Once again it’s Bloomsday, the 16th of June, the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. If you aren’t familiar with this great work of the early twentieth century, it tells the tale of a modern-day Ulysses (Leopold Bloom) as he wanders the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904. Closely modeled on the Odyssey, Ulysses is a landmark in modernist literature.
Every year on this day, around the world, people read Ulysses alone or in groups, to themselves or out loud, in performance or simply in sitting on a couch. For this year’s Bloomsday, allow me to recommend a novel way to experience the book. The unabridged audiobook of Ulysses, from Naxos, is a gem. With musical interludes and sound effects, and excellent reading by Jim Norton (and Marcella Riordan for the final chapter, the soliloquy by Molly Bloom), this reading brings the work to life in unexpected ways. At over 27 hours, you won’t be able to listen to the entire book in one day (the novel takes place over a period of “only” 18 hours), but you’ll be drawn into the story in ways you did not expect.
For those interested in penetrating this work more deeply, Ulysses Annotated gives you detailed information on the pullulating allusions that fill the novel. And The New Bloomsday Book gives a plot summary that can help you follow some of the more intricate chapters of the work. Hugh Kenner’s Ulysses gives a critical view of the book, and allows you to approach it with greater understanding of the broader scope of Joyce’s vision. Finally, Richard Ellman’s biography of Joyce sets the standard for literary biography. You’ll learn more from reading this book than from any book about Ulysses itself. A recent biography by Gordon Bowker also looks at Joyce’s life through documents that Ellman did not have access to. And a new iPad app from Naxos, Joyce’s Ulysses: A Guide can make all this easier, as it provides the full text of Ulysses, along with detailed in-line annotations, an abridged audiobook reading, and loads of background information about Joyce and Ulysses.
But most readers can eschew all the extra layers of complexity that such critical approaches add to the novel. The best way to experience Ulysses is to hear it read out loud. If you can, get the audiobook; if not, read the book. It’s long, it’s not beach reading, but it’s one of the greatest novels written in English.