Friday, 30 May 2014

Project Ulysses


     Although I admit, and am proud of, being a book addict, my habit only started 4 years ago and I started with the small stuff, mysteries, thrillers, things that could hold my interest for 400+ pages after I had been only used to reading small books in Arabic. I worked my way up to more heavy reads, but I only got into the world of literary classics about two years ago. So it's no surprise I only got to know about Ulysses a little over a year ago.

    Ulysses, I came to find out, is a masterpiece of twentieth century literature (I can't say yet but at least most of the sources I checked said that). Ulysses is one of only a handful of books written by the Irish author James Joyce and it was first published in 1922 by the owner of the original Shakespeare and Company in Paris Sylvia Beach. There was a lot of controversy surrounding Ulysses when it first came out and it was
banned in the US. So, put yourself in my place, you find a book that is a masterpiece, written by a man hailed by many as being one of the few geniuses in this world and fewer yet to have written fiction, the book itself is surrounded by controversy only a handful of books enjoy and reading it is considered a challenge in itself; wouldn't you be hooked?

     Since I haven't read the book yet I can only repeat some of what I read about it on the internet. For more information you can check the link here and here and here, although I suggest you just pick a copy and join me in Project Ulysses.

James Joyce
     In order to explain what Project Ulysses is, let me first share with you a few of the things that prompted me to start it.

     All the hype surrounding Ulysses and its author made me determined to read it. To be honest, a big part of it might be just to be able to say that I have in fact read Ulysses, but I am hoping to enjoy it like so many others who have. I can only judge the book after reading it so why not just get on with it. But it turns out there are many steps of preparation to do before embarking on such an endeavour. This is not to say that you can't just pick up the book and read away, but rumour has it, Ulysses is a hefty read filled with twists, turns and hidden meanings that you might miss out on much of the fun if you are not ready.

     First step of being ready is choosing the edition which you will read. There are up to 18 editions of Ulysses but the most famous are only three or four of them and from what I gather, if you are a casual reader it won't really make a difference. In any case, I decided to go with the 1961 edition that is used in the Vintage and Penguin copies of the book. This site here was very helpful when it came to deciding on the edition.

    After that came the research, I found out that James Joyce based the structure of his book in a manner similar to the epic Odyssey by Homer and there are quite a few allusions in Ulysses relating to The Odyssey, which is why it was advised to read The Odyssey first so that you wouldn't miss out on those parts. So I got myself a copy of The Odyssey (many copies in fact and each time I started one only to realize I understand nothing of it until I stumbled upon an ebook from Barnes and Noble that did the trick).

     Another thing was using guides to Ulysses as you read the book, many people are in favour of it, a few others are against it. I tried to choose a middle ground. The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses by Harry Blamires breaks down each chapter of Ulysses and gives a quick easy-to-understand overview of each chapter. It's not too big and it doesn't get into too many details, it just brings some things into focus; according to majority consent, that's something one needs when reading Ulysses. I will be reading it after each chapter from Ulysses, so I went and searched for that guide too, but I found it was out of print and I had to buy it off ebay to get a reasonable price.

     So by then I had The Odyssey and The New Bloomsday Book and I knew which edition to but but I hadn't bought it yet. In a cheesy gesture (one that I still stand by and do not regret one bit) I waited till I was in Paris so that I could buy my copy of Ulysses from the current Shakespeare and Company on the left bank of the Seine in a melancholic nod to the origins of the book.

     Although I had my copy for about six months and it was stamped with the famous stamp of the book store, I stumbled during a business trip on another copy, the paperback Vintage one,with a green cover reminiscent of the Irish green. It called out to me and I had to have it. After all I am a book addict; I fall for these things.

    Armed with not one but two copies of Ulysses, I needed to get to the next stages of preparation; reading Joyce's other works that build up to Ulysses in order to further ensure that I enjoy and savour it when I actually do come to it. Eventually.

   Dubliners is a collection of short stories on life in Dublin in that time. It was published in 1914 and could be considered his first major published work. I read Dubliners once before, but I guess I was reading it all wrong because I didn't get it and later I realized I should approach it in a different manner so that I can appreciate it and also for it, Dubliners, to help as a stepping stone to Ulysses. Since its language is simple and the prose easy and enjoyable it should be a good introduction to Joyce before the heavy stuff.

     Two years after that, in 1916, in the US Joyce published A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, his first novel. It has to be read before Ulysses if for no other reason than that the protagonist of  A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man is a major character in Ulysses. I got my copies of both these books from different book stores, a fact that adds to the excitement of Project Ulysses and just feeds the addict inside me.

     Now, having lined up, The Odyssey, Ulysses itself, Dubliners and A Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, I thought I was ready to start. And I did. It took me months to read The Odyssey but it was finally over last week. However, during these months I made two more discoveries. First, that it would also help to read Shakespeare's Hamelt, because many of its themes are used in Ulysses, so naturally...yes, you guessed it, I got myself a copy of Hamlet and stuck it with the Project Ulysses pile. Second, I became so intrigued by the author himself I went and bought a book about him called James Joyce: A Life by Edna O'Brien

     I believe now the preparation stage is over and it is time for execution. I already kept myself busy reading The Odyssey but now it's time to get in to the more juicy stuff. I have decided to begin Project Ulysses by rereading Hamlet then the short biography James Joyce: A Life, just so I can appreciate the writer himself a little more. That is when I will jump into Dubliners and after that I will tackle A Portrait of The Artist. By that time I believe I will be primed and ready for the Pièce de Résistance itself.

     I will be chronicling my journey with Project Ulysses here, so if you want to you can follow it and better yet you can join in with me. How much time is this going to take, I do not know. I will not claim to be doing this project because James Joyce is a genius and everything he wrote must be read and cherished by everyone; I haven't read his work yet so I don't know, although I do have a strong feeling I will like his work and that I will become a believer eventually. But the real reason for doing it is the journey, the experience itself, trudging through page after page of supposedly enjoyable prose and searching for those gems of sentences and hopefully stumbling upon enough of them to make the journey worthwhile.

     Besides, I'm a book addict, remember; we don't need reasons to read more books, we just like to justify it. It makes easier for others to accept our habit. But we know the truth.

     To join in on Project Ulysses, add you comments or send me an e-mail. Also you can follow this blog or #projectulysses on Twitter. If you have read Ulysses before let us know what you think, just no spoilers!

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