Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Halfway through Ulysses!

I hit about 47% through listening to Ulysses, and I got stalled, big time. Part of it was catching up on the companion books that I finally got from the library, and part of it was realizing I didn't remember hardly anything from the second part (of 4) that I'd tried listening to in audio.

At least I now know I can't absorb audio books in the following situations:
  • Grocery shopping (such a shame!)
  • Right after work
  • While working on anything else (knew this already)
  • During any time my brain is spinning, like lately with the semester starting

I started to develop a routine.  Listen to one chapter in Ulysses, then read the companion books about that chapter - first Blamires, then Gilbert, then Hart/Hayman.  The only trouble is that neither the audio book nor the Kindle version (based on the public domain editions) have the modern chapters with titles.  The audio book has chapters but they are arbitrary and split by time, not contents (argh!).  So I've been juggling multiple versions of this thing, including a few online versions that have the named chapter titles. 

I'm getting closer to the chapter that every scholar talks about or alludes to - Circe.  Halfway through Ulysses, at least in the audio book, is about 1/3 of the way through Chapter 10 - The Wandering Rocks.  It is strange to post halfway through a chapter, but here I am!

What will follow are probably what seem like random observations, or little bits that stuck out to me.  I'll leave the food observations out, but I'm taking note of those to maybe make a Ulysses meal at the end.  Why not? 

"'A father,' Stephen said, battling against hopelessness, 'is a necessary evil.'"
This is from the epic chapter debating Shakespeare to infinity.  There does seem to be a struggle between Stephen and his father, and a greater separation than I remember there being in Portrait.  Of course, Stephen is 3-4 years older now, and has lost his mother in that time.

A few other things I learned about that chapter from the helper books.  Both of these observations come from the chapter on Scylla and Charybdis written by Robert Kellogg in the James Joyce's Ulysses: Critical Essays volume.  The very first sentence says:
"The soul of a city is its talk.  Whether its body is resplendent with avenues or is smudged with laborious grime the vital signs of civic life are verbal: gossip, stories, speeches, and conversations of every sort. The literary artist who would render a city must reproduce its talk. Of no city is this more true than of Dublin, and one of the rarest moments in the fictional history of human talk is 'Scylla and Charybdis,'....."
 Basically, the part I really had to slog through, the part that interested me in the least, is the very part I am supposed to be appreciating the most, according to this guy.  I think it was reading this essay that made me go back and try listening to it one more time.

I also had said I was puzzled why Joyce, over and over, calls one character the "Quaker librarian."  Apparently students who couldn't afford to go to Trinity College or some of the other universities would still meet at the National Library.  Not just students, but intellectuals of all sorts, would gather and the "Quaker librarian," Thomas W. Lyster, would lead the conversation.  Interesting.  It also makes me feel better as a reader to realize I wasn't supposed to just accept that this long, very deep, very detailed conversation on Shakespeare, etc., just materialized.  Rather it came out of a tradition, something Stephen and his friends probably do on a regular basis. 

It may still be my least favorite chapter, but I feel more approving of the young scholars.  They like to learn, and enjoy discussing their knowledge.  I really can't fault anyone for that.  And in the end, Joyce got one huge laugh out of me when Buck Mulligan is stumbling around and announces, "I smell the pubic sweat of monks!" He always manages to pull out something overly descriptive.  Or maybe that is just Mulligan's way.

It should all be downhill from here, right?  A new friend in GoodReads directed me to a very interesting blog/podcast by Frank Delaney, called Re: Joyce.  He is taking little bits of Ulysses and explaining them in detail.  The podcasts are short, but it seems like this might take years.  YEARS!  He is the most eloquent man in the world, according to NPR, so I would bet he has something to say.  I'm subscribing to see what I can learn.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The SFFaudio Podcast #123

Over the weekend, I got to hang out with the guys on The SFFaudio Podcast, a podcast devoted to audio books of science fiction and fantasy. They have been around since 2003! I learned a lot, added a lot to my to-read list, and even chattered a bit about what I had been reading lately (even the decidedly NOT sff book Ulysses). This particular episode focused on new releases, which they appear to do about once a month. They also host readalongs, story discussions, and their blog has even more content.

Do you listen to any book podcasts? Tell me more!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Booker Longlist Reading - The Testament of Jesse Lamb and The Sisters Brothers

I'm taking the easy way and copying my GoodReads reviews of these two books below. Both of these were solid 3/5 stars, one because I didn't appreciate the preachy nature of the novel, and one because it was a fun and quick read but not really a genre I enjoy (so I wouldn't ever read it again).

The Testament of Jessie LambThe Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw the Booker Longlist for 2011, I was most excited about this book. It took a while to track it down since not many libraries in the states had purchased it yet!

I love a good dystopian novel, but I think this one is a little less than good. The premise is interesting - every human has been infected with MDS, a disease which lies dormant in the body until a woman becomes pregnant, and she dies soon after. Humanity is having to face the idea of becoming extinct, and it doesn't take long for one solution to present itself - 15-16 year olds who sacrifice their lives to become Sleeping Beauties, basically zombie-incubators for embryos that are still experimental within the time of the narration. (Zombies because the women still end up dying from the disease, not *actual* zombies).

The entire novel is somewhat of a journal written by Jessie Lamb, interspersed with accounts of her being held hostage in a room.

The story is compelling. The Handmaid's Tale meets Never Let Me Go meets, I don't know, Uglies? It does have an underlying YA feel to it, because of the emphasis on the teenage characters and their continuing interpersonal dramas, while the adults fade into the background. The way the parents are characterized is confusing, as the mother in particular seems unresponsive and untraumatized by events.

My biggest issue with the novel is how preachy it is. In the beginning you find 15 year olds waxing eloquently about how the earth will thrive after humans have died off, and mourning the devastation and pollution, which of course is unrealistic, and of course is just used for the author to make us understand how Truly Terrible this disease is. Just not necessary! A little more subtlety would have been greatly appreciated.

It happens again when the Sleeping Beauties come up, the comparison that the author draws between these young women entering into this arrangement knowing they will die and (mostly) men who do the same in entering a war. It is her argument, I'm not going to weigh in on it, but was another moment where I was taken completely out of the story because of how heavy-handed it was.

For another take on The Testament of Jesse Lamb, I enjoyed the entry over on Uncommon Reading. Suzanne captures how haunting the novel is, despite its faults, in a way I have not.

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad, just not my thing. A romp through Oregon and California during the Gold Rush, along with the Sisters brothers, who are ruthless killers. The cover art was my favorite part. That shouldn't keep you from trying it. I think others would like it more than I did.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reading Ulysses - Getting Unstuck

There is nothing worse than rhetoric for the sheer joy of it, when it isn't your subject of interest. I've listened to chapter 9 - Scylla and Charybdis - at least three times, because I keep zoning out and thinking of other things. Anything else, really.

Blamires sums it up pretty well:
The menace is created by a wordy encounter between Stephen Dedalus and a group of talkative scholars in the National Library. Whirlpool images occur several times, associated with the swirling depths of Platonist metaphysics in which Russell and the librarians are whirled. -Harry Blamires, The New Bloomsday Book

Okay, I confess. I'm not even halfway interested in the multiple layers of meaning going on with Shakespeare, his real life, his characters and their potential real lives, and only partially interested in what this has to do with the characters in Ulysses. At this point I'm going to soldier through it and see what is on the other side.

Part of it is that my attention is distracted. Classes started today so it is hard to turn my mind off and just listen to an audio book when my to-do list is a mile long, and there are more mindless books to zip through, and I have been. This may not have been the right part of Ulysses to tackle when attacked by the many-headed monsters of my own life! At least I partially grasp that reference, eh?

One silly detail sustaining and repeaking my interest from time to time is the character fondly referred to as the "Quaker librarian." Why is his Quakerness so important that it must be always used? I'll look for an explanation of that before moving on in the text.

I'm not worried that I wont finish. Most mighty tomes have draggy parts. I keep reminding myself that at least it isn't whale anatomy like in Moby Dick!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hugo Awards 2011

I've been watching the awards online tonight. I had made my own picks in four categories, and the Hugo Award voters agreed with one of the four.

The winners in those four categories:

Best Short Story:
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)

Best Novelette:
"The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)

Best Novella (this is where I agreed):
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)

Best Novel:
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)

Please go back to my original post to find out what I thought of the nominees in these categories. I had a great time reading everything nominated in the four big areas, although I'm not sure I'd bother watching the actual awards ceremony again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

James Joyce Playlist

I haven't posted on Ulysses for a few days.  I'm busy catching up on the commentary reading, to get back to where I'd left off in my listening, and I will go back to it once I have.

In the meantime, I decided to try out Spotify, the newest music sharing, listening, and discovery service to the United States (it has been popular in the UK for ages). I have become a big fan of cloud music, and have accounts in Rhapsody and Mog, so was curious about this one.

Then one of my colleagues posted a link to the Spotify Classical blog, which culls out classical content from Spotify and puts it into playlists. As I scanned through recent posts, I saw one on the Music from Works of James Joyce. I was almost as happy as when I listened to Haunted while reading House of Leaves. I love when there is a connection between books and music, probably because music is almost a more familiar language to me. Those connections make both elements more memorable. I will definitely listen to this playlist from time to time as I read Ulysses!

Disclaimer: I do not get paid anything by Spotify. In fact, in the strangeness of having a free account with them, my playlists keep getting interrupted by weird commercials for music way outside the genre of the music I'm listening to.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Two from the Man Booker Prize Longlist

As discussed previously, not all the books on the Man Booker Prize Longlist are available yet in the United States, but I'm doing what I can to read what I have access to in between chapters of Ulysses.

Pigeon English
First up - Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, which I borrowed from a friend, who had an Advanced Readers Copy.  I really enjoyed this. Harri, the eleven-year-old protagonist, is a (possibly illegal) immigrant from Ghana, living in the projects in London. The book is full of a mixture of slang and beliefs from Ghana and his new community. Like most children, he doesn't fully understand what is going on around him, and has no grasp of the danger and violence he is surrounded by. I think that makes the story more compelling than it would be if the author hit me over the head with it.  It is his innocence contrasted to the world that makes me think of some kind of weird hybrid between Room and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  

If the name Kelman sounds familiar, you might be thinking of James Kelman, who won a Booker in 1994 for How Late It Was, How Late, which remains one of my favorite Booker Prize winners.  As far as I know, there is no relation between the two. James Kelman is Scottish, and Stephen Kelman grew up in the projects of Luton, England (much like Harri!), according to his author profile on the Hougthton Mifflin Harcourt site.  This is Stephen Kelman's first novel, and I do hope it makes it to the shortlist.  

It was my misfortune to read an ARC of this, because I've heard that the finalized book includes a glossary of all the slang used in the book.  This would have been helpful at times.  I loved the language in it, and felt it added a lot to the dynamics between the characters, as well as instilling the sense of youth that it needs to have.  I'm tempted to add "Gowayou" to my own vocabulary.

Snowdrops: A NovelThe second selection was Snowdrops by A.D. Miller.  This is another first novel from the list of nominees.  It is the story of Nick, an American lawyer, and his four years working in Moscow, written in the form of a letter to someone he is in love with, I think we're supposed to assume a fiancee.

It is the Moscow of the 2000s, when capitalism has taken hold. The past has taught people not to ask questions and stay out of trouble, and the culture has morphed into one where if you have enough cash, you can buy anything you need. Nick sees the manifestations of this every day in his work, where they assist in business deals that are clearly at least ethically borderline.  I wonder how much of this is from the author's real experience, since he was the Russian correspondent for The Economist from 2004-2007.  (Actually, there is a minor character in the novel that I suspect is where he placed himself, the "only friend" that Nick thinks he has).

The book starts and ends with a dead body, and in between involves a bunch of scam artists and frigid surroundings.  I tend to get frustrated with passive characters, and to me, Nick could do something and doesn't, and that drives me crazy.  He seems content to watch the drama surrounding his life unfold, kind of like that paper snowflake on the cover!

I'm not much on the story, but I like the way it was told.  The descriptions of Moscow are vivid, but not in a way that would make you want to visit.  

"Russia is like Lariam. You know, that malaria medicine that can make you have wild dreams and jump out of the window. You shouldn't do it if you're the kind of person who gets anxious or guilty. Because you'll crack."
This was a quick read.  Not having read the other nominees yet, I can't make a definitive pick for who I think should be on the shortlist, but I am not sure Snowdrops belongs there.   I am not sure it has the staying power that I think Pigeon English might have.  One interesting theme in both novels is isolation and loneliness - one from being an immigrant, one from being an expatriate.  Both Harri and Nick try to become insiders in their new cultures.  One is a pushover, and one is not. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ulysses Reading Companions

These three books contain all the answers to the James Joyce universe. Okay, probably not, but they have been eye-opening to me.  I just picked them up yesterday and sat down to see what they had to offer tonight.  They are each different, and I will keep reading at least two of them as I read and listen to Ulysses by James Joyce.

I have read each book's information on Part 1 of Ulysses - Telemachus, Nestor, and Proteus; and in that short time have figured out what each book's strength is and what order I want to use them in.  I tend to be methodical like that, but the patterns help my brain wrap around this very overwhelming text.  On the one hand, I could just decide to sit back and enjoy what I'm hearing, with an occasional laugh about a cheese sandwich, but that seemed like a failing somehow.  I don't mind the extra work, and while I won't absorb everything these books say, each has really had something to offer towards the context or interpretation of what I was reading.

The New Bloomsday Book 3th (third) edition Text Only
On the top of the pile is The New Bloomsday Book, by Harry Blamires, is probably the most straight-forward of the three.  I currently have the first edition, just called The Bloomsday Book, but the 3rd edition is on its way, and I doubt it is very much different.  Blamires does a good job of summarizing the action of the story, but rarely includes any actual quotation of the text.  I can see someone just reading this and not getting what makes Ulysses great, because the prose and rhythm of the writing is part of what sets the book apart.

Even better, each chapter starts out with an explanation of the parallel section of The Odyssey.  I mentioned before that I read The Odyssey over ten years ago, but the brief contextual work Blamires does is enough to bring another level of understanding to what Joyce may have been thinking or planning.

So far, he has really emphasized the symbolism of water = fertility.  I'm not sure I see it, but he really wants me to believe that at the very least, Stephen Dedalus is using and understanding it in that way.  Blamires does seem to focus on the symbolism of the scenery and items in the story - the shaving bowl, the ocean, the bridge; and then finds their counterpart in the Odyssey.  I don't mind this.  I'm not sure Joyce always intended these things, but it is an interesting perspective.

I also enjoyed the parentage chart at the beginning, of both the Bloom and Dedalus families.  That would have been helpful the first time through chapter 4 or so, when I didn't understand who Simon was.

In my companion reading, I start with the Blamires.  It fills me in on details that I may have missed in the strange consciousness stream of Dedalus and Bloom by summarizing the story, and helps get me reoriented. 

James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study

Second in the pile, and second in my companion reading, is James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study by Stuart Gilbert.  I will start out by openly admitting that I skipped to page 101 in this book, which is where the companion chapters start.  The first 100 pages of the book are an introduction to Ulysses.  I can't decide if I should read them now or wait until I am done.  A lot of "introductions" to literature that I have read in the past have spoiled surprises, so I tend to go back to them.  Anyone with another recommendation should let me know!

What immediately won me over to Gilbert was that the companion chapter to Telemachus started with discussing Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I still have bits of that in my head from high school, and it helped link the character into Ulysses in a way my brain had not accomplished yet.  A reminder of Dedalus's complete and utter idealism, partnered with a dissatisfaction in his own life.  There have been constant references back to Portrait, serving as contrasts the Stephen of then vs. the Stephen of now, particularly since he has had more religious conflict and lost his mother in the meantime. 

Part of the fun of the Gilbert is that at the beginning of each companion chapter, he includes the scene, the hour, the art, the symbol, and the technic.  For Telemachus, for instance the scene: the tower, hour: 8 am, art: theology, symbol: heir, technic: narrative (young).  It is a fun exercise but sometimes Gilbert reads like he is stretching the contents to fit within the symbolic structure he has selected.  Most of the time it works out okay.

In each chapter, Gilbert provides a summary of sorts, but with frequent quoting and footnoted research that break up the flow of the writing.  Sometimes I go back and re-read it, and sometimes I skim and let it float over my head.  He even sometimes discusses different translations of the original Greek in The Odyssey and what differences in meaning that would attribute to Ulysses.  It can be a bit intense, but I like the combination of the scholarship with the summation.  Read right after the Blamires, it is like singing a repeat on an aria (you know, where you embellish it?).  It seems to me that if both Blamires and Gilbert zero in on the same passage as being important, I truly should pay attention to it.  That helps a lot, more than I expected. 

James Joyce's Ulysses: Critical EssaysOn the bottom of the pile, and last consulted in my companion reading, is James Joyce's Ulysses: Critical Essays, edited by Hart and Hayman.  They took a unique approach and each companion chapter was farmed out to a different scholar, so that they could come at a section from a fresh perspective.  Unique, but not always helpful, if I'm being honest.  The focus of each scholar is different, and sometimes it feels like they are really stretching some ideas to try to seem more insightful than even this complicated text demands. 

In Telemachus, for instance, Bernard Benstock is talking about the changing narrator, and how the narrator's tone and empathy changes depending on which character is being talked about.  That, I could see.  He went on to discuss examples of how the words used to describe the characters matched their characterization in tone and roundness... the actual words, and how your mouth forms them.  Matching the characters.  Wow.  I don't know.  If Joyce did this, he was a bit obsessive.  I like to think that if this is true throughout the book (and I'm not sure it is), it was more of an unconscious zone of mood or tone in writing. 

The Proteus chapter was fascinating.  It is a hard chapter to read in Ulysses, because even the scholars aren't quite sure what all the little bits of randomness mean or refer to or are directed to.  Overarchingly, Epstein, who authors this chapter, tries to argue that Joyce simultaneously exists as Proteus within the story, while writing Dedalus to be him, and that he has done so ever since Portrait:

"...He is beginning to want to know the deathless Proteus by holding fast to all his changing manifestations.  He seeks fluid, wavelike forms that will express immutable laws through infinite mutations, the clarity of eternal forms through their opaque but ineluctable modalities. In this chapter he doesn't succeed.  Stephen Dedalus never succeeds.  Only Joyce will succeed.  The chapter, written by Joyce and brilliantly successful, shows us Stephen still in the dark amid the blaze of Joyce's noon."
 It is an interesting parallel, and Epstein goes on to say that Bloom may embody who Joyce/Dedalus strives to be without knowing it.  I guess we'll see.

That is one thing about this companion book that is endlessly frustrating - it is full of spoilers.  It assumes you know what happens in the end (wish I hadn't seen that paragraph, because I didn't know!), and everyone wants to draw parallels with what happens in the Circe chapter, which isn't until chapter 15.  At this point, I'm looking forward to getting there, because all the scholars are excited about it. 

I feel like I have written this as I've been processing what I read this evening, so I hope it isn't too scattered.  It is clear that a reader could go down the rabbit hole in comprehending Ulysses, and I hope I haven't gone too far!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reading Ulysses, 25% in

(photo courtesy of uggboy on Flickr)

I've been on a bit of an extended weekend and have only done piece-meal listening, but finally made it about a quarter in, which means I'm just about finished with Chapter Eight: Lestrygonians.

So far I have followed Leopold Bloom to the butcher, to the outhouse, to the post office, reading a letter from an erotic penpal of sorts (to a pen name), to a funeral, to a newspaper office, to a bar, across a bridge, and so on. It is pretty funny because since so much of what Joyce wrote is stream of consciousness writing, the activities and dialogue of the characters is interspersed with Bloom's constant internal dialogue, including his distraction by attractive women, fretting about his wife's potential dalliances, his daughter's boyfriend, his mother's death, and so on.

The audio started getting confusing around the time of the carriage ride to the funeral, and I had to go back and look at some character lists. I should have the readers guides in-hand tomorrow, which will help a lot too! Simon Dedalus is Stephen's father, and I don't think it was happenstance that Dedalus Sr. and Bloom share a carriage ride, so they must be connected in some way. There is a long conversation about death, as is expected when heading to a funeral.

Bloom thinks about death more later on. He runs into an old flame who tells him about a woman who has been hospitalized for a difficult birth. He was handed an evangelical tract along the way, and his thoughts go in circles being "washed in the blood" and the cycle of death and life, particularly since back then so many women and children died in or around childbirth. His own son only lived a few days.

I left Bloom eating a cheese sandwich.

Little tidbits I liked:

-The headlines interspersing the story in chapter.. 7, or 6, hard to tell with the audio. "Onehandled adulterer" gets repeated several times.

-When Bloom is contemplating who can own the river, Joyce throws in another poetic description of water, which he seems to love.
"His eyes sought answer from the river and saw a rowboat rock at anchor on the treacly swells lazily its plastered board."

-At one point he is thinking about what would catch someone's eye in an advertisement, and says
"Smart girls writing something catch the eye at once. Everyone dying to know what she's writing."
I liked that for different reasons, since some of my friends are still writing real letters, but it also points to how women keep showing up in his thoughts.

-Random funny bit:
"Mayonnaise I poured on the plums thinking it was custard."
I lost track of why/how that came up. Plums come up multiple times though. Do they mean something? This is one idea I'll look up in the companion books!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reading Ulysses, Day 2

Full disclosure - I've been reading a bit of information outside of Ulysses just to understand what is going on, and I downloaded the free Kindle version so that I could go back and re-read bits that stuck out and quote them correctly.

I mentioned before that the only Joyce I had made it all the way through previously was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the very first part of Ulysses actually features the same character, and was published four years after Portrait, although I'm not sure how much time has passed to Stephan Dedalus. The first three chapters of Ulysses are referred to as the Telemachiad, and chronicle Dedalus with his friend Buck Mulligan, and then follow Dedalus as he teaches, meets with an advisor, and then one long chapter where he's just ... thinking. Stream of consciousness, in multiple languages. I'm not going to lie and say that was easy to follow!

Part of the problem for me as far as reading comprehension is that Joyce wrote this as a parallel to the original Odyssey. Have I ever read that? I remember doing group projects having to do with the Odyssey in seventh grade, including a really fun radio play version that my group wrote and performed, but that was the last time I read anything close to the Odyssey. That would have been twenty years ago. I'm worried that I'll miss the connections, that I won't "appreciate" it as it was meant to be understood, but I'm just letting that go and trying to enjoy what I can.

There are a few bits of the Telemachiad that stuck out to me, which I will reproduce here:

Some of the language is descriptive, in a way that only young men could make it.
"A great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea." (Mulligan talking about the ocean to Dedalus).

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."
(To Mr. Deasy)

"To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher."
(Mr. Deasy to Stephen)

"Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night, eh? I was young. You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot! Hray! No-one saw: tell no-one. Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W..."
This last one is a good example of the Dedalus stream of consciousness that goes on for a while, but also made me laugh and think of C by Tom McCarthy, and I wonder if he chose it because of this passage (especially considering that most of his novel is a shoutout to other novels).

After the last chapter of the Telemachiad, the novel practically restarts and begins the morning with Leopold Bloom. I have more questions than answers at this point. Is there a connection between Bloom and Dedalus? Why bother with Dedalus at all?

I suppose I may find this out eventually. For now, I will content myself to hear about Bloom's breakfast preparations and toilet ruminations, which is how I last left off.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reading Ulysses, Day 1

I'm sure all of us have mighty tomes we haven't yet read. I've tackled Moby Dick, Les Miserables, and Anna Karenina, but there are still a few I want to get to.

War and Peace is definitely on the list for someday, although I start trying to work up to it from time to time and the translations of the Russian naming conventions just does me in, so I haven't yet faced it. Add to that not knowing much about Russian history, and I worry that I wouldn't get all the context. Infinite Jest is still sitting on my shelf at home. I don't think I've even cracked the binding. One of my favorite reader friends keeps telling me all these other post-modern titles I need to read "first." I've been scared away!

One book that I've started several times is Ulysses (Oxford World's Classics). I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in high school, but the rest of Joyce has eluded me. Ulysses has to be the book I've started and put aside the most often. I know it has greatness inside it. Any review I've read by people who have made it through praise it up and down. The only time I made any progress at all was when I read it out loud; something about the flow of the language just demands it. The only problem with that strategy is that I often read while I'm around other people, and I'm not sure they would appreciate this practice.

Last night I finished listening to Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4) and went looking for a new audiobook to listen to. I usually listen while I'm driving or cooking, any time where I can devote most of my brain power to just absorbing what I'm hearing. The reviews of the next Dark Tower book were mixed on the audio - the original reader had been in a bad accident and someone else took over, and a lot of people were saying it was better to read the print. I'm one of those people who might choose an audiobook based on the reader, so I wasn't about to listen to one that people who prefer to listen didn't like! I searched and searched, through Overdrive and Audible, for something that really reached out and grabbed me, but I wasn't finding much. (I was hoping for the Talented Mr. Ripley books, since I so enjoyed the Highsmith short stories in audio, but they don't seem to exist).

I started thinking about books that take well to audio, and about accents, and stumbled across two versions of Ulysses. Longer books really make Audible.com credits worth while, because the CDs for them might cost around $100, but the entire book was only 1 Audible credit. There were two versions to choose from, and I listened to previews of both and tried reading reviews of both, but in Amazon, they group all editions of a book together, making it impossible to link a specific review to a specific reader (this is such a bad practice, it hurts my librarian heart). I ended up going with the version read by John Lee, because one Audible review said it used the more accepted version of the book (whatever that means, ha!), and his voice was a little easier to listen to. I'm not sure if that will hold out for the long haul, and one reviewer actually said they thought the experience was better at 60% speed, actually slowing down the voice to allow your brain to process the accent and the words.

Right now I'm listening at real-time speed, and we'll see how that goes. I have only gotten about ten minutes in (you can blame my short commute), but already am enjoying the dynamics between the characters and the description of the landscape. This will be a thirty hour listening commitment, so I will give updates from time to time.