Today is Father's Day. I spent a good portion of the day around family. But, this morning I started reading James Joyce's Ulysses again. This is the third or fourth time I have attempted to read Ulysses. All previous efforts have ended in failure. At some point a few hundred pages in I have always given up.
Yesterday was Bloomsday, celebrated particularly in Dublin and Ireland but all over the world as well. June 16 is the day upon which the entire of Ulysses takes place, in 1904. This year's recognition of Joyce's novel, considered by many to be the greatest novel in modern english literature, has a different undercurrent, regarding the fact that the novel is now in the public domain due to the end of its copyright protection.
So the novel is now available to the entire world for free, you can even download an audio book of it at no charge. Ulysses now belongs to the masses. (Which is ironic, given the fact that, by and large, the masses don't read.)
Even though I have found it to be terribly difficult to read personally, one particular Joyce fan thinks the novel is better approached as joyful, not hard. So, I'm going to give that attitude a try. Maybe I'll make it to the end this time.
I have always been drawn to "weighty" and "chewy" novels. My appreciation for Proust, for War and Peace, and for Moby Dick have already been blogged about. I am currently also about 100 pages into rereading Samuel Delany's Dahlgren, and I just finished rereading John Fowles' The Magus for the third time.
Except for Proust, who I have only recently developed a taste for, all these other books are from my college years. Dahlgren is a challenging prose poem. It is somewhat erotic, very psychological, and grippingly vivid in its details. The overall cohesion of the story is tough to follow, however. It is like reading inside a drug-induced state. I think Delany intended it that way. For all its toughness, however, I find that I can read it easily enough.
The Magus is only mildly challenging by comparison. I finished that novel a couple of weeks ago. It was not as satisfying to me this time compared to the other two times I read it. I remember a girlfriend turned me on to it in college. We both thought it was awesome at the time. The novel seemed silly and immature to me this time. No big deal really. I won't likely ever read it again.
Gravity's Rainbow still waits on my shelf. I have read that book once, before I went to India. Subsequent attempts to read it have be unsuccessful, but I feel I'll make it all the way through it again at some point in the future.
I do not know why these types of novels (I can also mention the work of Dostoevsky and Faulkner among others as well) take up the majority of the fiction section of my library. It is just what I typically want to read when I take a break from the philosophy and history and other non-fiction stuff that makes up the bulk of my reading time.
Nor do I have a clue as to what makes one of these "thick" classics easier to read than others. Perhaps it is style or subject or character. I just know that there are times in my life when something unreadable can become an obsession and there are other times when something I have always admired is not worth the effort. Perhaps I do not choose my literature. Perhaps it chooses me.
So, for whatever reason, this year I decided to try Joyce again on the day after Bloomsday. I don't think the special timing of my endeavor will necessarily afford me any greater success, however. The novel will either speak to me or it won't. I am confident that great art can be great without my ability to fully appreciate it. So, I'll either discover old-brilliance anew or the book will go back to the shelf where its somewhat creased paperback pages will continue their slow fade to brownish-yellow.
Oh! I celebrate the anti-digital, the physical book in my hands, the feel of its pages and spine, its weight, the edge of the page fluttering in my fingers, the underlineing and highlighting of the tangible surface of printed text. May eBooks be damned on every Bloomsday!