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(March 2005)


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Finding a way to talk about the reading experience is, I’ve realised, the greatest pleasure of writing; where it ends is of no importance.

Stephen Mitchelmore

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Friday, April 22nd, 2005

Well having polished off (with mixed but generally positive results) Call It Sleep and Foucault's Pendulum, I turned my attention this morning to the king of the intimidating books, Ulysses -- a book that I tried to read when I was about 16 (and gave up after one or two chapters) and again when I was about 20 (and gave up about a third of the way in). The binding of the edition I owned back then crumbled, and when I turned 28 and was given a Barnes & Noble gift certificate by my parents-in-law, I bought another copy; which has been on my shelf ever since.

I was reading Chapter I on the train this morning and enjoying the back-and-forth conversation (actually mostly "forth", I think Buck Mulligan is much more talkative than the other two -- also he seems like a bit of a flamer, is my first impression anyways). A Frolic of His Own made me dig this way of representing conversation -- with dashes and no quotation marks -- and it seems pretty natural now.

posted morning of April 22nd, 2005: Respond
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Monday, April 25th, 2005

As I read Ulysses, I am finding that I enjoy the narrative chapters (so far, "Telemachus", "Nestor" (or about half of it), "Calypso", and parts of "The Lotus-Eaters"), the other ones (so far, only "Proteus" has been a real offender) put me to sleep. This morning while reading "Proteus", I was just finding it impossible to pay attention to the book and was thinking about putting the book down if it didn't draw me in soon.

But then this afternoon I started in on "Calypso" and I was back on track. This chapter is actually the one that made the most of an impression on me the previous times I tried to read Ulysses -- when I think of the book, the first thing that comes to mind is Leopold Bloom eating kidney. This afternoon my response to the chapter was to get very defensive about being submissive in relationships; as I realized what I was doing, I was able to let go of that somewhat.

posted evening of April 25th, 2005: Respond
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Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

"Hades" -- I read half of this episode on the train last night and was having a pretty hard time following it. But this morning restarted the chapter and lo and behold, the story flowed quite smoothly.

posted morning of April 27th, 2005: Respond

Talking with Nathaniel on the phone tonight I mentioned that I am in the middle of Ulysses and he replied that he is too, for a few decades now.

posted evening of April 27th, 2005: Respond

Tuesday, May third, 2005

Okay the current Ulysses attempt is officially over -- it's just not moving me enough to be worth the effort. (Except for that "Calypso" episode, that one's really nice.)

Moving on... I'm flirting with the idea of reading The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. I read the first 20 or so pages yesterday and found them funny and engaging. For some reason I am reluctant to commit to that book though.

posted evening of May third, 2005: Respond

Saturday, August first, 2009

🦋 Reading out loud

Having a lazy morning and I thought I would pick up and look at A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.... This is a book which I read and loved when I was 14 years old, but which has over the years resisted efforts at rereading. I picked up a copy at a garage sale recently and was enchanted again by the opening paragraphs.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.

This morning's discovery is, this is a great, great read-aloud book. I haven't enjoyed reading anything aloud so much since The Hobbit. Try reading this aloud, in an even, relaxed tone:

They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells's mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells's face.
(And in addition to thinking this sounds great, I am identifying with it -- I can feel myself getting hot and confused as I try and figure out how to make the boys stop laughing at me...)

You know what book this is reminding me of in its opening pages, is Boy by Roald Dahl.

posted morning of August first, 2009: 1 response
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Thursday, January 21st, 2010

🦋 Ulysses, seen

✷ Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing­gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

It would be hugely ambitious, and almost certainly misconceived, to try to render Joyce's Ulysses as a graphic novel. The folks at Throwaway Horse, LLC have taken on a project that strikes me as (a) even more ambitious and (b) far more likely to have a useful, valuable outcome: they are creating a graphic/web companion to the novel, a set of resources for the reader which center around a beautifully composed (by artist Robert Berry) webcomic. There are mouseover translations of foreign phrases; there are context-sensitive links to a reader's guide (written by Mike Barsanti) and dramatis personæ. The 55 pages that are up so far -- covering the first 13 pages of the text, as they are numbered in my Vintage Books edition -- are outstanding. I think if I were part of Throwaway Horse I would be trembling before the size of the task; but I wish them well with it and I hope that they are able to pull it off.

posted evening of January 21st, 2010: Respond
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Saturday, March 27th, 2010

🦋 First conversation

Creo que mi amistad con Borges procede de una primera conversación, ocurrida en 1931 o 32, en el trayecto entre San Isidro y Buenos Aires. Borges era entonces uno de nuestros jóvenes escritores de mayor renombre y yo un muchacho con un libro publicado en secreto y otro con seudónimo. Ante una pregunta sobre mis autores preferidos, tomé la palabra y, desafiando la timidez, que me impedía mantener la sintaxis de una frase entera, emprendí el elogio de la prosa desvaída de un poetastro que dirigía la página literaria de un diario porteño. Quizá para renovar el aire, Borges amplió la pregunta:

—De acuerdo —concedió—, pero fuera de Fulano, ¿a quién admira, en este siglo o en cualquier otro?

—A Gabriel Miró, a Azorín, a James Joyce. —contesté.

¿Qué hacer con una respuesta así? Por mi parte no era capaz de explicar qué me agradaba en los amplios frescos bíblicos y aun eclesiástios de Miró, en los cuadritos de Azorín ni en la gárrula cascada de Joyce, apenas entendida, de la que levantaba, como irisado vapor, todo el prestigio de hermético, de lo extraño y de lo moderno. Borges dijo algo en el sentido de que sólo en escritores entregados al encanto de la palabra encuentran los jóvenes literatura en cantidad suficiente. Después, hablando de la admiración por Joyce, agregó:

—Claro, es una intención, un acto de fe, una promesa. La promesa de que les gustará —se refería a los jóvenes— cuando lo lean.

I believe my friendship with Borges stems from our first conversation, which occurred in 1931 or 32, in transit between San Isidro and Buenos Aires. Borges was at that time one of our best-known young authors; I was a boy with one book published in secret and another one pseudonymously. Asked a question about my favorite authors, I took the floor and (defying the shyness which was making it difficult for me to get a coherent sentence out), set off on an unfocussed panegyric in praise of the poetaster who edited the literary supplement of a Buenos Aires newspaper. Perhaps to clear the air, Borges expanded his question:

-- Certainly -- he admitted -- but outside of Fulano, whom do you admire, in this century or some other?

-- Gabriel Miró, Azorín, James Joyce. -- I replied.

What to do with such a response? For my own part, I would not have been able to explain what appealed to me in the cool, spacious, biblical -- even ecclesiastical -- works of Miró, in the rustic tomes of Azorín, nor in the garrulous cascade of Joyce -- even given, as I was taking for granted, like a rainbow in the air, all the prestige of the hermetic, the strange and modern. Borges said something to the effect that only in authors committed to the bewitching effect of the word do young people encounter literature in sufficient quantity. Later, speaking of my admiration for Joyce, he added:

-- Clearly, it's an intention, an act of faith, a promise. The promise that they will like it -- referring here to young people -- when they read it.

An imposing brick of a book arrived in the mail yesterday; it is Adolfo Bioy Casares' Borges, 1,600 pages excerpted (by Bioy Casares' literary executor Daniel Martino, in collaboration with the author at the end of his life and posthumously) from the 20,000 pages of diary left in his estate. Bioy Casares began keeping his diary in 1947; the above is from a brief foreword titled "1931 - 1946" which appears to have been written much later.

I had not realized Bioy Casares was so much younger than Borges; had always assumed they were about the same age. (I have not yet read anything by Bioy Casares either by himself or in collaboration with Borges; I know him mainly from mentions in Borges' stories.) When they met in 1931, Borges would have been in his early thirties and Bioy Casares a teenager -- Borges was a mentor more than a peer -- this totally changes my picture of the dinner at the beginning of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," where Bioy Casares recalls the teaching of a heresiarch of Uqbar, the first intrusion of Tlön into the life of the narrator.

There is a bit of meat in this brief exchange. I'm not sure what to make of Borges' statement about the "bewitching effect of words" -- sounds a bit like hand-waving to keep his young interlocutor from having to explain himself and feel embarrassed. I don't know Miró or Azorín at all; I'm wondering if the trio of authors Bioy Casares names here is meaningful or if it is just the first three names that come to mind as he is struggling to master his timidity. Totally unsure about my reading "like a rainbow in the air," I don't know what the meaning is here. The picture of Borges here is very pleasing; and it's such an exciting thing to imagine this meeting, in 1931, with the whole history of their literary collaboration as yet unborn.

posted morning of March 27th, 2010: Respond
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Thursday, June 10th, 2010

🦋 Ulysses (not) Seen

Belle Waring (who is blogging again! Hooray!) alerts us to the ridiculous stance of Apple's iPad App Store, that Buck Mulligan's genitalia may not appear in material distributed to an iPad app -- with the upshot that Rob Berry's Ulysses "Seen" comic would not be sold in the App Store. Berry has agreed to cut the nudity, the expurgated comic will again be available on Apple products...

An interview with Berry and Levitas, at Robot 6.

...Update: Macy Halford at the New Yorker's Book Bench reports that Apple is altering its restrictions on iPad apps and has asked Berry to resubmit the unexpurgated version.

posted evening of June 10th, 2010: Respond

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

🦋 Happy Bloom's Day!

On this date in 1904...

posted morning of June 16th, 2010: Respond

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