It is a book that can go from completely confounding to illuminating in the span of one sentence. It is one of the (if not the) great masterpieces of modernist literature, and also a book that has given many college English students nightmares. Some say it is one of those books that you must read, while others will tell you that you’re just better off reading the mounds and mounds of criticism written on the tome. At some points it is absolute brilliance, and at others it is one of the most challenging, and sometimes annoying, books written in the 20th century. The fact is that there are very few books in the English language that can generate the type of dialogue that James Joyce’s Ulysses still does to this very day.
Ranked at #1 on the list of greatest novels of the past century (Joyce’s A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is #3) by the Modern Library, many have attempted to understand what’s so great about Ulysses, and many have closed the book midway through, wondering exactly what it is they’re just not getting. But whether you think it’s a work of sheer brilliance or absolute rubbish, it is difficult to argue with the kind of hullabaloo the book has always caused, and the influence it continues to yield.
That’s why I say to just jump into Ulysses headfirst if you still haven’t read it yet, or give it another a chance if you have. And the best way to do that (besides cracking open the actual book on your own) is to take part in the annual Bloomsday festivities that relive the day in the life of the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom. And if Bloomsday seems up your alley, there is no better place to celebrate than uptown at Symphony Space, where the venerable Upper West Side venue plays host to over a dozen actors and actresses performing bits from Joyce’s masterpiece, for the 32nd year.