Monday, 12 March 2012

Bloomsday Reading

Allie and I have been chatting about an idea for a way to celebrate Bloomsday: Bloomsday, in case you weren't aware, is on the 16th June (this year it falls on a Saturday) and it marks the day on which James Joyce's Ulysses is based. As a day of celebration, it began in 1954, the fifty year anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan, Flann O'Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (Joyce's cousin) and AJ Leventhal attempted a pilgrimage along the Ulysses route (I say "attempted" because their mission had to be aborted owing to a somewhat impressive intake of alcohol!). Since then in Dublin and all around the world, Bloomsday (the name taken from one of the main characters, Leopold Bloom) has been observed.

Now, as I say, this year, the 16th June falls on a Saturday, and aren't Saturdays a perfect day for a readathon...? What we thought was this: how about this year, some of us have a readathon / readalong of Ulysses?

Sounds too intimidating? Hear me out:

As I've said, Ulysses is based around the events of a single day, 16th June 1914. It is broken down thus:
  • Part I - 8am
  • Part II - 10am
  • Part III - 11am
  • Part IV - 8am
  • Part V - 10am
  • Part VI - 11am
  • Part VII - 12pm
  • Part VIII - 1pm
  • Part IX - 2pm
  • Part X - 3pm
  • Part XI - 4pm
  • Part XII - 5pm
  • Part XIII - 8pm
  • Part XIV - 10pm
  • Part XV - 12am
  • Part XVI - 1am
  • Part XVII - 2am
  • Part XVII - Monologue
Ulysses, my edition at least, is 933 pages, and I believe Allie's is 730 pages. I've seen readathons where people have read more than 1000 pages. This is possible.

Here are the options we propose:
  1. For the hardcore: Start at 8am, read the lot. See if it's possible to stick to the time scale (I don't know if it is, when I first read it I was unaware of the breakdown).
  2. For those wanting to dabble: Start at 8am with the hardcore and see how far you wish to go. Stop whenever you want. And, if you like, when you've read the parts you wish to, write a post at the end of it and let us know how you got on (only if you want to).
  3. For those who think this is insane, or are not read for Ulysses, read anything by or about James Joyce.
This does not have to be a 24 hour readathon / readalong. If you just want to go for the first part then write a post, that would be a great way of observing Bloomsday!

But, if you decide to be hardcore: you may wonder, what will you get out of it? Because it has to be said - reading Ulysses in a single day is a big ask, and I don't know that anyone would be able to understand and appreciate it reading it in this manner. However, I would say this: James Joyce is one tricky writer. He demands re-reads. Chances are, one read will never be enough. Reading it in this way, powering through it, will allow you to familiarise yourself with the novel. I've seen a lot of people say it is intimidating, and yes it is, but after this, no matter what level you pick, it will become less of a mystery. It will not be a stranger, and poweing through it, you will take some things from it and you can be proud of that, and the others you will have to let go for now. This read is about working through it, letting it wash over you, not sitting with a pencil and a notepad trying to figure out what this bit meant, or this, or this. This may well be a great way to read it for the first time.

So what do you think? Like to join me and Allie for the Bloomsday readalong? If there's enough interest, I'll organise an official sign up page and work this out a little more. I hope at least some of you are as excited as we are! No matter what level you sign up for, I think this will be a great way to enjoy Bloomsday!


  1. ooooooooooooooooooh -- want/need/! I love this idea -- I kind of want to try out the hardcore version! My only hesitation to completely committing is that I leave for a two week business trip on the 17th, and I've no idea if I'll be ready by the 16th. Gah. Perhaps I can read a little early and follow along...

  2. Life is so unfair. So unfair.
    I would LOVE to take part in this, that's exactly the kind of event I adore, and I've meant to read Ulysse for ages. Also I couldn't resist the challenge to read it according to the time in the book, but no, life is hard and cruel.
    Bloomsday is exactly two days before my final exam in maths this year! I'll be spending the day miserably trying to understand the calculus of probabilities and thinking about all the fun you'll have.
    Life is just unfair.

  3. This does sound intriguing. Not sure I could read it all in one day, maybe two-your reasons seem very sound

  4. Audra - do what works - James Joyce would much approve of rule-breaking1 :)

    mel u - wondering if I should change this to a weekend-long thing, make it less intimidating...

    Cassandra - I have an idea: you know how I read Finnegans Wake ages ago and said it was one of those books that has to be re-read? How about when your exams are finished we do some Joyce reading together? We could pick a weekend or whatever, and you could read Ulysses and I could read FW?

  5. You know, when I first read about this, my first thought was "they're out of their minds. I'm not going to do this. No way". And what's the first thing I do this morning? Go to the bookstore and ask them to recommend me an edition. Looks like I'm out of my mind too ;)

  6. Yay Caro! Hey, you can always go for the "dabble" option, thats's just as fun and you can define your own limits :)

  7. I don't think I can make it through the entire book in a day, but I'll make it a weekend-long readathon ;)

  8. Awesome! Maybe I'll make it a weekend long thing instead of a day long thing - I think I'm frightening people! :)

  9. I think you are completely insane, but I can't resist joining in! This is one of those books I've put off reading for too long, and I think if I just tell myself I just have to read what I can get finished in one day, it will get me to at least start it. If I don't finish it on that day, at least I'll have started it and made some progress!

  10. Brilliant! I'll organise a sign up page, looks like this may happen! :)

  11. For those taking on the challenge, I highly recommend these podcasts:

    It's only 2 years in to a 22-year project, but what exists so far is wonderfully helpful!

  12. Kara - thanks for that link, I'll check it out :D

  13. Oh I love this idea. I don't think I can make it though - family commitments ... I don't think that my two little girls will get it if mom sits and yells at an old Irish dude for an entire Saturday ... The week thing might work better for me too.



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