Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Odyssey in Ulysses, Part One: Telemachus Schmalamachus

E.B. White once said, “I don’t know what is more discouraging, chickens or literature.”

I don’t know what he meant, but I bet he was talking about James Joyce’s ULYSSES.

My book club decided to tackle the Joyce epic, spreading it over two meetings and two months. Here is my journey in attempting to read the classic.

The start: I go to the library to get my copy of ULYSSES. I am very proud; we’re not even going to discuss the book until two meetings from now, giving me seven weeks to read what all the other poor saps will be cramming into only four weeks. I am so on top of this puppy.

I look through the various versions, trying to gauge which has the better scholarly material in the foreword. I then include scholarship, opting instead to take the volume that has the pretty ribbon attached to mark the pages. I know the signs of a classy book, I tell you.

I fully expect the check out person to stop and remark at my apparent genius. “Why, yes, I am reading Joyce. Harumpf.”

She doesn’t even make eye contact with me. Maybe it’s because I also picked up a copy of the Plastic Man graphic novel – the one where he arm wrestles with himself while steam pours out of his ears.

Later: I keep the book by my bed. It looks awfully thick. I will start reading soon.

Later: The meeting before the meeting where we discuss Joyce has come and gone. I realize that my book is overdue. I should start reading it soon.

Later: I fan through the book. 1,003 pages. Yowza. Okay, start to read. I notice that with the title page and other frou-frou, the book actually starts on page five. I go to the office to get a calculator. I’m already point zero zero five percent done with the book, and I haven’t started reading yet!

I type 7734 into my calculator, and turn it upside down. I giggle at my naughtiness, and decide I’ve done enough work for one day.

Later: Started reading. Have no clue what is going on. Some guy is shaving while saying things that must be awfully clever. Lots of religious stuff. I come across the line, “I only remember ideas and sensations.”

Apparently true of Joyce, and incomplete sensations at that. Lovely. I may need help.

Later: At the used bookstore. Bob was singing the praises of THE NEW BLOOMSDAY BOOK: A GUIDE THROUGH ULYSSES. It explains everything, he says. I initially scoffed – I don’t need someone holding my hand through a book. Now I am hoping the bookstore has a copy, as the library didn’t.

The bookstore owner – who has always looked down on me with the disdain of someone’s whose reading of McSweeney’s shouldn’t be interrupted by someone wondering where the ZITS cartoon collections are kept – nearly leaps over his desk when I ask about the book. He pushes me down an aisle, cackling on about his hope that he still has a copy on the shelf.

As he pours through the books, digging into the second row, scouring, I learn why he is excited. The last copy he had sold for nearly $200.

I try to muster the courage to tell him to stop looking, as I came in hoping that one might be in the buck fifty bin.

But I like the feeling of being in the club that traffics in intelligentsia, so instead I pray that he doesn’t find a copy.

He doesn’t; I promise to check back daily to see if one came in. And mourn the fact that I won’t be coming back to this store any time soon.

Back to the book; I’m on my own again.


Just my thoughts,


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