Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reading Ulysses, Day 1

I'm sure all of us have mighty tomes we haven't yet read. I've tackled Moby Dick, Les Miserables, and Anna Karenina, but there are still a few I want to get to.

War and Peace is definitely on the list for someday, although I start trying to work up to it from time to time and the translations of the Russian naming conventions just does me in, so I haven't yet faced it. Add to that not knowing much about Russian history, and I worry that I wouldn't get all the context. Infinite Jest is still sitting on my shelf at home. I don't think I've even cracked the binding. One of my favorite reader friends keeps telling me all these other post-modern titles I need to read "first." I've been scared away!

One book that I've started several times is Ulysses (Oxford World's Classics). I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in high school, but the rest of Joyce has eluded me. Ulysses has to be the book I've started and put aside the most often. I know it has greatness inside it. Any review I've read by people who have made it through praise it up and down. The only time I made any progress at all was when I read it out loud; something about the flow of the language just demands it. The only problem with that strategy is that I often read while I'm around other people, and I'm not sure they would appreciate this practice.

Last night I finished listening to Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4) and went looking for a new audiobook to listen to. I usually listen while I'm driving or cooking, any time where I can devote most of my brain power to just absorbing what I'm hearing. The reviews of the next Dark Tower book were mixed on the audio - the original reader had been in a bad accident and someone else took over, and a lot of people were saying it was better to read the print. I'm one of those people who might choose an audiobook based on the reader, so I wasn't about to listen to one that people who prefer to listen didn't like! I searched and searched, through Overdrive and Audible, for something that really reached out and grabbed me, but I wasn't finding much. (I was hoping for the Talented Mr. Ripley books, since I so enjoyed the Highsmith short stories in audio, but they don't seem to exist).

I started thinking about books that take well to audio, and about accents, and stumbled across two versions of Ulysses. Longer books really make credits worth while, because the CDs for them might cost around $100, but the entire book was only 1 Audible credit. There were two versions to choose from, and I listened to previews of both and tried reading reviews of both, but in Amazon, they group all editions of a book together, making it impossible to link a specific review to a specific reader (this is such a bad practice, it hurts my librarian heart). I ended up going with the version read by John Lee, because one Audible review said it used the more accepted version of the book (whatever that means, ha!), and his voice was a little easier to listen to. I'm not sure if that will hold out for the long haul, and one reviewer actually said they thought the experience was better at 60% speed, actually slowing down the voice to allow your brain to process the accent and the words.

Right now I'm listening at real-time speed, and we'll see how that goes. I have only gotten about ten minutes in (you can blame my short commute), but already am enjoying the dynamics between the characters and the description of the landscape. This will be a thirty hour listening commitment, so I will give updates from time to time.


  1. The original published versions of Ulysses had a lot of errors: transcription errors from Joyce's manuscript, editing errors, you name it. Most of those errors propagated for decades and made the book even more difficult to read than it would be otherwise. There were sentences that just didn't make any sense, for example. That all changed with the edition edited by Hans Gabler. He meticulously studied Joyce's manuscript and his correspondence with his publishers and corrected all the errors he could. At the time, it was actually kind of controversial, but other editors have taken a similar tact with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, and editors have been doing the same thing to Shakespeare for way longer. Anyway, the Hans Gabler edition of Ulysses is the definitive text and the one you really want to read, IMHO. Hans Gabler also edited A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man in a similar fashion. The errors there weren't as egregious, I think, but his edited version is available in the Norton Critical Edition.

    I read Ulysses about 10 years ago, but I just read The Dubliners recently and I'm reading A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man currently. I was blown away by how great The Dubliners is. I actually enjoyed it the most of all of Joyce's writings I've read so far. It's more accessible and just a joy to read. Don't overlook it.

  2. I remember that reading Portrait as a highschooler was difficult, and I wonder what version it was. I just remember that it was green.

    I do think, from what I've been able to gather from reviews, that the audio book I'm listening to is based on the Gabler version.

    I appreciate your feedback! I don't know a lot of people who tackle Joyce for fun.

  3. If it helps you figure out which version you read, the Hans Gabler edition of A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man was first published in 1993, I believe.

    By the way, I tried to read the new translation of War and Peace a couple years ago, and I gave up after a couple chapters. I found all the French passages (translated in footnotes instead of inline in the text) rather frustrating to read. It was very hard for me to get into. It didn't help that the the book club I was reading it with decided to read it at a faster pace than I could accommodate at the time. Unfortuntely for me, I heard later that there's a lot less French after the first few chapters, so I probably should have stuck with it. Friends I know who did finish it all raved about how cinematic it was.

    I'm hoping to tackle Infinite Jest in the next year or two myself, and I have the hardcover sitting on my shelf at home.

  4. The mighty tome I have waiting for me (not counting the various art theory books I need to read for research) is Anna Karenina. It's sitting on the shelf waiting for me, but I can't bring myself to haul it around with me. It might help if I had an e-reader, or to try it in audiobook like you're doing with Ulysses. I hope you enjoy it!

  5. Do you have an iPhone? I know Anna Karenina is available as a free eBook, although I'm not sure the little screen would do it.


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