Ack! I've been thinking about something, man--James Joyce's Ulysses turns 100 in February. The best novel ever! Or that is the tag, like Sgt. Pepper used to get the label as best record ever and Citizen Kane was the best movie. F. Scott Fitzgerald, drunk, once got on James Joyce's lawn on bent knee in the middle of the night to offer up praise for Ulysses, which scared Joyce shitless. Which is what the novel tends to do to readers these days, and where we come in.
I have a larger idea here, that we psych ourselves out a lot, especially with art and books. We think we're not worthy, not smart enough, and we needlessly complicate things. (And then academia is all blah blah jargon blah jargon blah, which does not help.) When we're scared and dealing with something we've overcomplicated or just see as super complicated, we tend to flee. That's a shame, because there's no need to be scared of Ulysses, and I will step in to to show how reader friendly it actually is, if you go about it the right way. Or even alternate ways.
I have tips! Enhancing tips. Number 1: put aside expectations. Don't worry about a guidebook of annotations. Read it as a lark. Dip a readerly toe in. No pressure. Pretend it is, gasp, just a book. 2. Read it aloud. See how much it's like your own voice in your own head. Pretend it's a big verbal gif or meme. Or an episode of South Park. Quotable. 3. Read it in a funny voice in your head. Pretend you have an Irish accent. What happens is, the rhythms take over, and the story.
Ulysses is Twitter before Twitter. It's a great log of social media. It is social media, it just happens to be a Modernist novel. And hell, if you can decipher what most people say on Twitter, you can read Ulysses.
Dig how randy and raunchy it is. It's erotica at times. Hot. But touching erotica. Romantic and sweet. It's a book about love. Joyce was a kinky dude--he insisted on his wife sitting on his face and letting fire with the flatulence. He's earthy. Like Montaigne, but also that pervert friend you have.
What I'll also do is talk about a 1982 spoken word version--it's awesome--from Irish radio, which you can listen to and just get carried away (we can link to it on archive.org). Probably the best audio book I know. Close your eyes. Have a listen. You'll never hear language the same way again after. And it doesn't take long.
Let's demystify this book. Demystify art. Because I think that's a real problem in our world right now. People are so used to trying to outsource validation and that's where their confidence often comes from. That's what social media is. And the more they do that, the more insecure they become. They doubt themselves when they don't get enough FB or Twitter likes. So a Beethoven symphony? Or a Miles Davis record? Or, certainly, this novel? They're frightened. Paralyzed. And there's no need. Especially, I would say, with Ulysses. The people's Ulysses!