Some Notes Are Better Than Others: Reading Ulysses

In my ongoing attempt to be as pretentious as possible at work I last week began listening to Jim Norton & Marcella Riordan’s reading of Ulysses. Theirs is the only audiobook of the novel I’ve ever heard, and I’ve liked it well enough thus far that theirs may be the associated recorded voices I have for all his books. That’s the way it goes for me and audiobooks. I listen to them very rarely, but if I do, as was the case with William Gass’ The Tunnel and any number of old Bill Bryson books, the voice I heard, coincidentally in those cases it was that of the author reading but that needn’t be the case, becomes authoritative. That is to say, it becomes unthinkable to associate more than one audiobook reader per author, no matter how many of their works have been recorded. It would be like reading a book on my own and not hearing my own voice inside my head. Do other people, I wonder, construct and then “hear” character’s voices? If so, do they do the same for poetry? For, philosophy? Oh shit . . . for theology?!

At any rate, the Norton & Riordan version has been very good. I’ve enjoyed it greatly, and not simply because it gets me through the long afternoon slog of a job not-done. The different voices & brogues trotted out by Norton are especially helpful, what for Joyce’s notorious character shifts. I’m told that somebody does something similar with William Gaddis’ JR. If done well this could prove to be a boon for a good many reader.

I’d not so much as picked up Ulysses since 2002. This was the wonderful summer where I believed my doctoral studies would no longer be funded. I could return my books and set aside my notes. A friend of mine had left Scotland for the summer and had given me the use of his studio. Days on end, ten twelve hours at a time, reading whatever I wanted. Ulysses, Under the Volcano, Gravity’s Rainbow, A Frolic of his Own, a massive collection of Yeats. I plowed through a lot of the heavyhitters that summer & autumn. The literature courses when I was an undergrad had no great regard for modernity, I have to say, so I was intent on making up for it the way I always have: the self-indulgent, probably woefully inadequate way of the autodidact. I’ve retold this countless times here, I’m sure, but it was a fine time. A great time, even. The best of my young life, I dare say. So, yes, nearly ten years later, it was time to return to Ulysses. Continue reading “Some Notes Are Better Than Others: Reading Ulysses

In Honor of Bloomsday

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.

No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorroah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s, clutching a naggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity by captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.


Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now: Yes, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow’s exercises. On the hands now. Blotchy brown brick houses. Number eighty still unlet. Why is that? Valuation is only twenty-eight. Towers, Battersby, North, Macarthur: parlour windows plastered with bills. Plasters on a sore eye. To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. To be near her ampled bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes. (p. 63)