Tag Archives: james joyce

An Update on the 100 Greatest Novels (and Other Readings)

So it has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted any thing on here. And I have excuses. Many of them. Some have to do directly with the list of the 100 greatest novels we’ve been working through. Some have to do with new adventures and new cities in my life. And the rest have to do with my job situation. Let’s get started.

The 100 Greatest Novels: An Update

Joyce_wakeIf you read my last post on the 100 greatest novels, you’ll know that I’ve completed 76 novels from the list and started on #77, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, a few months ago. I also mentioned my fear of reading this “novel” because of the difficulty involved. I have read everything else James Joyce has written and love every bit of it but Finnegans Wake is the most difficult piece of literature in the English language. I actually don’t agree with it’s addition into this list because it is nothing like any other book on here. How could anybody decide it is slightly better than #78 but not as good as #76? How can you compare this piece of art made from letters to these other novels with characters, plots, complete sentences, and lack of made up words? You can’t. At least I can’t.

I did start to work my way through it. I am currently on page 169 of 628. That said, nothing of the first 168 pages meant anything to me. I am literally looking at one collection of letters (in the form of made up words) after another. I’m slowly roaming my eyes across line after line, page after page, as if I’m looking through rooms in a modern art gallery. But am I getting anything out of it? It’s hard to say. I’m not thinking so. I have been taking a break from the book and reading other things (more on that later) so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve roamed the rooms of Finnegans Wake. 

So that brings up my next questions. Do I finish the book? I have completely read all of the first 76 books of this list and I fully intend to read numbers 78-100. So how could I leave this one unfinished? Wouldn’t that be a failure on my part? I do think so. But on the other hand, me looking at 459 more pages of this book will most likely not change anything about my understanding or appreciation of Finnegans Wake. I don’t think I’ll somehow be able to start comprehending anything differently in a few dozen or hundred pages. Could I, not being a Joycean scholar, add anything to the world’s knowledge of this book by completing it? I highly doubt it. So would my time be more wisely spent moving on to the rest of the novels and leaving Finnegans Wake for the students at Oxford? I would think so. But my mind isn’t made up yet.

Lack of Posting: Some Excuses

If you follow me on any of my other social outlets, you probably already know that at the beginning of August my wife and I moved to Philadelphia. With the process of preparing for the move, the actual move, and settling in to a new house and new city, I have had little time to “read” through Finnegans Wake or write any other type of posts for this blog. And I’m incredibly sorry for it. That said, I do love our new city. We’ve had an amazing time experiencing what Philly has to offer and have spent most of our free time exploring different areas. You can look up #pevetosinphilly on Instagram to see some of our pictures and adventures over the last few weeks.

As time got closer to school starting here, I had still not heard from the Department of Education about my teaching certificate transferring to Pennsylvania. Soon enough I realized there was little to no chance that my certificate would happen in time for me to find a teaching job and start the school year. So I started looking at other opportunities for an income. After thinking about what I can do, what I want to do, and what will help me in my future, I narrowed down my options to two part-time jobs until I can get back into teaching. So for this next year I’ll be substitute teaching for the School District of Philadelphia (to keep me connected to the schools) and giving historical walking tours of Philadelphia with Bow Tie Tours (to keep me connected to teaching history). Which brings me to my next topic…

Other Readings

To prepare for my historical walking tours of Old City Philadelphia, I’ve been reading and researching Philadelphia’s role in the American Revolution. I knew the facts of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution but I didn’t know all the stories of the Founders who accomplished all of this in 18th century Philadelphia. The owner of Bow Tie Tours recommended me a few books by historian Richard Beeman.

51-UyMUG4vLI first read his book on the Declaration of Independence: Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776And for a book with that pretentious of a title, I loved every page of it. This book gives us the stories of the Founders and the events that led them to our independence. It includes all of their bickering, their clashing egos, their imperfections and selfish desires. But through all this, Beeman really makes it clear how revolutionary, how incredible, and how audacious it was for this group of men to declare war against and independence from England, the strongest empire in the world.

After reading H. W. Brand’s mediocre biography of Benjamin Franklin, I started Beeman’s book on the Constitution a few days ago. This one is titled Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. With a considerably less pretentious name, this book is as good as his other. I’m not too far into it so I can’t really vouch for it as a whole, but I’m very excited about completing this one too.

With all this said, I guess I’ll have to decide if I’m going to complete Finnegans Wake after I’m done with my research mentioned above. Whatever decision I do make, I’ll try to keep all of you in the loop and I’ll try to get back to posting regularly.


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100 Greatest Novels: The Great Gatsby, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, & Lolita

I’ve completed three more books in my quest to read the 100 greatest novels of all time. Here’s what I thought:

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s been many years since I’ve last ready Gatsby and I noticed a few different things. First off, this is a really quick read. I don’t know if it was because I just finished Ulysses but I was surprised at the simple language used. The novel took about a day and a half to finish. Secondly, while Gatsby is an interesting character, the book is not really about him. This time I paid much more attention to the narrator, Nick Carroway, his lady friend, Jordan Baker, and Nick’s cousin’s husband, Tom Buchanan. Also, looking at the bigger, historical picture, this book is about the metaphorical death of a decade and of a generation. So there’s that.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce

I was glad to be back in the language world of James Joyce. He’s just in a whole different ball game. This book is a loosely autobiographical novel about Stephen Dedalus growing up. The writing style starts childish and slowly grows more mature to represent Stephen becoming the poet he wants to be. Here’s the opening lines:
“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…”
And here’s the closing line:
“Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I don’t know how to describe this book. But I’ll try (and fail). It’s disturbing. It’s sad. It’s hilarious. It’s immoral. It’s beautiful. Let me try again. This book is about a 40s European male who has an attraction for girls between the age of 9-14. He calls them  “nymphets.” He does everything he can to be with one he names Lolita. He gets to be with her. And it becomes a physical and mental hell for both (mostly the former for Lolita and the latter for Humbert). Which leads me back to this: It’s disturbing. It’s sad. It’s hilarious. It’s immoral. It’s beautiful.



Onwards! I’m currently reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in 100 Greatest Novels, Book Review, Literature


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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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