Monday, June 16, 2014

The Great Bloomsday Read-A-Long Celebration

Hello dear followers, and welcome to our Bloomsday celebration. Today, June 16, is the day the events of Ulysses occur (yes, that whole huge awesome terrifying book takes place in one day). In honor of this momentous occasion, and in celebration of the characters Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, we will be holding an incredibly relaxed, no-pressure, do-your-own-thing readathon.

Here's the plan:

We will spend the day reading Ulysses, and we encourage you to do the same. There is no pressure to read the whole book or anything like that, just read a bunch and enjoy yourself. Lori and I will be making sporadic posts throughout the day talking about our experiences with the book, our progress, and really anything else we want to talk about. If you would like to join us, please read the book and post about it, and then link up your posts here. Or, if you won't be reading but still feel like posting something about Joyce today, feel free to link that up too. Are you going to be celebrating at all? Did you once go to Dublin for Bloomsday and have a bunch of pictures you want to share? Do you out have a lot of feelings about Molly's chapter that you are just dying to rant about? Let us know!

Basically, if it's Joyce-related, we want to see it.

We hope that you will take some time out of your day to read at least some part of this monumental book, and that you will join us in celebrating both Joyce and his characters. We look forward to reading your posts. Happy Bloomsday!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ulysses Read-Along: Episodes

Hello all, and welcome back to the Ulysses read-along, hosted by me and Lori. How is the reading going so far? I know that I have personally been slacking off in a big way, mostly because I spent a week on my wedding/honeymoon (!!!) and am now working on moving into a new house (!!!). As you can probably guess, I've been a bit busy. But, have no fear, there is nothing that's going to stop me from rereading this book.

This week's vague and totally optional discussion topic asks you to focus on one episode. Which episode has been the most difficult for you? Which one has been the easiest? Was there one in particular that you really loved and enjoyed? Is there one that made you want to give up? If there's an episode that you need to talk about, now is the time to do it.

I don't know if I could personally pick a favorite chapter. I do remember that Oxen of the Sun nearly killed me the first time I read it. It's a famously difficult chapter stylistically, and it took me ages to even understand what was happening. It's one of those chapters where Joyce shows off just how talented of a writer he is and how much he knows about everything, making it difficult for us mere mortals to keep up. (Of course I had to give a presentation on it the next day, which didn't help.) so yeah, watch out for Oxen of the Sun. On the other hand, both the Circe and Eumaeus episodes made me cry, so you have that to look forward to as well.

I'd love to read all about your favorite / least favorite chapters. Please feel free to write up a post and link it up here on our I linky list. I look forward to it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ulysses: Halfway Point and Encouragement

Hello all, and welcome back to our Ulysses read along. We took a small break last week because I was busy getting married (!!!), but now we're back with a vengeance. This week is our hypothetical halfway point, so we're focusing on encouragement, strategy, guides, and generally discussing our progress.

I know that Lori has been moving a bit slowly recently, and I personally have been so busy with wedding and honeymoon stuff (!!!) that I haven't really made any progress this week either. So please, share your progress with us. Where are you? How are you doing? Do you have any tips or tricks for those who are moving a little more slowly? Have you found a guide you particularly love or hate? Link up and let us know. In the mean time, please feel free to check out my post on guides if you are looking for a little something to help you through.

I'm looking forward to hearing about your progress.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ulysses Read-Along: Surprises

Hi everyone, and welcome to week 3 of our Ulysses read-along. This week we're discussing anything we've found surprising so far. If you'd like to join us, please feel free to link up your post over at Lori's blog.

The thing that surprised me most about the beginning of Ulysses is how funny it is. I know that sounds weird, since it's a difficult and beautiful book and all that, but Joy is really a very witty guy, and it shows. The first two chapters are especially funny, mostly due to Buck Mulligan and his interactions with Stephen Dedalus. For instance, when looking out from the top of the tower that they live in, mulligan describes the ocean as "The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea," which is both a great description and a great parody of Homer's famous "the winedark sea." Later, when Stephen accuses Mulligan of insulting him earlier, Mulligan claims not to remember the conversation, as he can  "only remember ideas and sensations." But Stephen, the grumpy, artistic, depressed, pathetic, cynical, sad, lonely Stephen, can also be funny, in his own dry way. When asked his views on religion he answers, "You behold in me...a horrible example of free thought."

While the early chapters are the most likely to make me laugh, the chapters are also very funny. Near the end of the book Bloom and Stephen end up in a little coffee shack, where the coffee is apparently pretty bad. Here are the ways the narrator describes it:
"...a boiling swimming cup of a choice concoction labelled coffee..."
"...the cup of what was temporarily supposed to be called coffee..."
"...his untastable apology for a cup of coffee..."
"...his mug of coffee or whatever you like to call it..."
All of those are just tossed into the narration without any fuss. That's how the humor works in this book; it's subtle and witty and brilliant. There are so many instances of dramatic irony, inside jokes, neologisms, malapropisms, and just general weirdness, that despite the difficulty and complexity of the text, it never gets boring. There are lots of things that surprised me about Ulysses, but the humor has been what stands out to me the most.

Well, thanks for reading. Please feel free to make your own posts and link up over at Lori's blog. Keep on reading, and we'll see you next week!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ulysses Read-Along: First Impressions

Hello everyone, and welcome back to our Ulysses read along. This week's totally-optional discussion topic is first impressions. So, if you are reading this book for the first time, what are your impressions so far? If you've read it before, what did you think when you first picked it up? What are your thoughts upon picking it up again?

I can tell you that when I first read it, my first thoughts were a mix of "oh my gosh this is weird" and "but it isn't as weird as I expected, maybe I can do this." I also remember being struck by the beauty of some of the prose, especially in the first three chapters, which feature aspiring poet and generally mopey artist-type Stephen Dedalus. Joyce has this amazing ability to make his writing just sound good, on a purely auditory ear-pleasing level, and that really struck me at the beginning of this novel. Another thing that I noticed is that this book is secretly really funny. Joyce was incredibly witty, and it definitely shows in these first w chapters. Buck Mulligan especially is a really funny character.

But hey, enough about me, what about you? Let us know about your first impressions (or about anything else really, we aren't picky) by linking up to our little linky list.
I can't wait to read about it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ulysses Read-Along: Start-up Questionnaire

Hello everyone, and welcome to the great Ulysses read-along, hosted by Lori and I. We thought it would be fun to start out with a totally optional little questionnaire so we could all get to know each other. If you would like to join us and you're into these kinds of posts, please feel free to answer the questions and link up over at Lori's blog. If you'd like to do some other kind of intro post, feel free to link that up too. If you don't feel like writing any posts, that's also great. We're very flexible around here. 
Anyway, without any further ado, here are my answers to the questions:

1. Introduce yourself.
Hi, I'm Emily. I'm a recent college graduate who loves literary fiction, classics, sci-fi, and the occasional fanfiction. I'm also into cheesy TV (Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc), bird watching, and coffee. I am getting married to the most perfect man ever on May 26th. 

2. Have you read Ulysses before? Any other Joyce? Any attempts?
I read Ulysses, as well as Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist, and some of Joyce's poetry, for a class I took in the fall of 2012. They are all awesome and I loved them dearly. 

3. Are you feeling nauseous?
Haha, honestly yeah, a little.

4. Why are you doing this?
I really loved Ulysses the first time I read it, so I wanted to do something special for Bloomsday this year. Lori was also interested in reading Ulysses, one thing led to another, and here we are.

5. Are you planning to use any guides or resources?
Yes, I will be using James Joyce A-Z, which was my favorite guide last time.

6. Do you have a reading strategy? Are you sticking to a schedule?
My strategy is to simply enjoy myself as much as possible. I'm going to read through and not stress about it too much. As for a schedule, I do want to finish enough by Bloomsday that I can use our Bloomsday Readathon to finish the novel, but if that doesn't happen it won't be the end of the world.

7. What are you most excited about?
I'm most excited about meeting Leopold Bloom again. I loved him the first time I read it, and I hope to love him just as much this time.

8. What are you most scared of?
I you haven't noticed, these Bloomsday posts have been my first since August. That's because I haven't really been reading anything all year. I'm really pretty scared to try to get back into the swing of things, especially with a book this dense.

9. If this is your first time, what is your impression of the novel going into it?
I remember the first time I read this, I was prepared for the hardest craziest thing I had ever read. This turned out to be only partially true. ;)

10. Have you read The Odyssey or seen O Brother, Where Art Thou? before?
I love The Odyssey with all my heart, and O Brother is one of my favorite movies. I would really suggest watching it if you haven't already.

Well, now I'm super excited about starting this read-along with all of you! I can't wait to meet you all. If you'd like to join us, please feel free to write a post and link up over at Lori's blog. We look forward to reading with you!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Guides to Ulysses: An Overview

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the blog. In anticipation of the Ulysses read along that Lori and I are hosting, I wanted to post a short list of guides to Ulysses. Lots of people use guides to help them make some sense of this monumental work. Guides can give you a place to start by providings short chapter summaries, background and historical information, and notes on style. In this post I'm going to talk about the three guides that I have personal experience with. I'll give you a brief overview and my opinion on their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully this will help you choose the guide that's right for you.

James Joyce A-Z: The Essential Reference to his Life and Writings
Fargnoli and Gillespie

Description: This book is organized like an encyclopedia, with alphabetically listed entries on all of Joyce's work, as well as on his personal life and some important historical events. The entries are relatively short (I think the longest is about a page) and serve as concise factual summaries of a given topic. There are entries for each episode of Ulysses, as well as for all the major characters.

My Thoughts: I love this book. This was the only guide I actually used when I read Ulysses for the first time, and it was immensely helpful. The entries for each episode provide nice short summaries that give you all the information you need without weighing you down or telling you how to interpret things. I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone planning to read Ulysses.

TLDR: Get this one.

The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses
Harry Blamires

Summary: The New Bloomsday Book is a true guide to Ulysses. It goes through each episode, summarizing and explaining the major events, characters, and symbols. The author makes connections between the episodes and tries to unravel some of the thematic and symbolic content of the novel. The chapters are, on average, between ten and twenty pages long.

My Thoughts: I feel a bit ambivalent about this book. On one hand, I love the in-depth chapter summaries that it provides. The writing is good and the explanations are all very clear. On the other hand, the author does a lot of interpretation for the reader, and I don't like my experience of the book to be colored by someone else's reading, especially the first time. If you use this guide, and a lot of people do, just remember that the interpretations in it are not law, they are one scholar's opinions.

TLDR: A good guide, but a little heavier on interpretation than I would like.

Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses
Gifford and Seidman

Summary: Ulysses Annotated is a line-by-line annotation of Ulysses that is nearly as long as the book itself. Every single reference, historical even, person, turn of phrases, or unusual word is explained or defined. While it doesn't go into interpretation or symbolism very much, this book will explain literally everything else to you in minute detail. Scholars everywhere have this book on their shelves.

My Thoughts: Do not use this book. No, really, don't. It is an awesome book, and if you intend to write a scholarly paper on Ulysses then you absolutely need it, but if you are intending to read, finish, and enjoy Ulysses, then please do not try to read this book alongside it. It will swamp you and bore you and tell you everything that you don't need to know. I genuinely think that using this book will keep you from enjoying Ulysses.

TLDR: Only use this if you intend to write your thesis on Ulysses.

So, those are the three guides that I personally own and have interacted with. I hope this has been helpful to those of you who want to read Ulysses with us. If you have any guides that you love (or hate), please let me know in the comments. I hope you will all join us for our read along, which starts May 1.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bloomsday Read-Along Announcement

Hi Everyone!

Lori at The Coffee Girl and I are co-hosting a readalong of James Joyce’s Ulysses in honor of Bloomsday (June 16).  This will be a super laid-back event because this work is difficult enough as it is.  No sign-ups.  No mandatory check-in posts.  No assigned reading.  Just have at it and know that other people are reading with you.

On May 1 over at Lori's blog, we will post an optional start-up questionnaire for those of you who want to answer it.  Or you can write a post saying that you’re reading along.  Either way, we’ll have a Mr. Linky so you can link to your post.  If you don’t have a blog, you can post your responses in the comments.  If you don’t feel like writing a post, you can just comment that you’re participating.  Or you can be totally off the grid.  Whatever works for you works for us.

After the start day, Lori and I will trade off posting that week’s optional discussion topic on Thursday and hosting the Mr. Linky.  Though we will be providing topics, you can write about anything you want if the topic doesn’t strike your fancy.  Or you don’t have to post anything.

On June 16, we will host a readathon in case you want to power through and finish the novel on Bloomsday.  There are a lot of traditions related to Bloomsday and a readathon of the novel is just one.  Just so you know, if you read three episodes a week, you can finish in time for Bloomsday.

You don’t have to devote June 16 to finishing the novel.  You can keep reading through June 30.  For the rest of June, we’ll continue posting vague, open discussion topics for those wishing to participate.

We hope you’ll join us on the adventure!

-- Emily and Lori

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri

Hello again everyone, and welcome to the first of a series of reviews on The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. This past spring I took a class on Dante in which we read the entirety of The Commedia. After taking some time to think and digest this massive poem, I think I am finally ready to write my review. I will write one review for each canticle, starting with The Inferno, Dante's trip through Hell.

At the opening of the poem, Dante awakes to find himself lost in a dark wood. Unable to leave the valley, he is greeted by the shade of Virgil, who tells him that he has been sent by Mary and Dante's dearly departed Beatrice to guide Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and eventually to the highest parts of Heaven. Although Dante is initially reluctant to go, he eventually follows Virgil down into the mouth of Hell. 

While the idea of reading such a long old poem seems daunting, the language and imagery that Dante uses makes it as compelling and fresh as if it were written yesterday. It is, first and foremost, a journey, and the sights the pilgrim sees on his journey to the bottom of Hell are described in vivid and sometimes gross detail. Hell is a very physical place, full of bodies and bodily functions, and Dante doe snot skimp on the imagery. But as often as his language is crude, it is at times stunningly beautiful. There were similes that absolutely stopped me in my tracks with their perfection and beauty. If you want to read the Inferno for the first time, read it like a novel. Jump in, enjoy the story, gawk at the imagery, and stop to relish the beautiful passages.

Just as Dante the pilgrim takes Virgil as his guide through Hell, Dante the poet uses Virgil as a poetic guide in his attempt to write an epic that encompasses religion, politics, history, and the human experience. In each circle, Dante meets a new group of sinners who are in Hell for different reasons. The first thing to note about the damned is that they seem to be mostly from Florence. Seriously, sometimes I think Dante wrote this just so he could shove everyone he didn't like into the fiery pit. But in all seriousness, Dante's goal wasn't just to describe the afterlife, he was also trying to describe life on earth. By putting people from Florence in Hell or Heaven, Dante was commenting on what was happening in Italy at the time. Most important for Dante was the corruption he saw in the church, so there are entire cantos of the Inferno devoted to religious leaders, especially Popes, and especially Boniface, who was Pope at the time Dante was writing.

Farinata, a very persuasive shade
The other thing to note about the damned is how relatable they are, at least in the beginning. When you meet Paolo and Francesca in Canto V and listen to Francesca's story, you can't help but be drawn in and pity her. Dante the pilgrim pitied her too, and swoons (again, seriously, he spends like the first 10 cantos swooning left and right) due to his empathy for them. Again and again the pilgrim pities the damned, but as the canticle goes on this happens less and less. By the end of the canticle he has stopped pitying the shades at all, and instead feels that their damnation is deserved. Why did Dante the poet make the pilgrim transforming such a way? Just as the description of Hell also serves as a description of Earth and of the nature of the human soul, the pilgrim's journey through the afterlife mirrors the soul's journey from the dark wood of sin and error to enlightenment and salvation. Dante is at first taken in by the sinners because he is not wise enough to see through their excuses. He is too much like them to do anything other than pity them. As he goes through Hell, he learns more and shakes off the darkness of the wood, so that by the time he gets to the bottom he no longer pities the damned. Still, even in the lowest circles, the shades are all deeply human, and their stories of how they ended up in Hell are incredibly compelling.

Dante the poet shows again and again how similar the pilgrim and the damned really are. He constantly explores sins that he could have committed or paths that he could have taken, exposing his own weaknesses and confronting what would have been his fate if Beatrice and Mary had not sent Virgil to save him. I think it speaks to his bravery as a poet that he insisted on exposing not just the weaknesses in society, but also the weaknesses in his own character.
Dante the poet is also brave, I think, for tackling some very serious theological, political, and psychological issues. When Dante the pilgrim walks through the gate of Hell, the inscription on the gate says that the gate and Hell itself were made by "the primal love" of God. Here, Dante tackles one of the greatest theological questions; how can a just and loving God permit something as awful as Hell? While the real answer doesn't come until the Paradiso, Dante was brave to put that question in such stark and paradoxical terms. 

Dante's constant indictments of the political and religious leaders of his day show bravery, intelligence, and a good degree of anger on his part. Before writing the Inferno, Dante had been exiled from his home city of Florence for being on the wrong side of a political scuffle. He was never able to return home, and his anger at the partisanship that caused his exile mixed with his longing for his home make the political themes of the poem emotionally charged and interesting to the reader, even now.

Virgil, our guide and friend.
Lastly, Dante shows both bravery and a great deal of literary skill in his treatment of Virgil. Virgil is Dante's guide through Hell and, later, Purgatory. He leads Dante every step of the way, teaching him like a father would, protecting him from daemons and even carrying him on his back at one point. It is clear that Dante admires Virgil, and in some ways the poem is like a love song to him. Virgil, living before Christ, was obviously not Christian, so Dante's choice of Virgil as a guide through the Christian afterlife is really quite extraordinary. It shows that wisdom can be attained from the ancient world, and that the light of human reason, which Virgil represents, is necessary for the attainment of enlightenment and salvation. Dante believed strongly that reason and faith were not opposites, but partners, and his choice of Virgil as a guide is a perfect illustration of that principle.

But, despite Dante's love of Virgil, Virgil is, to me, one of the most tragic characters in literature. Virgil, as a pagan, cannot go to Heaven. He resides in Limbo, the first circle of Hell, home of the virtuous pagans. There, he and the other shades (including Homer, Plato, and others) receive no punishment except for their constant yearning for Heaven and the knowledge that they will never see the light of God. Virgil, at the request of Mary and Beatrice, leads Dante toward a salvation that he can never have. Human reason can only lead a soul so far; to understand the mysteries of Heaven one has to rely on faith and theology. Virgil's fate is the great tragedy of this otherwise comic poem, and the knowledge of that fate haunts the first two canticles. And while it makes sense thematically and in terms of the plot, Dante makes you love Virgil so much that his departure in the Purgatorio never really feels fair. I still miss him.

The Inferno is a long and complex poem, filled with vivid imagery, vast psychological depth, scathing social commentary, and deep theological questions. It is also a journey, a real adventure in a way, and a pleasure to read. Though the real fulfillment of Dante's themes does not come until the Paradiso, the Inferno is well worth reading on its own. Even if you don't go on to read the other two canticles, reading The Inferno is time well spent.

Rating: 5 stars
Recommendations: Read it. Skip the boring parts if you want to, but just read it.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Giving Up and Moving On: DNFs in Spring 2013

Hello again everyone. A lot has happened since my last post. The semester ended, summer started, and I graduated from college. That's right everyone, I now officially have my BA in English, so that makes me qualified for... something. I don't know. Actually, I'm still unemployed. Like I said, BA in English.
Anyway, before I tell you about my summer reading, I want to catch you all up on what I read for classes last semester. And, since I'm too lazy to write a real review still enjoying my vacation, I thought I'd start out with the books I didn't read. (That's right, even we high-and-mighty English majors skip out on our assigned reading every now and then. Just don't tell my professors.) So, without further ado, here's the list of books I was supposed to read this semester but just couldn't finish.

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell
I really had good intentions with this one. It was assigned for a British novels class I was taking, and I honestly enjoyed most of the books we read. Besides, I'd heard that it was about the working class and had a strong female protagonist. It sounds like exactly the kind of book I'd love, right? Yeah, well, about that. First of all, the structure is pretty awful. Admittedly, this is partially because it was originally serialized. Gaskell had to meet certain guidelines, so I don't blame her entirely, but it's still a pretty awkwardly-paced book. Secondly, the characters just aren't as good as Austen's or even Bronte's. Thirdly, the romance is completely unbelievable and feels contrived. Lastly, at this point in the semester I was really tired of books that focus on compromise. The whole book is a compromise between North and South, labor and the masters, poverty and wealth, etc. Just for once I'd like to read a British novel that doesn't end with "I think we all learned a valuable lesson about first impressions and compromise," especially when it comes to working conditions for the working poor, and especially when that compromise means that no-one really has to change in any meaningful way. I love that Gaskell tackled issues like industrialization and working conditions. I just wish she had actually committed to it instead of only going halfway.
Reasons for Leaving: bad pacing, mediocre writing, flat characters, annoying plot.
Likelihood of Resuming Someday: Maybe when I haven't just finished four better similar novels.

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
This book was also for that British novels class. (I promise I'm usually a better student than this.) I'd always assumed that the people whom I'd heard complaining about Dickens were just not classics lovers. Surely I would be different. After all, my favorite books include The Odyssey and Persuasion. Well, I managed to get about five chapters into this one before wanting to stab my eyes out with a rusty metal file. After that, I refused to read any further, and relied on Sparknotes for everything except the last few pages. Seriously, how on earth is Dickens so popular? Like, what kind of bookish crack is the literary world on that makes people want to read this? I don't know, but I will try everything in my power to never read another Dickens novel again for as long as I live.
Reasons for Leaving: boring, bland, torturous writing. I thought I was actually going to die.
Likelihood of Resuming Someday: Never again, oh goodness please no.

The Song of Roland - Anonymous
This one was actually for a Medieval History class, which was about as enjoyable as you could expect a 9:00 a.m. lecture class to be. To be honest with you, I read the beginning and end of this one. Since the middle was mostly a list of all the people our heroes killed ("and then he killed this guy, and then that guy, and then about 1000 more) I figured it was safe to skip it. The beginning and end had some interesting bits that made for a useful final exam essay, but that's about all I got out of it. (Sorry, Eric.)
Reasons for Leaving: The middle was tedious and repetitive.
Likelihood of Resuming Someday: It's an interesting and useful source for the time period, so maybe? We'll see.

Well, that's what I've been not reading this semester. Soon I'll tell you about what I actually finished. Hint: it was pretty awesome. See you soon!