Today is Bloomsday – 16 June. Back in 1904, James Joyce stepped out for the first time with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would become his wife. And in Ulysses, it is the day that Leopold Bloom kicks around Dublin.
The Guardian has a great article: Bloomsday: how fans around the world will be celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses. Some people go as far in their celebrations as to indulge in the gastronomic horror their hero Leopold Bloom partook of:
thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine
Cool to see Auckland’s celebrations rate a mention.
I am determined to read Ulysses this year. Part of my desire to is connected to Kate Bush. I love her song The Sensual World. It is all about Molly Bloom, and is one of the sexiest songs I know. Kate originally didn’t get the rights to use Joyce’s words as she intended, but later the Joyce Estate relented and she re-recorded the song as Flower of the Mountain. You can listen to it on her Director’s Cut album.
I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
So I am going to do a personal Bloomsday today, and walk to the library and pick up a copy of Ulysses. Yes.
Bloomsday 2014 (Robyn)
James Joyce is an author I regard with equal amounts of admiration and guilt. Admiration? His statue in Dublin and the jaunty angle of his cigarette holder in photographs. And I love a man (or a woman) with an eye-patch. Guilt? Ulysses languishing on my list of books I know I should have read but haven’t.
____,____ ____ circus on ____, (Paul)
I am just a bit too young to have dressed up as a woman to go to the segregated screening of Ulysses. Have read some but never finished Ulysses. But for an insight into Joyce I like Roaratorio.
Roaratorio, an Irish circus on Finnegans Wake, a John Cage classic is available online.
Bloomsday 2009 (Marion)
Ulysses has been surrounded by controversy over the years – it was banned in America from 1921 until 1933. The 1967 film directed by Joseph Strick was controversial in part because of the use of the “f word” and in New Zealand was shown only to gender segregated audiences! (It’s all true folks – I was there as bright eyed varsity student). I seem to have survived unscathed and managed to read my way through both Ulysses and the slighter (in size), but no less linguistically challenging, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ulysses weighs in at over 600 pages.
O.K. it’s confession time. I have been an abject failure at meeting my reading challenges for 2014.
A Year in Reading started out well; January, February and March have ticks beside them. But then things went to pieces. By April I was trying to make Mary Poppins do double duty – as a book that has been made into a movie (already checked off in March) and a re-read from childhood. Cheating on my reading challenges – that’s what it came to.
There were some books I did read, but not in the month assigned to them:
- A book from another country – Sydney by Delia Falconer. (I think Australia counts as another country).
- An award winner – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (actually it’s only been nominated for the Costa so far, but if there is any justice in the world it will win every literary prize going in 2015.) Cheating again – it’s a slippery slope.
Reading Bingo was marginally better, but again with the cheating.
- A book with a blue cover – Middlemarch by George Eliot. Double cheat. Also June A Year in Reading – read that classic you have never read.
- A book that is more than ten years old – Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Double cheat – January A Year in Reading – a book that was published in the year you were born.
- A book that became a movie – Mary Poppins. Actually a triple cheat. There are no depths to which I will not stoop.
What challenges will I fail in 2015 I wonder? Should I make not reading Ulysses an annual non-event?
When one of my Book Clubs decided to read the Man Booker 2013 shortlist I was a bit sceptical. Yes, we could then decide if The Luminaries deserved to win, but we would also have to read it. And – this just in – it is very long. Anyway, it all turned out swimmingly and I read and loved books I would never have looked at if they hadn’t been on the list.
Reading from a list was so successful we’re casting around for another one. My suggestion was to consult the handy Literary prizes and book awards page on our very own Christchurch City Libraries web site. The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 looks promising, mostly because of the judges:
- Mary Beard, author, hugely entertaining television presenter, blogger and admirable human being who has risen above some very nasty verbal abuse without being insufferable about it
- Denise Mina, “the Queen of Tartan Noir” and owner of one of the best quiffs ever
- Caitlin Moran, very funny, very rude and a woman who is is unafraid of the word feminist
- Sophie Raworth, one of the BBC presenters at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Truly impressive
- Helen Fraser, the chair of the judging panel and former Managing Director of Penguin U.K. She may not have written a book, but has surely read a few good ones
A list chosen by this crew must be preferable to the system my other Book Club uses, where the members tick titles on a catalogue at the start of the year. They then shiftily deny any knowledge of the books that arrive each month and steadfastly refuse to read them. Or perhaps that’s just me.
The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 was Eimar McBride, who must be good, because if she could be a literary character she would be Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch and because she chose Anne of Green Gables as the defining book of her childhood. Although the book she always recommends is Ulysses – “why don’t more people listen?” Because it’s impossible to read, that’s why.
Using the Baileys list also offers the opportunity to swig down the sponsor’s product (or rather sip it in a genteel fashion) while discussing the finer points of literary fiction. A winning combination.
James Joyce is an author I regard with equal amounts of admiration and guilt. Admiration? His statue in Dublin and the jaunty angle of his cigarette holder in photographs. And I love a man (or a woman) with an eye-patch.
Guilt? Ulysses languishing on my list of books I know I should have read but haven’t. Way back in March I added it to my list of challenges for the year, smug because I could use it for both Reading Bingo (Read a forgotten classic) and A Year in Reading (In June read that classic you have never read). I know calling it a forgotten classic is a bit of a stretch, but I’ve done my best to forget my dismal failure to read it in the sixth form. The words ‘the sixth form’ indicate how long ago it was.
Now it’s June 16th, possibly the most famous date in literature, the date when all the action in Ulysses takes place. Some say June 16th 1904 was the day Joyce and his future wife, Nora Barnacle, had their first ‘romantic liaison’. For the last 50 years it’s been commemorated as Bloomsday.
In Dublin those who have read the book (and those who haven’t) walk the route Leopold Bloom walked. They dress up, eat up, read the book to themselves and others, attend learned lectures on the book, view art and listen to music inspired by the book and, most of all, they drink. It is Dublin after all.
Nothing quite so exciting for me. Drink on a Monday and the only way is down for the rest of the week. I draw the line at kidneys for breakfast. I could give the cat a bowl of milk in a Bloomsian way but as Ulysses sits accusingly on my bedside table the only way to commemorate Bloomsday is to read a decent number of pages .
“Why don’t you write books people read?” disloyal old Nora Barnacle asked Joyce. Will Ulysses be a book this person will read? All the way through to the very end? Perhaps.
Another square crossed off the Reading Bingo grid and it’s gratifying in all sorts of ways. The copy of Middlemarch sourced from a second hand bookshop in Whangarei met the Reading Bingo Book with a Blue Cover challenge and shortened the guilt-inducing list of Books I Know I Should Have Read But Haven’t.
That big brain Virginia Woolf famously said Middlemarch is “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Apparently Julian Barnes and Martin Amis think it is the greatest novel in the English language and Tolstoy had it on his bookshelf. Penelope Fitzgerald, my current literary obsession, listed Dr. and Mrs Lydgate among her favourite literary characters.
Middlemarch took me a while to read; it required more attention and concentration than I’m used to giving a work of fiction in 2014, but the rewards were more than worth it. Balancing Act, Joanna Trollope‘s latest, which I read soon after finishing Middlemarch, suffered greatly in comparison. It was easy to read and quite pleasant, but the characters are already forgotten, while the inhabitants of Middlemarch continue to live and breathe for me.
Harry Ricketts, reviewing Balancing Act on Radio New Zealand National, put it better than I can when he said that readers of Joanna Trollope will want to read it, but if you’re not a J. Trollope reader he’d go back and read Middlemarch before bothering with Balancing Act. They are both about provincial England, family dynamics, businesses and people trying to work in their professions, but Middlemarch treats these subjects in a much more complicated and subtle way. Listen to his review.
Reading it at the same time as My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead’s memoir about what the book has meant to her, enhanced the pleasure of both books; a highly recommended way to either discover or re-live Middlemarch and to find out more about what a fascinating woman Eliot was. Kim Hill will be talking to Rebecca Mead on her Saturday morning show on Radio New Zealand National on 5 April.
The reading challenges continue – in a couple of months it’s “In June read that classic you have never read” for A Year in Reading. I’m planning to read Ulysses by James Joyce. Surely it’s meant to be – the action of the book takes place on the 16th of June 1904; the 110th anniversary should be a positive omen for my second attempt at reading it. It’s been 42 years since the first; I must be more intelligent now. Although there was that disastrous attempt at Moby Dick earlier this year. Three pages in it became obvious – that whale is destined to swim forever in the sea of Books I Know I Should Have Read But Haven’t.