Book Review: Hark! : a Vagrant by Kate Beaton

AuthorKate Beaton
TitleHark! : a Vagrant
Publication Info: Drawn and Quarterly (2011), Edition
Previously read by the same authorStep Aside, Pops!

This is the first collection of the hilarious webcomics on historical and literary themes from the brilliant Kate Beaton.  I was going to post links to my favorites but I lost the file so you’ll just have to find the book and read.  And laugh.  And then say, “hmm…yes, I’ve learned something.”  Cuz they’re that good.

Rating: ****


Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Author: Oscar Wilde
Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Narrator: Paul Lincoln
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2016) [Originally published in 1890]

Sometimes you decide that you should make up for having never read any works of Oscar Wilde and learn that this book is far weirder than you ever imagined.  The Picture of Dorian Gray is highly melodramatic and is tuned to Victorian era sensibilities of morality.  This portrait in this book famously ages while it’s subject remains young and beautiful, but the story is not about aging but the representation of Dorian Gray’s evil acts in the visage of his picture.  I was also surprised about how frank this book is about homosexuality for the time.  At any rate, it’s a nice surprise to finally read a book you think you know what it’s about, only to find yourself very surprised.

Recommended BooksDeath in Venice by Thomas Mann
Rating: ***

Book Review: Step Aside, Pops : A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton

Author: Kate Beaton
TitleStep Aside, Pops : A Hark! A Vagrant Collection
Publication Info: [Montreal, Quebec] : Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.

The brilliant webcomic Hark! A Vagrant is collected in glorious print.  Beaton’s comics tend to focus on historical and literary references with various levels of absurdity, so as a History/English major with fondness for absurd comics, they appeal to me.  This collection includes biographical comics of people you should know such as Sara Josephine Baker  and Ida B. Wells.  Then there’s the history of the invasion of Canada by Irish-American Fenians and the role of the bicycle in liberating women.  Have you ever wondered about the basic nuttiness of Wuthering Heights or wondered what became of the guy in the beginning of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys” video?  These things are analyzed here.  And the popular misconceptions of feminism are pilloried in the series “Strong Female Characters” and “Straw Feminists.”  But I probably bust a gut the most reading “Founding Fathers (in a Mall)” and its sequel “Founding Fathers (Stuck in an Amusement Park).”

Recommended booksHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Rating: ****

List of Modern Classic novels

I’m surprised that I’ve read 9 of the 15 books on this list of Modern Classic novels since I tend to read non-fiction these days. Not only that but I really love several of these books.

Here are my reviews of the books I’ve read:

I think from the remaining books I’d like to read Cloud Atlas and maybe Kafka on the Shore.

What are your modern classics?


People may tell you that literature is dying, but plenty of authors are hard at work redefining the book world with groundbreaking and mind-bending works sure to be read and reread for quite some time. With so many books vying to be the next “Great American Novel”, this is merely a list of those who have earned their eminence and moved a generation some believed was devoid of literacy. Let us know what makes your list of modern classics in the comments.

1. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

What is it about?

Spanning three generations, this novel chronicles a hermaphrodite’s shift in gender identity in 1960’s Detroit. The story jumps between Greece, Detroit and San Francisco in this moving coming-of-age tale with a twist.

Why you should read it:

While Oprah sang this novel’s praises by including it in her book club, Eugenides is a very skilled storyteller that understands…

View original post 1,153 more words

Book Review: Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

Author: Jonah Lehrer
Title: Proust Was a Neuroscientist
Publication Info: Brilliance Audio on CD (2008)
ISBN: 9781423374206

Previously read by same author: How We Decide


This book explores the work of eight artists and how their art revealed truths about the human brain that would later be discovered through science.  A quick search of Google brings up several reviews that dismiss Lehrer’s work as “popular science” but I think they’re missing the point that readers can learn scientific concepts  through an artistic lens.  Of course, with my humanities background I’m biased to the idea that the arts have something to offer to scientific study.  The artists include Walt Whitman (feeling), George Eliot (malleability of the brain), Auguste Escoffier (taste), Marcel Proust (memory), Paul Cezanne (vision), Igor Stravinsky (music), Gertrude Stein (language), and Virginia Woolf (self).  The conclusion of the book is an appeal to end the artificial divide between arts and sciences that I strongly support.

Favorite Passages:

“Nature, however, writes astonishingly complicated prose. If our DNA has a literary equivalent, it’s Finnegan’s Wake.”

Recommended books: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness by Alva Noë, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper

Author: James Fenimore Cooper
Title: The Deerslayer
Publication Info: [Ashland] : Blackstone Audiobooks, [2004]
ISBN: 0786132353


This is the first chronological story of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales although the last of the five books published by Cooper.  I’ve long intended to read this book and I was somewhat disappointed.  It was hard to get past the racism, sexism, and ableism (the inordinate references to Hetty as “feeble-minded”)  even while making allowances for these attitudes being accepted at the time the story is set as well as when Cooper was writing.  The excessive piety and preachiness of Deerslayer and Hetty get obnoxious as well.

That being said, I did enjoy the setting of the book in a New York when it was still a wilderness with warring parties of English & French, Huron, Iroquois & Delaware fighting for its control.   And for all the stereotypes, Cooper wryly shows how the native Indians and the simple woodsman Deerslayer can be more civilized than Europeans like Floating Tom and Hurry Harry.

Despite my disappointment, I would still like to give the next book (chronologically) in the series a chance — The Last of the Mohicans — as it has a good reputation.

Rating: **

Banned Books Week 2010

It’s Banned Books Week again where we celebrate intellectual freedom by reading and highlighting books that have been banned, challenged, or otherwise suppressed.  Usually I pick out a banned book or two to read but I’m behind the curve on this one and haven’t even finished reading a book I started a couple of weeks ago and don’t have time to pick out new books to read.  So I decided to go through the ALA list of frequently challenged books and highlights the ones I’ve read.

1 Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4 And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5 Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

7 Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8 His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9 TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11 Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12 It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13 Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey (one book in series)
14 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15 The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

16 Forever, by Judy Blume
17 The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18 Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19 Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20 King and King, by Linda de Haan
21 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22 Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24 In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25 Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26 Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28 Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29 The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30 We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32 Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33 Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36 Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37 It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38 Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39 Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40 Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41 Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42 The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43 Blubber, by Judy Blume
44 Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45 Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46 Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48 Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50 The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

51 Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52 The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53 You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54 The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55 Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56 When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57 Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58 Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59 Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60 Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61 Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62 The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63 The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64 Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65 The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67 A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68 Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69 Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70 Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71 Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72 Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73 What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74 The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75 Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76 A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77 Crazy:  A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78 The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79 The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80 A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81 Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82 Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83 Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84 So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86 Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87 Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88 The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89 Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90 A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91 Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92 The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93 Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94 Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95 Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96 Grendel, by John Gardner
97 The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98 I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99 Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100 America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

I have to say, of the books left there are not many I want to read.  I guess just because a book is banned doesn’t make it good, but more power to the people who want to read them.

More coverage of Banned Books Week 2010:

Related Posts:

1 Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4 And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5 Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7 Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8 His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9 TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11 Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12 It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13 Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15 The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16 Forever, by Judy Blume
17 The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18 Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19 Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20 King and King, by Linda de Haan
21 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22 Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24 In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25 Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26 Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28 Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29 The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30 We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32 Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33 Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36 Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37 It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38 Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39 Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40 Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41 Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42 The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43 Blubber, by Judy Blume
44 Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45 Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46 Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48 Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50 The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51 Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52 The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53 You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54 The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55 Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56 When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57 Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58 Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59 Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60 Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61 Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62 The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63 The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64 Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65 The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67 A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68 Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69 Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70 Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71 Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72 Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73 What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74 The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75 Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76 A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77 Crazy:  A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78 The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79 The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80 A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81 Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82 Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83 Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84 So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86 Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87 Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88 The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89 Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90 A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91 Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Graighead George
92 The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93 Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94 Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95 Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96 Grendel, by John Gardner
97 The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98 I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99 Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100 America: A Novel, by Frank, E.R.

Book Review: Ulysses by James Joyce

What can I possibly say about Ulysses (1920) by James Joyce in way of review? Here are 18 thoughts, one for each episode.

  1. I can’t believe I finally finished reading Ulysses.
  2. I can’t believe I read Ulysses for fun.
  3. I can’t believe I didn’t read Ulysses in my college English courses.  What cowardice forced my professors to make us read Dubliners over and over again when class room discussions would have made reading Ulysses such a valuable experience?
  4. Ulysses lends itself well to reading online via DailyLit.
  5. It takes a village to read Ulysses.  Here are some resources I referred to guide my way through the book:
      1. Joyce does a spectacular job of drawing in mythology, literature, history, and current events into the storyline of June 16, 1904.
      2. It’s equally amazing how Joyce well-plotted the movements of characters and overlapping plots in that one day in Dublin.
      3. The structure of the book is remarkable – each episode alluding the the Odyssey as well as having symbols, colors, body parts, writing techniques, et al as detailed in the Linati and Gilbert schema.
      4. The experiments in language and writing styles to evoke meaning beyond the plot and dialogue is also impressive even if it makes the book quite complex to read.
      5. Despite all that, I actually think I understood a good portion of the novel.
      6. Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read it again some day to gain a richer understanding.
      7. And despite being a “masterpiece of modern literature” and all that, Ulysses is also pretty funny.
      8. I mean there are as many fart and penis jokes in this book as your typical Kevin Smith movie.
      9. Ulysses can also be quite grotesque and disturbing.
      10. But always poetic.
      11. And sometimes quite sexy, although with an earthy realism.
      12. If this is not a good enough review for you, I have also posted my reflections while reading the book:
      13. Next I’ll have to re-try reading Finnegan’s Wake.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part VII – Film Edition

      One would think that Ulysses, a novel which is remarkable for it’s experiments with language and writing styles as well as the interior dimensions of its characters far more than plot, would be unfilmable.  Yet I found two different movies that attempt to take Ulysses on, and having read the book I decided to watch the movies.

      Ulysses (1967)

      This black and white film takes a cinéma vérité approach to adapting the novel to screen.  Although Joyce set Ulysses on a specific day in 1904, all the costumes, sets and scenery are contemporary Dublin lending a swinging sixties vibe.  It makes for some odd juxtapositions such as the Republic of Ireland emblems in the courtroom scene and the appearance of British soldiers on the streets of post-colonial Dublin.  It’s pretty spectacular though that many scenes are on location in the places where Joyce set them.  The first half of the film feels like Cliffs Notes as episodes that took me weeks to read fly by in just a few conversations and monologues.  The second half of the film takes on “Circe” (as bizarre on screen as in the book), skips “Eumaeus” entirely, the actors portraying Bloom & Stephen pantomime in “Ithaca” as disembodied narrators read the catechism, and finally Molly Bloom monologues from bed over flashbacks and daydreams.  A couple of cool film effects include wind blowing in the door of the newsroom in the “Aeolus” scene and Bloom striking the poses of various Dublin statues and landmarks during the New Bloomusalem sequence.

      Bloom (2003)

      This more recent adaptation is more faithful to the costume and setting of 1904 Dublin but less faithful to the book. One good thing the filmmakers did here is to split Molly’s monologue so that half of it is at the start of the movie creating a provocative framing device.  Angeline Ball puts in a great performance as Molly – bawdy, sexy, yet sympathetic.  She doesn’t make the mistake of being overly reverent toward Joyce’s dialogue.  Stephen Rea, an actor I like, seems miscast as Bloom.  I thought Milo O’Shea put in a more versatile performance in Ulysses.  I think Bloom is even more guilty of the Cliffs Notes effects and tries to make things too pretty at times where they should be grotesgue or gritty.  The music is also pretty inappropriate.  I think they’d been better off to go with period music to match the period costumes and scenery.

      Overall I wouldn’t say either of the movies is bad.  They’re entertaining and offers some interesting insights into the novel.  Still, with all the condensing necessary to make an adaptation its impossible not to lose a lot of subtlety and import of the novel.  Perhaps some daring filmmaker should make a 24-part series with each episode based on one hour in Bloomsday.  For an innovative and experimental novel  it would also be nice to see some innovative and experimental film-making.  Ulysses is better than Bloom in this regard, but they’re both fairly pedestrian.  If you’re going to watch just one of these movies get Ulysses.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part VI

      Thoughts on the final three sections of Ulysses.


      Much of this section takes place in a cabman’s shelter which seems to be like a late-night pub.  There are shadowy figures and impostors there including the sailor “Murphy.”  Bloom has paternal feelings about Stephen, wanting to strengthen their relationship but also thinks of ways to profit off Stephen’s vocal talent.  According to Harry Blamires in The New Bloomsday Book:

      In short, there is no coming together here; no meeting of the minds; only a collision between the socialisitic, materialistic, liberal, twentieth-century mind, pinning its faith to the collective and to the assumed capacity of man to build his own Bloomusalem — and the rebellious guilt-ridden, individualistic inheritor of Christian culture who has lost his illusions along withi his faith. – p. 198

      At one point Bloom looks at the newspaper and it is a reflection of many thing that happen in the novel: the horse race won by Throwaway, Dignam’s funeral (Bloom’s name mispelled), and the letter from Mr. Deasy.  The style of writing is deliberately poor as if written sluggishly late at night (much like this blog).  There are also pretentious passages in foreign languages and a mysterious run of numbers that not even Blamires explains.

      The conflict between Ireland & England is a topic in the cabman’s shelter with the proprieter rumored to be one of the Invincibles of the Phoenix Park murders.  Bloom keeps to himself that he thinks Ireland benefits from its association with England.  Still he proudly remembers meeting Parnell and recovering the great man’s hat.
      (NOTE: This episode takes place in part of Dublin I stayed in 1998).

      From inside information extending over a series of years Mr Bloom was rather inclined to poohpooh the suggestion as egregious balderdash for, pending that consummation devoutly to be or not to be wished for, he was fully cognisant of the fact that their neighbours across the channel, unless they were much bigger fools than he took them for, rather concealed their strength than the opposite. It was quite on a par with the quixotic idea in certain quarters that in a hundred million years the coal seam of the sister island would be played out and if, as time went on, that turned out to be how the cat jumped all he could personally say on the matter was that as a host of contingencies, equally relevant to the issue, might occur ere then it was highly advisable in the interim to try to make the most of both countries even though poles apart.

      All kinds of Utopian plans were flashing through his (B’s) busy brain, education (the genuine article), literature, journalism, prize titbits, up to date billing, concert tours in English watering resorts packed with hydros and seaside theatres, turning money away, duets in Italian with the accent perfectly true to nature and a quantity of other things, no necessity, of course, to tell the world and his wife from the housetops about it, and a slice of luck. An opening was all was wanted. Because he more than suspected he had his father’s voice to bank his hopes on which it was quite on the cards he had so it would be just as well, by the way no harm, to trail the conversation in the direction of that particular red herring just to.


      Bloom & Dedalus take cocoa at Bloom’s house.  All of this chapter is written in the form of a catechism with mock scientific/philosophical language.  Thus the part of the book where the reader expects a climax where the two heroes come together is deliberately distanced and obfuscated by a flurry of excess detail.  Much of it reads like this:

      What, reduced to their simplest reciprocal form, were Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom and about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen?

      He thought that he thought that he was a jew whereas he knew that he knew that he knew that he was not.

      There are some nice things in this episode nonetheless as Stephen and Bloom compare the Hebrew and Irish languages and then go out for a shared piss in the garden.  Here they look at the stars studying the constellations upon which Bloom reflects with scientific precision.  I can’t help but think of the original Odyseus who would use the stars to navigate as well as see the pantheon of Gods in the constellations.  Despite their failure to truly connect, Bloom & Stephen see something complementary in one another:

      What was Stephen’s auditive sensation?

      He heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past.

      What was Bloom’s visual sensation?

      To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

      He saw in a quick young male familiar form the predestination of a future.

      Bloom, alone, reflects on death, reviews his daily accounts and daydreams of a home in the country and a petit bourgeouis life.  The contents of Bloom’s bookcases and desk are itemized. This includes Bloom’s father’s suicide  note.  He thinks about Molly and Boylan and assumes that Boylan is the latest in numerous affairs, but Bloom himself always is the last:

      If he had smiled why would he have smiled?

      To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

      Finally, he climbs into bed, head to toe with Molly, kissing her on the bottom and reflecting on the day leaving out some salient details.


      This is Molly Bloom’s episode, a long stream-of-consciousness monologue with no punctuation.  Blamires says that it’s written in eight sentences, but I didn’t really see any breaks.  Molly is an earthy and frank woman especially when it comes to sex.  Yet, despite Bloom’s assumptions of her infidelity Boylan is actually her first affair and she only feels driven to it because Bloom has abstained from sex since their son Rudy died ten years earlier:

      Im not an old shrivelled hag before my time living with him so cold never embracing me except sometimes when hes asleep the wrong end of me not knowing I suppose who he has any man thatd kiss a womans bottom Id throw my hat at him after that hed kiss anything unnatural where we havent I atom of any kind of expression in us all of us the same 2 lumps of lard before ever Id do that to a man pfooh the dirty brutes the mere thought is enough I kiss the feet of you senorita theres some sense in that didnt he kiss our halldoor yes he did what a madman nobody understands his cracked ideas but me still of course a woman wants to be embraced 20 times a day almost to make her look young no matter by who so long as to be in love or loved by somebody

      Yet, Molly is still fond of Bloom and there are many memories of their better times together mixed in with her other reflections on the day past and her life growing up in Gibraltar.  At one point Molly mentions she’d like to collect a book of the eccentric things Bloom says:

      if I only could remember the I half of the things and write a book out of it the works of Master Poldy

      The book concludes with the famous if ambigous final line where Molly remembers the day Bloom proposed to her.  It’s a positive and joyful finale nonetheless.

      Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

      Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) is a memoir about life and Iran and reading English language books by  Azar Nafisi.  My alumni chapter book club selected this book appropriately about a book club Nafisi started to read Western literature with young women she had taught at the university in Tehran.  The book is divided into four sections loosely draping Nafisi’s story over the works of four authors:  Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the works of Henry James (particularly Daisy Miller), and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first section focuses mainly on the reading group and the conversations therein, while the reamaining three sections are more of a straight-forward memoir.  Nafisi is educated in America (in Oklahoma, no less, which she makes sound like a hotbed of Iranian revolutionaries), returns to teach in Tehran right at the time of the revolution, loses her positions due to her liberal ways, returns to teaching (albeit compromising some of her principles), and then starts the reading group.  Finally, Nafisi departs Iran for good for the United States where she teaches and writes to this day.

      This is horribly judgmental of me, especially to say of someone who lived under a totalitarian regime, but I found that Nafisi comes across as whiny, at least in the first chapter.  Marjane Satrapi (who is roughly the age of one of Nafisi’s “girls”) writes much more eloquently about the Iranian Revolution and the oppression of the Islamic regime, especially for women. The discussion of the books and life issues by the women of the reading group is supposed to be central to this work, but I never get the sense of individuality of the women in the group as if they’re only there to fill a role for Nafisi’s thesis. I warmed up to this book in the second section when Nafisi’s class puts the novel The Great Gatsby on trial, a clever way of discussing the book and the clash of cultures of the students in reading it.  Nafisi is at her best when discussing the books and I found her observations quite illuminating.  Especially for Lolita which I read many years ago but didn’t really follow it all to well.  I think Nafisi must be an excellent teacher and her passion for the novels comes across well in this work.  Ultimately this is a pretty good book, especially for its literary sections as well as a glimpse into life in modern Iran.

      Favorite Passages

      In class, we were discussing the concept of the villain in the novel.  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiousity about other poeple and their lives, even about the person he loved most, Lolita.  Humbert, like most dictators, was interested only in his own vision of other people.  He had created the Lolita he desired, and would not budge from that image.  I reminded them of Humbert’s statement that he wished to stop time and keep Lolita forever on “an islnd of entranced time,” a task undertaken only by Gods and poets. – p. 48-49

      The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. – p. 76

      This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel.  It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert and James to Nabakov and Bellow.  This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy.  The personalized version of good and evil usurps and individualizes the more archetypal concepts, such as courage or heroism, that shaped the epic or romance.  A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost. – p. 224

      Authors: Nafisi, Azar.
      Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books / Azar Nafisi.
      Edition: 1st ed.
      Published: New York : Random House, c2003.
      Description: 347 p. ; 22 cm.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part V


      Egads!  Just when you think James Joyce can’t confuse you anymore he creates an episode in the form of a play script with stage directions, sets it in a brothel, fills it with hallucinations, and makes it the longest episode in the book.  Joyce almost taunts you to give up reading the book, but I’m made of sterner stuff.  Try this on for size:

      BLOOM: (MEANINGFULLY DROPPING HIS VOICE) I confess I’m teapot with curiosity to find out whether some person’s something is a little teapot at present.

      MRS BREEN: (GUSHINGLY) Tremendously teapot! London’s teapot and I’m simply teapot all over me! (SHE RUBS SIDES WITH HIM) After the parlour mystery games and the crackers from the tree we sat on the staircase ottoman. Under the mistletoe. Two is company.

      Somewhere along the way Bloom goes on trial for being either an pervy creep or a cuckhold (or both).  Women he’s propositioned decide to drop his drawers and spank him within an inch of his life.  Suddenly everything changes and Bloom becomes the hero of the people creating a new Bloomusalem in their midst:

      BLOOM: I stand for the reform of municipal morals and the plain ten commandments. New worlds for old. Union of all, jew, moslem and gentile. Three acres and a cow for all children of nature. Saloon motor hearses. Compulsory manual labour for all. All parks open to the public day and night. Electric dishscrubbers. Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendicancy must now cease. General amnesty, weekly carnival with masked licence, bonuses for all, esperanto the universal language with universal brotherhood. No more patriotism of barspongers and dropsical impostors. Free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state.

      After that, Stephen Dedalus sees his dead mother and gets pugnacious with some British soldiers.  For the most part I can’t make heads or tails of it.

      Thank god for Harry Blamires!  Otherwise this is what little sense I would have made of this episode.  Turns out it’s a lot more to it.  According to Blamires, the visions that dominate “Circe” are external manifestations of our protagonists’ interior fears and hopes.  Also, it all ties to Shakespeare again, both the dramatist and his plays.  And of course this whole section is a play!  This section is the first part in which the reader doesn’t follow the interior monologue of one or more of the characters because of the dramatic structure, and yet due to the hallucinations the deepest interior thoughts of the characters are made exterior!  That Joyce is one clever dude.

      Well, that was entertaining, but I’m glad “Circe” is over.  Part III and Molly Blooom are up next.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part IV

      “The Cyclops”

      Perhaps the most complex and bizarre episode yet.  An unnamed first person narrator, clips of seemingly random text written in different styles.  What is this ridiculous list of names in the style of a saga other than a good laugh?  Ah, but is the true hero here a pint of Guinness?:

      Terence O’Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.

      Then did you, chivalrous Terence, hand forth, as to the manner born, that nectarous beverage and you offered the crystal cup to him that thirsted, the soul of chivalry, in beauty akin to the immortals.

      But he, the young chief of the O’Bergan’s, could ill brook to be outdone in generous deeds but gave therefor with gracious gesture a testoon of costliest bronze. Thereon embossed in excellent smithwork was seen the image of a queen of regal port, scion of the house of Brunswick, Victoria her name, Her Most Excellent Majesty, by grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British dominions beyond the sea, queen, defender of the faith, Empress of India, even she, who bore rule, a victress over many peoples, the wellbeloved, for they knew and loved her from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the pale, the dark, the ruddy and the ethiop.

      On a serious note, there’s some nasty anti-Semitism in this chapter and poor Bloom shows that he’s too good a man compared to the “citizen.”  Harry Blamires has a great explanation of the Cyclops in The New Bloomsday Book:

      For though the events are recounted by a nameless narrator, the narration is punctuated by a series of commentaries in vastly different styles – but each style an inflated caricature of the legal, the epic, the scientific, the journalistice, and so on.  The total effect is to set the gentle, pacific, charitable Bloom in lonely opposition to a barbaric, bigoted, and aggressive nationalist – and likewise to place Bloom’s mildness and commonsense in lonely isolation within a world given over to vast excesses.  The intemperate inflations represent many aspects of culture, many movements in our civilization, that are irrational, violent or prententious.  The fact that the reader, as well as Ulysses-Bloom, feels swamped under it all is appropriate and of course intentional. – p. 112

      A recent podcast of WPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” contains a performance of Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice (ACT III, Scene I:48-68).  I could not help but notice the parallels between this monologue and Bloom’s defense against the Citizen.  Since Ulysses is full of allusions and discussion of Shakespeare I can’t imagine that Joyce didn’t do this on purpose.  Am I on to something here?

      Then it all ends like this:

      When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: ELIJAH! ELIJAH! And He answered with a main cry: ABBA! ADONAI! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel.



      More excess with no substance.  This time the episode is from the perspective of a young woman Gertie Macdowell who Bloom watches on the beach at Sandymount.  The reader sees her thoughts, fantasies of love tainted with consumerism.  All of the language is very pretty, especially compared with the ugliness of “The Cyclops.”  But it’s almost too pretty, sentimental and silly.  Here’s a passage I liked that is typical of the episode:

      How moving the scene there in the gathering twilight, the last glimpse of Erin, the touching chime of those evening bells and at the same time a bat flew forth from the ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry. And she could see far away the lights of the lighthouses so picturesque she would have loved to do with a box of paints because it was easier than to make a man and soon the lamplighter would be going his rounds past the presbyterian church grounds and along by shady Tritonville avenue where the couples walked and lighting the lamp near her window where Reggy Wylie used to turn his freewheel like she read in that book THE LAMPLIGHTER by Miss Cummins, author of MABEL VAUGHAN and other tales. For Gerty had her dreams that no-one knew of.
      She loved to read poetry and when she got a keepsake from Bertha Supple of that lovely confession album with the coralpink cover to write her thoughts in she laid it in the drawer of her toilettable which, though it did not err on the side of luxury, was scrupulously neat and clean. It was there she kept her girlish treasure trove, the tortoiseshell combs, her child of Mary badge, the whiterose scent, the eyebrowleine, her alabaster pouncetbox and the ribbons to change when her things came home from the wash and there were some beautiful thoughts written in it in violet ink that she bought in Hely’s of Dame Street for she felt that she too could write poetry if she could only express herself like that poem that appealed to her so deeply that she had copied out of the newspaper she found one evening round the potherbs.

      There are lots of contrasts in the chapter: Gertie’s idealized dreams of marriage and family compared with the bratty children her friends are caring for, Gertie’s pure beauty compared with Bloom’s foreign mystery, and throughout it all sex and religion.  The religion in the sounds and smells of the retreat at the nearby church.  The sex in the aspect of this section that makes it creepy and unsettling: all this time Bloom is playing with himself and Gertie is putting herself on display for him.

      Yeck!  It’s a long fall from Bloom the biblical hero of “The Cyclops” to Bloom the dirty old pervert.  In the previous episode, the citizen is prejudiced against Bloom for his foreignness but Bloom proves to be noble.  In this episode, Gerty finds Bloom’s foreignness attractive yet now he seems dangerous.

      Blamires has this take on it:

      The ideal-real dichotomy is again a theme implicit throughout this episode, for Bloom’s purely visual relationship parallels his purely verbal relationship with Martha.  The disintegration represented in Bloom’s partial relationships with Molly, Martha, and Gerty seems to reflect a Joycean judgement on modern life. – p. 137

      “Oxen of the Sun”

      Oh dear, the famous episode in which the English language gestates before the reader’s eyes is before me.  Full of literary parody that goes way over my head because I’ve never read the originals.  The basic gist is that a group of unruly medical students and other men drink and speak crudely while Mrs. Purefoy struggles through labor for the third day in a nearby room.  Only Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus see this as disrespectful and try to turn the conversation to be appropriate to the moment.  For this they are both isolated and symbolically drawn to one another.  Sprinkled throughout are references to fertility and cattle (tying it to the Odyssey).

      I am drawn to this passage although I’m not quite sure what it means:

      The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence: silence that is the infinite of space: and swiftly, silently the soul is wafted over regions of cycles of generations that have lived. A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars. She follows her mother with ungainly steps, a mare leading her fillyfoal. Twilight phantoms are they, yet moulded in prophetic grace of structure, slim shapely haunches, a supple tendonous neck, the meek apprehensive skull. They fade, sad phantoms: all is gone

      That’s all for this update.

      Here is the Ulysses reference of this week.

      Movie Round-Up

      Delicatessen (1991)

      One of my favorite films which I saw on the big screen at Brattle Theatre a few years back.  This was the first time Susan saw it and I was surprised that I’d forgotten how dark and gory this post-apocalyptic cannibalistic black comedy was.  Still, it is funny and amazing creative with possibly the best opening titles sequence ever as well as a couple of masterful set pieces.

      Delicatessen title sequence:

      Classic scene from Delicatessen used in trailer:

      Mark Twain (2001)

      A Ken Burns documentary about America’s great celebrity author, a man of many contradictions who lead a life both charmed and tragic.  I didn’t know much about Mark Twain’s life beyond a few famous fables so I enjoyed learning about the man and his work in this well-filmed, well-narrated, and well-illustrated documentary.

      The Great Escape (1963)

      The ultimate WWII prisoner of war film is entertaining if a bit long.  The Germans round up the most troublesome prisoners into one high-security camp and the Allied prisoners respond by planning the most daring escape ever.  The film claims to be based on actual events although a lot of what happens is dramatized, compressed, and composite-ized beyond reality, so it’s best to watch this for it entertainment and symbolic value rather than for a history lesson.

      Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the Eddie Izzard routine on The Great Escape while watching this:

      The Historic Pubs of Dublin (2008)

      For St. Patrick’s Day, I enjoyed this hour-long journey through the best pubs in Dublin with writer Frank McCourt.  Pubs patronized by writers and revolutionaries are visited as well as good places to enjoy a pint, a whiskey, Irish trad, and some good craic are all visited.  McCourt also leads the viewer to some of the top tourist attractions in Dublin, often conveniently proximite to a pub.

      Boston By Foot Special Tour: Literary Landmarks, Continued

      An entire week has passed, and I’ve yet to write about Boston By Foot’s special tour of 20th Century writers who lived and worked on Beacon Hill held on March 8th entitled Literary Landmarks, Continued.   This is a sequel of sorts to the regular Literary Landmarks tour which focuses on the 19th Century writers in the same area and is offered every Saturday at 10 am during the regular tour season from May to October.

      The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"
      The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial subject of Robert Lowell's most famous poem "For the Union Dead"

      The tour covered a number of sites including:

      • Site of Houghton-Mifflin publishing on Park Street
      • The Boston Athenaeum
      • The Massachusetts State House
      • Site of Little, Brown publishing on Beacon Street
      • Joy Street
      • The Beacon Press
      • Mt. Vernon Street
      • Louisburg Square
      • Cedar Street
      • Savenor’s Market
      • Charles Circle
      Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building
      Shadow of the Little, Brown name on a Beacon Street building

      More important than the sites are the stories of the writers and the literature they produced.  Sadly, the words “depression,” “alchoholism,” “failed marriages,” and “suicide” were repeated throughout the tour, so being a Boston writer was not an easy job.

      Writer’s included on this tour include:

      • Esther Forbes, author of Johnny Tremain
      • poet Amy Lowell
      • Samuel Eliot Morrison, author of One Boy’s Boston
      • historian David McCullough who researches his work at the Athenaeum
      • poet Robert Lowell
      • Frances Parkinson Keynes, author of novel called Joy Street
      • Atlantic editor Thomas Bailey Aldrich
      • William Stanley Braithwaite, poet who joined black and white poets together in an anthology for the first time
      • Frances Minturn Howard, who wrote Beacon Hill: Hub of the Universe
      • David MCord, children’s poet
      • Sylvia Plath, poet born in Jamaica Plain who lived on Beacon Hill with Ted Hughes
      • Robert Frost, probably the most famous poet of New England
      • Robin Cook, physician and author of medical thrillers
      • Archibald MacLeish, lawyer, poet and Librarian of Congress
      • John Marquand, author of The Late George Apley and the “Mr. Moto” series
      • W.S. Merwin, poet and playwright-in-residence at Poet’s Theatre
      • Annie Fields, writer, publisher, and host of literary salons
      • Sarah Orne Jewett, novelist and story writer
      • Willa Cather, novelist of My Antonia and other stories of the Great Plains
      • Julia Child, cookbook writer
      A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill
      A plaque commemorates Robert Frost residency as one of the many great writers who lived on Beacon Hill

      If you’re kicking yourself for missing this terrific tour, make sure to sign up at so you will get reminders of Boston By Foot special tours. Better yet, become a member of Boston By Foot and take free regular tours, discounted special tours, and tours only available for members.  You can even become a guide yourself by signing up online and attending the Annual Spring Lecture Series which begins on April 11th.

      Upcoming tours include:

      • Sunday March 29th, 2 pm – Great Women of Boston (meet at the flagpoles at City Hall Plaza)
      • Sunday April 25th, 2 pm – Revisiting the Waterfront, lead by yours truly (meet at McKinley Sq., by the entrance to Marriott Custom House)

      See you on the streets of Boston!

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part III

      “Scylla and Charybdis”

      This episode is thematically near and dear to my heart.  Set in the National Library of Ireland (which I’ve also failed to visit) it features literary debate on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, plus stuff about fathers and navigating between two extremes.  And it’s often satirical and funny.

      –Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

      Portals of discovery opened to let in the quaker librarian, softcreakfooted, bald, eared and assiduous.

      I like this passage both for Stephen Dedalus’ naive understanding of genius and how it transitions to the entry of the librarian.  I think I should rename this blog “Portals of Discovery.”  Then there’s this nice ribald pun: “If others have their will Ann hath a way.”

      Then there’s this passage that takes a jibe at John Millington Synge: “The tramper Synge is looking for you, he said, to murder you. He heard you pissed on his halldoor in Glasthule. He’s out in pampooties to murder you.”  I like it because it reminds me I had a cat named Pampootie when I was  child.

      And then there’s this: “He laughed to free his mind from his mind’s bondage.”  Heavy, man, heavy.


      “The Wandering Rocks”

      Holy cow!  19 different citizens of the city of Dublin perambulate its labryinthian streets and have there own thoughts and actions monitored.  If this book couldn’t get any more obtuse.  I do feel a spark of pride that I immediately knew that the “dreadful catastrophe in New York” was the General Slocum disaster.  It’s amazing how much history is connected to this one date, 16 June 1904. By a nice coincidence there’s a mention of my last DailyLit book, The Woman in White.

      Back to the General Slocum disaster, here’s the money quote from Tom Kernan:

      I smiled at him. AMERICA, I said quietly, just like that. WHAT IS IT? THE SWEEPINGS OF EVERY COUNTRY INCLUDING OUR OWN. ISN’T THAT TRUE? That’s a fact

      Buck Mulligan claims that Stephen Dedalus will write something in ten years, not at all coincidentally the same year Joyce would publish his first book The Dubliners.   By the way, why did all the college professors make us read The Dubliners and nothing else by Joyce?  I probably would have understood this better in a classroom setting.


      “The Sirens”

      Music rules over this episode.  Music in lyrics, music in speech, music in writing.  Musical instruments and words that are synonyms for musical instruments are everywhere.

      A duodene of birdnotes chirruped bright treble answer under sensitive hands. Brightly the keys, all twinkling, linked, all harpsichording, called to a voice to sing the strain of dewy morn, of youth, of love’s leavetaking, life’s, love’s morn.

      That’s poetry that is.  I really feel like I’m starting to get it here.  I see the characters and places.  I feel the rhythms.   Good golly, Ulysses is making sense!  Of course I draw upon my experience in music pubs with attractive barmaids.

      There’s this humorous bit about math and music too:

      Numbers it is. All music when you come to think. Two multiplied by two divided by half is twice one. Vibrations: chords those are. One plus two plus six is seven. Do anything you like with figures juggling. Always find out this equal to that. Symmetry under a cemetery wall. He doesn’t see my mourning. Callous: all for his own gut. Musemathematics

      An mp3 of “The Croppy Boy” sets the mood.

      The end of this episodes tests the fallacy that classic literature cannot be crude and funny as Bloom breaks wind while reading the final words of Roger Emmet.  Once again there’s music in it, which reminds me of the old ditty:

      Beans, beans, the magical fruit.
      The more you eat, the more you toot.
      The more you toot, the better you feel.
      So eat your beans with every meal!

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, Part II

      I’ve read three more episodes and with lots of help The Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Ulysses by Harry Blamires, Paigerella’s podcast, and (shamefully) SparkNotes, I’m coming to appreciate the ways in which Joyce combines the mundanity of ordinary activity with scatterred memories and words (both spoke and thought) that take on many meanings.

      “Hades” includes a journey to the famed Glasnevin Cemetery.  Why did I never go there on my travels in Dublin?  Oh yeah, it’s because it’s way the heck in the north of the city.  Probably explains why Bloom and his companions have such a long carriage ride.

      Passages from “Hades” that stand out are all about death, death, death, but it’s a beautiful death at least.  Check this out:

      Coffin now. Got here before us, dead as he is. Horse looking round at it with his plume skeowways. Dull eye: collar tight on his neck, pressing on a bloodvessel or something. Do they know what they cart out here every day? Must be twenty or thirty funerals every day. Then Mount Jerome for the protestants. Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute. Shovelling them under by the cartload doublequick. Thousands every hour. Too many in the world


      Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up: and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning. Pennyweight of powder in a skull. Twelve grammes one pennyweight. Troy measure.


      “Aeolus” is a harder episode for me to follow.  Set in a newsroom there’s a lot of men bellowing hot air as well as Bloom being rebuffed, both of which harken back to Odysseus and Aeolus, the god of the winds.   I know this only from reading The Bloomsday Book by Blamires.  Then there’s a whole section about Irish submission to British Empire by way of the story of Moses, St. Augustine and a speech from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.  Quite impressive, although I wish I’d been able to pick up on that myself.

      One prominent thing in this episode that I did pick up on is Nelson’s Pillar, which is prominent in Dublin today due to it’s absence.  It was destroyed by a bomb in 1966.  Appropriately in Ulysses it is a symbol of submission to a “defective and immoral power” (Blamires, 54) as it is a “statue of a onehandeled adulterer.” Today on the site of Nelson’s Pillar stands the tall, needle-like Spire of Dublin.  A nearby statue of James Joyce looks right at the Spire.  I wonder what he’d make of it all?


      “Lestrygonians” – the island of giant cannibals.

      As he set foot on O’Connell bridge a puffball of smoke plumed up from the parapet. Brewery barge with export stout. England. Sea air sours it, I heard. Be interesting some day get a pass through Hancock to see the brewery. Regular world in itself. Vats of porter wonderful. Rats get in too. Drink themselves bloated as big as a collie floating. Dead drunk on the porter. Drink till they puke again like christians. Imagine drinking that! Rats: vats. Well, of course, if we knew all the things.

      Once on this very same bridge I saw a petite, curly-haired blond woman break out into a song and dance rendition of Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever.”  This passages seems somehow appropriate to that.

      This episode focuses on food, and digestion which leads Bloom to ponder similarities with sex, labor and birth.  From The Bloomsday Book I learned that even the writing style in this episode is perstaltic I found this thought interesting: “How can you own water really? It’s always flowing in a stream, never the same, which in the stream of life we trace. Because life is a stream.”

      Bloom is totally grossed-out by men chomping down their luncheon at a restaurant and goes to “a moral pub” for a nice vegetarian meal and wine instead.  A man after my own heart except that I don’t look at flies and think of happy times early in my marriage.

      Some more resources that help clarify Ulysses for me:

      • Two schema that list the titles, symbols, organs, colors, techniques et al for all the episodes are on Wikipedia: Linati and Gilbert.  It’s amazing how Joyce mapped everything out and tied it all together.
      • James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Photo Tour of Dublin shows what sites mention in Ulysses look like today (or at least in 2004).  Very interesting for creating a mental picture.  I’d like to also find a map tracing the actual routes Bloom and Dedalus take through Dublin on that day.
      • Two websites discuss Music in Ulysses: James Joyce Music and a University of Iowa course page.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, Part I

      As mention in my February 2nd post, I’ve started reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in installments via DailyLit.  The installments come through and rss feed to my Bloglines account and I’ve been working on the best way of reading them.  I requested the long installment but to DailyLit that just means I get four installments a day.  I find it easier to read at Bloglines than at the DailyLit website since then I can read everything with clicking to the next page.  It also lacks chapter headings and the divisions in chapters annoyingly come mid-installment.  Despite those small problems I’m enjoying rambling and bumbling through the novel.

      First impressions on the first five “episodes”:

      • I’m amazed at how many themes of life from 1904 in Ireland appears in this novel: Hamlet, Irish subservience to the English, Irish Republicanism, the Russo-Japanese War, settlements in Palestine, anti-semitism, the Irish woman who can’t understand the Irish language, the Phoenix Park Murders, Irish Catholicism (and it’s not so pleasant cultural hold), and death, death, death.  Not to mention all the Homeric allusions. I expect an annotated edition of Ulysses to have a lot of footnotes and rewards the reader who knows about all these things that seem to be just tangentially mentioned.
      • Stephen Dedalus is a quote machine.  Check out these lines from Joyce’s go-to guy for a good soundbite:
        • Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
        • –I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy.
        • –History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
        • Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:
          – That is God.
          Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!
          – What? Mr Deasy asked.
          – A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.
      • I’m greatly amused that Leopold Bloom has a lucky potato that he carries in his pocket.
      • I find the scene where Bloom sits in on a Catholic Mass oddly moving even though it was satirical.  Especially since the Mass was in Latin at the time and Bloom notes the one bit that’s done in English.  When I went to Mass in Ireland it was said in English with bits in Irish.  We move forward.

      To help me on my journey through Ulysses, I’ve started to listen to a podcast by a cheerful, enthusiastic young woman named Paigerella.  She reads the books in installments and appropos to the book adds her own stream-of-conciousness commentary as well as her life at grad school, thoughts on Italy, shooing her cat, and beat poetry.  How meta is that?  I also picked up The Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Ulysses by Harry Blamires on Paigerella’s recomendation for further assistance through this complex but beautiful (and sometimes hillarious) text.