Haunting Joyce

JamesJoyce-copyWords. Letters strung together to form sentences filled with thoughts, ideas and emotions. I thrive on them, books and communication in general included.

I am a true bibliophile. Did library studies and ended up working in one for about 7 years before moving to Ireland. Books were my life as a kid, a teen, a young adult and they are still my life right now. I cannot begin to guess how many books I have read or how many I handled while working in a library and each one was special.

According to Wikipedia, a bibliophile is someone who “loves to read, admire and collect books, often amassing a large and specialized collection. Bibliophiles do not necessarily want to possess the books they love; an alternative would be to admire them in old libraries.” Admire: . Collect: . Libraries: . Now that suits me to a tee!

I often say that “you can read my books but you can’t hurt them,” essentially putting human psychological emotions on something made of wood, ink, paper and an author at the other end of the pen. Silly, but I am bitten by the book-lovers-bug and I do not want to be healed.

Only last Wednesday I was caught up in lashing rain on my way to my Ulysses book-reading group. I didn’t mind getting wet, but uh oh… I absolutely didn’t want my book getting drenched! That was much worse than me looking like a soaked elephant that just tumbled in a river. Hurt my books = hurt me. Simple as. I know… my love for books goes very far and very deep. And is also very old (I am turning 40 this summer and I have an impending feeling of suddenly being covered in wrinkles and of having illnesses only the very old deal with, so I keep referring to all things old).

Anyway, I got back into James Joyce‘s Ulysses a few months ago. Living in Ireland and having experienced Bloomsday in the National Library last year, James Joyce slowly started to haunt me again. In a good way. I then found this absolutely brilliant little bookstore where they sell first edition copies of lots of Irish writers and again… it haunted me. Still in a good way. I started reading Ulysses about 20 years ago as part of my library education but only read a short part as I didn’t have time to put a lot of work in it, so I let it go. However, slowly but surely I was getting more and more interested in it again.

A few months ago, I noticed that the James Joyce Centre in Dublin was giving brilliant lectures and when they reported that there would be a Ulysses reading group/lectures on it, I decided to sign up. Somehow, I feel that Ulysses found me instead of me finding James Joyce. I also love the work of William Butler Yeats, and his poetry is stunning but I seemed to have forgotten about Mr. James Joyce though and therefore focused on other Irish authors instead (my memory is like Swiss cheese… it has a whole lotta holes in it!)

Either way, Ulysses is a book for which you need a lot of time, and indeed extra books to help you explain why he writes what he does, and perhaps reading a Joyce biography at the same time would not be a bad idea either. Alternatively, find a reading group with real Joyceans, but not just those who think they know because they managed to get through a couple of chapters. The group I became part of knows a lot about it, so each week I lick my fingers of delight of hearing them talk.

I believe that certain books will find you at a time when it is right for you; I used to be into Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters’ literature but with getting older, I found that their views did not really stroke with my ideas of love and eternal happiness anymore. Then I fell for Shakespeare again, who has always inspired me and he still inspires me today. I saw King Lear in the Abbey Theatre last month and on Saturday, I will see it again because I was enthralled by the beauty and the stunning performances of the actors. It was as if Shakespeare also followed me around and since there is a lot of talk of Hamlet in Ulysses, I just had to get into his books again also.

Some books should not be read when/if you don’t feel they’re not right for you yet, or if you feel that you just cannot get through them. Leave them be and focus on other books. When the time is right, you will know. I ended up with Ulysses this way and I never thought that it would be that enjoyable, because now I felt like I was mature enough to understand and deal with the subjects of the book.

I went to a reading in the National Library last week as part of St Patrick’s Week and it was a very interactive and playful reading of chapter nine (Scylla and Charybdis), given by the Bloomsday Survival Kit group. I am, and continue to be so in awe of the quality of the book, of the events in it, the brilliant way it’s written and the superiority of James Joyce’s mind. Every single day for the last couple of months, I think of the book, or I read a few pages, marking what I want to look up, and utterly, utterly enjoying it. It has opened my mind and has shown me the stunning way some authors use language to form mind games, drama, and humour and pull you into their world. Again, it found me instead of me finding Ulysses and it has changed my idea about books and their authors and I feel enriched because of it. It’s not an easy read but it will definitely have some impact on you… you will either love it or hate it.

So if you are struggling with Ulysses, or with any other heavy work, give it another try when you feel time is right. If you have time, look for book-reading groups, or go to lectures on the books or the author. You will not be disappointed.

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5 thoughts on “Haunting Joyce

  1. Haha I love the e-Card. By that definition I’m a bibliophile too. But I indulge too much in binge-buying books; I have a large collection of unread and unfinished books. I recently decided to put off finishing Joyce’s bildungsroman “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” because I didn’t get it and couldn’t enjoy the story—what the story is, in fact, I’m still quite unsure.

    Perhaps as you say, I’m not ready yet. I used to feel guilty for not finishing a book, but now I don’t care, after reading what Neil Gaiman said: “I remember the first time I realised I did not have to finish reading a book; the first time I realised that the way a story was told was getting in the way of the story.” I don’t have any problem with Joyce’s anthology, “Dubliners”, however.


    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Read Portrait before you begin reading Ulysses as Portrait describes the life of Stephen Dedalus and is a coming-of-age type of book so you skip from one certain time in Stephen’s life to another in a different chapter. It’s also loosely autobiographical. If you don’t mind reading 30-odd pages of ranting against the Catholic church then Portrait is a great book. When you’ve finished it you will understand Dedalus’ thinking in Ulysses much better.

      Dubliners is also fantastic, although I’ve never been fond of short stories as it doesn’t go deeply in the psychology of the characters. Give me a book big enough to tell the what, where, how, who questions and I’ll be happy out :)


      1. One major problem I have with Portrait is the constant allusion to Irish history and figures I have absolutely no knowledge about and no interest in. To flip every few sentences or paragraphs to the endnotes while I’m reading, is not a very pleasant reading experience. But I’ll definitely give it another go. Thanks. :)


      2. I understand what you mean. There is a lot of Irish history brewing in Joyce’s work, at the time of writing the novels Ireland was going through a hard time. Not accepting English rule anymore up to the Easter Rising in 1916 and the war of independence in 1922, a lot was going on and it’s something found in a lot of Irish authors’ work. I enjoyed Portraits and am currently enjoying Ulysses so much because I know the streets Joyce writes about, I walk through them and see the Irish character that is still part of life in Dublin. I know I would not be able to enjoy it would I not live in Dublin. Take your time with Ulysses, it’s the best book ever written in my eyes, but then again, I’m quite biased because of my love for Ireland and Joyce :)


  2. […] That’s it! Joyce failed to make me say those four words! I put “Portrait” back on the shelf, never again to be opened unless one day, I’m interested in learning how to write like Joyce. Perhaps I’m simply not ready, in which case I’m perfectly willing to give it another go someday, as Billie from Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis and Me convinced me to do. […]


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