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  • Michael Rickard II

"A Literary Odyssey Begins: Reading James Joyce's 'Ulysses.'"

My literary odyssey is about to begin as I read James Joyce’s Ulysses as part of my Masters’ program. The text is challenging, long, and subject to much interpretation. With James Joyce considered one of the greatest writers of the English language, and Ulysses ranked as one of the greatest (if not, the greatest) books in literature, I consider it essential to read the book and to do everything possible to understand it. However, like many readers before me, I face a task worthy of heroes such as Ulysses himself, which makes me wonder whether this task is the literary equivalent of a marathon, a triathlon, a decathlon, or something else?

Ellmann's definitive biography of Joyce.

Like any epic event, I warmed up before even thinking of opening Ulysses. I decided to read some background about writer James Joyce and picked up two books. The first was what many see as the definitive biography on James Joyce, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce. The second is a literary biography of sorts, Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses. Ellmann’s book helped me understand Joyce better, while Birmingham’s book provided information on Joyce’s struggles to get Ulysses published, struggles which changed literature and so-called indecency laws.

Did James Joyce inspire Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Next, I began reading Ulysses without any help. No Sparknotes, annotated works, or other help. I wanted to see what it was like reading Joyce’s tale of the day in a life of Leopold Bloom, his Irish analogy for the hero Ulysses. Once I am done with that, I plan on re-reading Ulysses, using every study guide (including Don Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated). I’m almost finished with my first read of Ulysses and I’m surprised that I’m able to grasp some of the chapters. Others are incomprehensible, but I take comfort in knowing most readers peruse the book several times.

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