapter 6. I think I'd read each of those chapters 3 times because I was sure that if I could just get under the language I could work out why this book had been labelled the most important text of the C20th!

Then one day I read the following Joyce quote: "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality" (R.Ellmann). Read completely out of context, this confirmed a suspicion I had that Joyce is an immortal narcissistic psycho whose sole purpose in life (and death) is to play sinister mind games with me. I rolled my eyes when I saw the Ulysses chapter on the course reading list. Of course it was! Joyce has single handedly hoodwinked the entire literary academia into believing that he "meant" anything at all. 

But then, in class we looked at something I had not seen before, the deliberately incomplete Schema for Ulysses:

LOOK AT THIS! It makes sense! There is so much detail, meaning, richness in every chapter. He wasn't just messing with us... he wasn't exclusively messing with us! He was doing something deliberate and meaningful.  And so, with my faith somewhat (though shakily) restored in there being a point to reading Ulysses, I will attempt to complete it in my end of year break. Not because I think it's going to enlighten or inspire me, but because it's important. He is described as forerunner, a leader in literature. Any author who invests so much into their experimental work, with no real chance of ever being recognised in their lifetime, is worth a closer look, right?


This is never going to be a pleasant read - any one who says that they love it are lying or mental. The last chapter, Penelope, is made up of 8 HUGE sentences in stream of consciousness - oh what delirious fun! (Serious question, would reading such a thing disturb the delicate molecular structure of the my eyeballs?) And if these supposed fans start throwing around terms like "subversive work of art" or encourage you to join them on a trip to Dublin next June 16th for Bloomsday, you may want to gently back out of the conversation OR point over their shoulder, yell "Look, half priced sheep kidneys" and then run away.

What books did you force yourself to read from start to finish, because it was important


  1. What a coincidence! I just added this to my own reading list because I glimpsed it in one of my favorite TV shows (Lost). I guess I don't have much to look forward to, but it will be a good learning experience.

  2. Oh, you poor thing. Sounds horrible. :)

    I took a senior seminar on Conrad. Uggh. But I had to read the stuff to pass the class, so I did. Heart of Darkness wasn't so bad. It was the other stuff. I don't even remember the names of his other books now. I've repressed them.

    Now that I'm not in school anymore, I don't force myself to read anything. Ahh, the free life!

    Happy reading. :)

  3. Good luck and God's speed, Melissa!

    Ha ha, so much repressed literature. I think there should be a compulsary prescription of 8 hours of disney movies after every semester at uni.

    I guess I force myself to read painful books because they are the books that influence writers that I truly admire... I think I've convinced myself that if I read the books they read and develope the food intolerances they have, etc etc, maybe (MAYBE!!) I can touch the coat-tails of their brilliance.

  4. Fortunately I haven't had to read anything I didn't like. Maybe one day but today, I'm blessed. :D

  5. Assigned reading, in my opinion, is the worst because you know you have to get through the book! I didn't much like "Grapes of Wrath," truth be told... but then again, I read it ages and ages ago and I was forced to do so in English class, so my opinion may have changed!

  6. I had to read this at uni 40 years ago - and failed to finish it. In my share house in Darlinghurst I wrote the quotation about Leopold Bloom loving to eat the inner organs of beasts and fowls on the wall above the stove (and we all acquired a thing about eating liver for a while).
    The book sat in my shelves for years becoming more and more tattered, until I finally read it a few years ago. Parts are pretty well unreadable I think (the 'Nighttown' part for eg), but the rest is sublime!

  7. I feel you on this. I hate having books ASSIGNED to me. It takes all the fun out of reading the story. I read Wuthering Heights in high school and heartily disliked it. I might have liked (maybe even loved) the story if I had read it on my own. But having to analyze every single detail (against my will, I might add) just made reading tedious.

    Thankfully, I still do love to read. Just not when commanded to.

  8. Hannah - you are lucky :)

    Julie and Raven - I had to read "Wide sargasso sea" or "A farewell to arms" in my undergraduate degree and hated them both. But on the other hand some of my favourite books were assigned readings. I guess it depends on the subject and the teacher. Assigned reading can be awful, but it also brought books and ideas into my world that I otherwise would never have known about. Even if a book it awful, I think that if it has literary merit, it is worth a look, if only to learn the techniques of the writer or to explore ideas or themes that you may use in your own writing. I guess it can't be forced tho, you're either interested or you're not and you've got to be true to yourself!

    Joanne - you've give me hope! Maybe one day I can say I enjoyed joyce. I'll probably stay away from "Finnigan's Wake" though!

  9. I guess James Joyce wasn't in the same writing crit. circle I'm in. LOL Sounds like he broke all the "rules."

    I tended to enjoy the books everyone else hated when I was in school. When others were throwing Charlotte Lennox's "The Female Quixote" against the wall, I was reading it a second time.
    I memorized more of The Canterbury Tales prologue (in Middle English) than what was required.

    But I was never handed Ulysses. It sounds like that might have knocked me on my butt.