There was a time, a couple of years ago, when I was confronted with a decision about whether to read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood”, with only about three hundred and thirty five pages, double spaced, and very easy to read, or James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, that has well over seven hundred pages of fine print, single spaced and has always been quite a nightmarishly torturous experience for both my eyes and my nerves. I’ve always enjoyed both O’Connor’s and Joyce’s writing but his requires much more of a strain on my patience and attention span. O’Connor’s writing has much more of a point blank kind of property to it. She writes in plain legitimate English, in a manner and style which people can understand, about all sorts of things, characters and circumstances which are easily recognizable. Joyce’s, though, is quite another world. I honestly can’t say I have any idea whatsoever what is going on in his “Finnegan’s Wake” or “Ulysses”. I can most certainly handle “Dubliners” quite well. All the short stories in there are written in plain legitimate English. Stories such as “Araby”, “Eveline” and “The Dead” are quite easy compared to those two big novels of his. Technically neither is officially a novel but that’s a bit difficult to explain. All I know is that on June 16, 1904 Joyce first met Nora Barnacle. It’s the day on which “Ulysses” is set. That day has forever been immortalized by his followers as Bloomsday, after the main character Stephen Bloom. Ah well, somewhat silly fellow that I’ve always been I once sat down for a while and presumed to attempt to read it. On my first day I even plowed my way through more than seventy pages of it. Not surprisingly I woke up the next day with an unbearably bad migraine to show for all my troubles. Joyce was a modernist and a terribly seriously dysfunctional fellow. Quite a few years ago I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of him. Since then I’ve always considered him quite toward the daft side. I’ve always heard that no one can expect to get away with merely reading “Ulysses” without the help of quite a lot of source materials. It contains all sort of ancient classical references and bizarre wordplay. To put it as mildly as possible it’s quite an ominous task, not for the squeamish. Anyway to this very day I never have gotten through all of it. Amazingly his two big books have quite a seriously intense fan club. I can understand why people would enjoy attempting to read them. What I can’t possibly even try to figure out, though, is how anyone in his right mind can possibly even so much as presume to think of expecting to get away with messing with them.
My ability to remain patient throughout an attempt to undergo a long and arduous task has always been more than somewhat less than I should like it to be. This kind of a chore really puts one of my most significant weaknesses to quite a nasty test. For someone like me, to make even so much as an attempt to read one of these books is to take quite a chance.