App Review: James Joyce’s Ulysses, A Guide

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What better way to celebrate Bloomsday – June 16, the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses is set – than by discovering the novel in an interactive iPad app? Naxos, known for its classical music releases and audiobooks, has released the $9 Joyce’s Ulysses: A Guide which gives you Joyce’s great novel, plus a plethora of features to help you better understand this work, which can be daunting.

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The heart of this app is the full text of Ulysses, with annotations that help you understand the text, its references, the Dublin it’s set in, and its characters. Annotations appear in the right margin, allowing you to read without them obscuring the text:

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But the app contains multitudes: an abridged audiobook of Ulysses, from Naxos Audiobooks (I’d rather see the full audiobook, but that’s a lot more expensive), information about Joyce’s life, the music in the book (with recordings), photos of Dublin, and even the full text of a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, which is the template for Ulysses. You can even hear Joyce himself read a bit of the text; hearing Joyce’s voice was, for me, many years ago, something that opened up his texts, especially Finnegans Wake.

While you can buy ebooks of Ulysses, and even download it for free (since it’s in the public domain), it remains a complex text, and the annotations alone make this app worth the price. The additional features help understand the context and setting of Ulysses, and the only thing that I would like to have that’s not in the app is a map of Dublin, showing the travels of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedelus. (I actually bought a book with maps and photos the first time I visited Dublin to see some of the landmarks.)

This is just one of a growing number of excellent apps that let you explore literature on the iPad. Naxos has done a great job on this, and I hope they do more in the future.

Happy Bloomsday to All!

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200px-UlyssesCover.jpgOnce 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.

Ulysses Gets Censored Again; This Time by Apple

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Apple’s strategy of censoring apps that contains content unsuitable for children is certainly defensible, but sometimes the results are ludicrous. A comic adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses was denied approval until the developer and artist made some changes, notably reframing the image below:

Come on, Apple, even the famous court decision overturning its censorship in the US made things pretty clear:

[W]hilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.

This is really sad; Apple censoring a comic of one of the English language’s greatest novels, while still, fortunately, allowing that novel to be sold in ebook format via its iBookstore. Apple has set standards that are very difficult to enforce, and should really rethink the kind of stupidity they are leading to. Keep out porn, sure, but provide a parental control system so things such as this comic – and its subsequent episodes – can be distributed. The future of a lot of creative content is at stake here; Apple shouldn’t be the one arbitrarily deciding that a comic of a great novel is obscene just because there’s a penis in it.

In any case, the entire work – including all of the supporting information, which will be of help to any reader of Ulysses, is available on the web. And, by the way, the iPad app is free, so grab that too!

Happy Birthday Finnegans Wake

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On this day in 1939, James Joyce’s final book, Finnegans Wake, was published. A dense, complex book, that more people have started than finished, Finnegans Wake is a novel of the “night,” as Joyce said, full of dream language that, well, is hard to follow. You need to be armed with patience, dictionaries, and books of annotations to read it, but it is, in spite of these hurdles, an enjoyable book.

Here’s how it begins:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Sir Tristram, violer d’amores, fr’over the short sea, had passen
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer’s rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County’s gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all’s fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.

The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonn
thunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the off wall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.

I know this may not tempt you too much, but if you’re interested, why don’t you buy a copy and try it out?