Monthly Archives: August 2012

100 Greatest Novels: Ulysses

I finished reading Ulysses over the weekend. And I fell in love with the novel. Everybody might not be familiar with Ulysses so let me first tell you what the novel is and what reading it entails and then I’ll explain why I loved it and why you should read it too.

Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was published in its entirety in 1922. The novel follows Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and lesser named and unnamed characters around Dublin in a 24 hour period. But that’s not what’s important. What makes this book special is Joyce’s complete mastery, complete mockery, and complete disregard of the English language. Dr. Joseph Collins explains that the novel is written “not in straightforward, narrative fashion…but in parodies of classic prose and current slang, in perversions of sacred literature, in carefully metered prose with studied incoherence, in symbols so occult and mystic that only the initiated and profoundly versed can understand — in short, by means of every trick and illusion that a master artificer, or even magician, can play with the English language.”

There are many reasons why I fell in love with Ulysses. First, it was just so much fun to read. I never knew what every chapter (and even page turn) would have in store for me. At any time, the book could change writing styles (stream of conscious to play script to romance novel…), points of view between characters, and locations. Another reason is Joyce’s honest and unfiltered depiction of what goes through a person’s head in a normal day. Every vulgar idea, every mundane action, and every reminiscent of the past (whether the readers understands or not) is portrayed incredibly accurately. Song lyrics, quotes from past reads and past conversations, and memories from childhood pop up as unexpectedly as they do for you and me. It’s revolting. It’s damned confusing. And it’s beautiful.

Interested in reading Ulysses? Here’s some tips:
-Don’t read any articles or any books to prepare yourself. I made this mistake the first time I attempted reading the novel and it freaked me out. I was overwhelmed with looking for certain allusions and trying to make connections to Homer’s Odyssey.
-If you’re not enjoying a passage, a writing style, or a chapter…SKIP IT! There’s no part that’s so important to the narration that you cannot skip. Here’s the story line if you don’t want to get lost: Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom roam around Dublin separately, they meet, roam around together, end up at Bloom’s house, Stephen leaves, and Bloom goes to bed.
-Don’t expect to understand every line or even every paragraph. There’s one episode that has Bloom near music and the first half of the chapter is more about how musical the phrases sound than any understandable storyline.
-If you feel like you must have some guideline while reading, Wikipedia’s synopsis of each episode is helpful without giving too much away.
-Enjoy reading it. This is a surprising book and at times a hilarious book. Have fun with it.

This is the first post in my series of blogs about reading through the Modern Library’s 100 Greatest Novels


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What Can You Say?


I just met a holocaust survivor. Pretty surreal. What do you say to a man who has seen so much, who has experienced such horror? What could I say? “I’m sorry” just doesn’t seem sufficient.

I wanted to express my sense of loss. I wanted to let him know that I’ll never forget what happened. That I’ll do everything in my power to stop discrimination, injustice, and genocide. But all I did was thank him for the book. I just couldn’t say more.

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Posted by on August 17, 2012 in History, Literature


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Derek Webb – Ctrl

Derek Webb released his new album this week. It’s titled Ctrl and I’m really enjoying it. The album isn’t like any of his other stuff (whether you prefer the country, folk, rock, electronic, or instrumental manifestation of DW).

Ctrl does have electronic elements but also has live drums. The main instrument of the album is a nylon string guitar. Any fan of Willie Nelson knows that doesn’t limit the scope of sound by any means. Nylon strings can sound very pristine when lightly played. If you crank down on them, you can get a real dirty sound out of the guitar. Ctrl has plenty of both.

The most interesting, I’ll even say oddest, aspect of the album is the seemingly random interruptions of what to me sounded like an out of tune, small town, southern Baptist choir full of old people. At first, this comes across almost disconcerting. After a while, the sounds grow to be a beautiful, dissonant addition to the somewhat haunting lyrics and melodies on this album.

Come to find out, these choral interruptions are actually a historical genre of congregational singing from early in America’s history. It’s called shape singing or Sacred Harp music. Find out more about this genre (and watch a trailer of a documentary) here.

Caught your attention?

Buy the album here.

Download 3 tracks from the album for free here.


Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Music Review


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Kafka on Reading


I’m always asked why I read depressing books. Why would I read about the holocaust? Why would I want to read stories that make you cry?

I was never able to answer these questions. I have always been drawn to darker literature.

Anyways, I found this quote that explains it way better than I ever could.

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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Literature


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