How Deep A Life Does It Spring

Irish Hunger Memorial

Scrolling through the list of books I want to read is comparable to taking a 24 hour trip around the world. The titles, summaries, all become a blur. Especially with days upon unending days of socially distancing from the myriad of people and activities I love. Staying apart has also changed my story, since the making of stories is now focused on the details, a close reading and living concentration. I stopped scrolling and contemplated, “What do I want to read, that I’ve wanted to read but haven’t had the opportunity to delve into, uninterrupted?” James Joyce’s, Ulysses surfaced. I’ve been intimidated by this book, and after reading reviews my trepidation was confirmed. The adventurous spirit that has been quarantined for several months spoke up, “What better time to explore this literary giant than now?” I downloaded the book and began the journey. 

Since I had searched for and about the book on the internet I received articles about Ulysses. I’m not sure yet if the articles are helpful. How much of the story, symbolism and messages am I missing? Do I need a support group to read this famous masterpiece? As a recovering Catholic I was able to pick up on some of the references to ritual and guilt. Page after page I struggled to stay focused, to comprehend this ongoing work. Each time I read I fought with the decision to continue or stop. The question shifted, and I asked myself “What do I need to be able to read this book?” Yes, I had already explored Why I wanted to read this book. Irish heritage, literary passion, historical perspective, all encouraged me to continue reading. I decided a companion book would be helpful. I would read Ulysses a little at a time, since after about 10 pages I found myself wanting to do anything, including reading the numbers, and the debate about the numbers of Covid-19 cases, test results and deaths, rather than read another stream of consciousness. To feed my literary attention I scrolled through my list of books and stopped at Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. I don’t plan on comparing the two literary styles or subject matter. I simply hope they balance out my desire to read a difficult yet notable book with one that promises to feed my soul. Most likely, I will learn more than I ever thought I would want to know about Ulysses. I’ve already read more about Ulysses than I’ve actually read of the book. 

Committing to this literary work I am uncertain if learning about or studying the references woven into the book are helpful or distracting. Is it possible to read anything without some background knowledge to recognize the key elements? Knowing the book was banned definitely makes it more appealing for me. I admit to being a research nerd, and Ulysses is definitely offering a strong reason to gather enough information for a dissertation. The research topic “Dissertations relating to James Joyce’s Ulysses” came up with 802,000 results. As more information is gathered, the one question I cannot research, only experience, is “Am I enjoying reading Ulysses?” It’s possible I’ll find insight while exploring: 

“The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.” James Joyce, Ulysses

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