James Joyce – Ulysses – Reading Guide Review and Notes

You could argue that the best way to read James Joyce’s Ulysses is to just get stuck into it – but I do think this can be difficult. That’s why a reading guide is so helpful. Probably the best two books to help guide your way through reading Ulysses are The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamaires and Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford, but here’s a look at some of your choices of reading guide.

(Links are to Amazon UK; see end of article for Amazon US links*)

The Bloomsday Book is a chapter by chapter guide and synopsis which gives background detail and context to Ulysses. The level of detail it provides is not exacting and it is written in a clear and accessible way. It is generally considered the the best “road map” for finding your way through the complexities of Joyce’s novel. The third edition uses the page numbering and references to three commonly read editions of Ulysses: the Gabler ‘Corrected Text’ (86) edition, the Oxford University Press ‘World Classics’ edition (93), and the Penguin ‘Twentieth-Century Classics’ (1992) edition.

Ulysses Annotated is a specialised encyclopaedia of Ulysses which gives detail of the names, places, slang terms, religious rituals and so on which fill every page of the novel. It can be a bit cumbersome jumping back and forth between the novel and Gifford’s book, but as far as depth of detail there is probably no better reference book for helping you get the most out of Ulysses. The latest edition uses the page numbering and references to the Critical & Synoptic edition (Gabler 84) & the 1961 Random House edition – which is virtually identical to the current Modern Library & Vintage texts.

One of the first guides to the novel that was written was James Joyce’s Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert (it was written with some guidance and advice from Joyce himself). It is a clear and useful guide – though I’ve always found its tone more academic and stiff than Blamaires’ book.

One other option available now is to read Ulysses in its Kindle edition, or on any other tablet device, where you can check any reference on Wikipedia or Google. I’ve found that I’m doing this more and more, but I’ve also found that it distracts me from my reading.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Joyce’s style and technique in the first couple of chapters is the way the narrative moves from brief external descriptions of various objects or people and of dialogue to describing the thought process of Stephen Dedalus (and in later chapters Leopold Bloom). These thoughts are reactions to external objects or to nature, and to the other characters and what they do and say – but then these thoughts begin to react to other earlier thoughts and to random memories. In the first couple of chapters this stream of consciousness is not especially difficult to follow, despite Joyce’s reluctance to place these thought in context (or to use punctuation). However, in the third chapter, Dedalus’s thoughts fly off all over the place and it is here that you’ll need a good working knowledge of classical languages, history and literature, the history of philosophy and of philosophical investigation, of Irish history, of early twentieth century Irish politics, of the geography of Dublin, of Catholicism and so on and so on – to really get to grips with what’s happening. Or you can buy a guide – or use the internet.

If you are still unsure about reading this book, I think this Economist article on Why You Should Read Ulysses makes a good case.

If you are going to just get stuck into reading the book I have found that the book becomes more accessible when read out loud. Maybe it’s worth reading along to the audiobook of Ulysses? The audiobook read by Jim Brennan (who played Bishop Len Brennan in Father Ted) is excellent. It may seem odd reading the book whilst listening the audiobook of that book – but the last time I read Ulysses that’s what I did …and it was brilliant, thanks in no small part to Jim Brennan’s delivery. The price of the audiobook is daunting – but it’s way cheaper if you buy it via Audible (although you have to sign up). If you do sign up then you should be able to buy the audiobook for £3.99 at Audible UK.


*Amazon USA:
The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamaires
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford
James Joyce’s Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert
Ulysses Kindle edition
Ulysses audiobook

*Amazon UK:
The Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamaires
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford
James Joyce’s Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert
Ulysses Kindle edition
Ulysses audiobook

The Class of ’63

I’ve had this theory for some time now that the reason I never set the world alight as a child was the competition from the freakishly talented generation which I grew up in. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it anyway. Having just had a fiftieth birthday, I’ve become aware of just how many talented people are celebrating the same milestone, and it’s really reminded me of how extraordinary the rest of my school year were, especially the younger half. So a happy birthday to all these people born between March and August 1963, and from whom the best may be yet to come…

Alex Kingston (born 11 March 1963)
“Hello Sweetie.”

David Thewlis (born 20 March 1963)
“Now repeat after me – without wands please – repeat after me… Riddikulus!”

Quentin Tarantino (born 27 March 1963)
“I steal from every movie ever made.”

Graham Norton (born 4 April 1963)
“Do I have more depth than I’m given credit for? No!”

gary kasparov
Garry Kasparov (born 13 April 1963)
“When your house is on fire, you can’t be bothered with the neighbours. Or, as we say in chess, if your King is under attack, don’t worry about losing a pawn on the queenside.”

David Moyes (born 25 April 1963)
“Everton are the people’s club, the people on the street support Everton.”

David Schneider (born 22 May 1963)
“This week, Bill Clinton has shown that, like Icarus, he can’t stand the political heat”

Mike Myers (born 25 May 1963)

simon armitage
Simon Armitage (born 26 May 1963)
“I’m not playing ball boy any longer”

helen sharman
Helen Sharman (born 30 May 1963)
“Space is grand and being part of it makes people feel grand”

Mike Joyce (born 1 June 1963)
“There is no ‘plea’ from me urging Morrissey to consider reuniting the band in a bid to please fans. Nor will there ever be.”

Jason Isaacs (born 6 June 1963)
“Hello to Jason Isaacs”

Johnny Depp (born 9 June 1963)
“Captain Jack Sparrow is like a cross between Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew.”

Jan Pinkava
Jan Pinkava (born 21 June 1963)
“I was a geek, I still am I suppose”
(Author’s note: Jan is the only person on this list who actually was in my school class!)

Colin Montgomerie (born 23 June 1963)
“I played great on the back nine and got nothing out of it”

George Michael
George Michael (born 25 June 1963)
“I’ve been very well remunerated for my talents over the years so I really don’t need the public’s money”

Mark Kermode
Mark Kermode (born 2 July 1963)
“I just sat there thinking: you know, of all the things I didn’t want in the world, this is pretty much top of the heap.”

Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin (born 3 July 1963)
“The other day I hated my art so much I wanted to smash it, like you abuse a faithful lover”

Nigel Blackwell (born 18 July 1963)
“I tend to compose melodies on Sunday evenings and then words of a Tuesday afternoon which I then sometimes forward to sendusyourlyrics.co.uk for further opinion”

Yann Martel (born 25 June 1963)
“I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”

Lisa Kudrow (born 30 July 1963)
“I don’t know, it’s just, you know…monkeys, Darwin, you know, it’s a, it’s a nice story, I just think it’s a little too easy”

Norman Cook (born 31 July 1963)
“How tremendous is Fatboy Slim? The band of the nineties, if you wanna call it a band, because it’s a one man name…”

James Hetfield (born 3 August 1963)
“It’s all fun and games ’till someone loses an eye, then it’s just fun you can’t see.”

whitney houston
Whitney Houston (born 9 August 1963)
“I will always love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu”

Tori Amos (born 22 August 1963)
“An angel’s face is tricky to wear constantly”

Simon Milton (born 22 August 1963)
“Mick, I am still available if needed”

Mark Strong (born 30 August 1963)
“Individually, we are vulnerable. Together, we are unstoppable!”

Paul Oakenfold (born 30 August 1963)
“It’s not over, not over, not over, not over yet”