Celebrate by confusing the hell out of the person next to you.
Let me explain. Bloomsday is a celebration of Irish author James Joyce and it takes place on 16 June every year because that’s the day the events in his big, famous, important, OMG everyone knows it, novel Ulysses take place. The day is named for Leopold Bloom, the lead character in the piece.
I have read Ulysses. It’s not a thin tome and this was in the days before I bought an eReader, so deciding to read Ulysses committed me to lug an enormous book around everywhere.
It wouldn’t surprise me if personal trainers prescribed Ulysses for weight loss. Not only did I carry this heavy bitch to and from work every day for an extended period of time, the bulky nature of it also considerably cuts down on the amount of lunch you can take with you.
So if you do want to read Ulysses, prepare to be physically overworked, hungry and confused. I discovered early on it wasn’t really the kind of book that went with my usual tube reading regime. 20 minute bursts on my way into central London weren’t exactly enough to figure out where I left off, let alone make any headway into anything new.
I kept quitting. When I got to the realisation that I had read the last 10 pages without paying proper attention and had no idea what the hell was going on (and this happened a lot) I would grumble, sigh, give up. But that book, that I had purchased with cold hard cash earned via a job I hated, kept staring at me. Some sort of “BEST BOOK EVER” sticker sat glued on on the front, mocking me with the opinions of all the clever people who had previously made it through the doom of Bloom and given it a rave. So I kept trying again and again to get through it, starting afresh each time as I really had no idea what I had read up unto that point.
It made me feel stupid and that frustrated me. I felt like everyone who was smart could easily read this and understand (or else WHY WOULD THAT STICKER BE THERE) while I couldn’t concentrate enough to understand a frigging paragraph, let alone a whole chapter. Little by little, I realised that I was not alone in my confusion. Is this some big literary joke? Maybe, but I still couldn’t give it up.
I found that each time I reread it, it actually got easier. I began to understand. I began to pick up on things I had missed the first time, then the second time and still more things I missed the third, fourth and fifth time. In the times between readings, when I retreated to the safe haven of books that made sense, I learnt things that actually helped to educate me for Ulysses. A biography of Shakespeare, for instance, gave me lots of background for numerous spiels and allusions. You can latch on to little bits of clarity and pieces that are comprehensible amongst the rest of the jumble if you’re looking for them.
Finally, it started piecing together. I cackled out loud at times. I started actually getting joy out of the book. As I ploughed through I eventually, inevitably, got to virgin territory. Pages in the second half of the book that I hadn’t been to before. It went back to being difficult, I went back to missing things, at having to work hard to piece together what the hell was going on, to reading entire chapters in a fog. But I’d gotten this far and I’d never done that before. Truth be told, I had spent so much time on this project that I couldn’t give up.
I did it. I finished the novel, eventually. No idea how long it actually took me in the end, even if I don’t include the enormous breaks I took, but it was probably an embarrassingly long time. I found it hard work but thankfully I got a pay off in pleasure for that hard work, though god knows where I found the determination to keep going and if I even believed there would be a pay off. Maybe it was just a lucky accident.
I can’t help but feel though that I owe those last chapters a reread. The first chapters I’ve reread multiple times by necessity and I needed that to truly understand and embrace them. So I should realistically do the same with the last ones before I can honestly say in my heart of hearts that I’ve read Ulysses.
But I just can’t bring myself to do it, to put myself through it all again. Ulysses is a scary beast.
Happy Bloomsday, everyone.