Creating Book Club to Read Ulysses by James Joyce

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My friend Mike and I decided to read and discuss Ulysses by James Joyce. We’ve been reading about the book’s various editions, and whether or not new readers should use study guides. Since all of this was getting so interesting, I suggested we create a public group at Yahoogroups, and Mike agreed. Because we want to finish up some other books, and because I thought it would be cool to finish our discussion of Ulysses on Bloomsday (Ulysses takes place June 16, 1904), we decided to start February 17th. The book has eighteen chapters, and we’ll discuss one a week, finishing the last, “Penelope,” the week of 6/16/15. This gives people three weeks to finish up their books, find a copy of Ulysses, and maybe study up on it some.

If you’re interested, you can join here if you have a Yahoo account: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ulysses-2015/info . Otherwise, shoot an email to ulysses-2015-owner@yahoogroups.com and I’ll add you manually to the mailing list. Ulysses is one of those books that many people intend to read, but never do. It’s been on my To-Be-Read pile for over forty years. I’ve read Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man three times to get ready, but have never followed through. Recently I read The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham, a 2014 book about the history of writing, publishing and legal battles over Ulysses. I figure if Joyce went through that much suffering to write his novel, and so many people were willing to risk jail to publish it in America and England, then maybe I need to make more of an effort.

Ulysses-Gabler edition

Ulysses was an incredibly notorious book in the early part of the 20th century. It was banned in America and Great Britain, and Americans would smuggle copies from Paris. Because it was frequently pirated, and because Joyce constantly changed it, even adding large amounts of new material to the printers’ page proofs, Ulysses has had many editions and corrected editions. Because it was originally set in type by French printers that often did not know English, there were lots of typographical errors. The public domain editions that are now available as free ebooks use those older editions. Mike and I are going to use the Gabler edition, but that’s controversial too. Many are happy with the 1960/61 editions. There is much argument over which edition to read and how to read Ulysses – with or without supplemental guides.

I plan to listen to Ulysses. I have two audio editions, know of a third commercial one, and a fourth free audio edition. I’m going to buy the Gabler print edition because it has line numbers, making referencing easier. I’m also going to get Joyce’s Ulysses, a 24-lecture audiobook from The Great Courses by Professor James A. W. Heffernan. It’s available at Audible.com for $35 or 1 credit, and at iTunes for $30. A detail description of that can be found at The Great Courses site, but it’s too expensive to buy there when it’s not on sale.

One reason to listen to Ulysses is it sounds wonderful. Especially if read by a narrator with an Irish accent.

I usually like to read one large classic literary novel each year, so this year I thought I’d go all out for Ulysses. Ulysses can be daunting to read, because some sections of it feel like gobbledygook. Plus it has the reputation of being very intellectual. Strangely, it’s not intellectual, at least the parts I’ve read so far. It reminds me more of modern observational stand-up comedy. The book is very sexual and bodily, dealing with all kinds of human appetites and passions. Where the book gets into trouble with most modern readers is the stream-of-conscious passages. Joyce wanted to show how our minds work – which is often incoherently, with lots of free associations and unconscious impulses.

The reason to read Ulysses is because it divides classic literature and modern literature, in the same way the inventions of Thomas Edison divides humanity between that of gas light and electric light. Or the way George Carlin and Richard Pryor divides stand-up comedy before the seven deadly words you can’t say on TV, or the difference between Marlo Thomas’ That Girl and Girls on HBO. Some inventions, some works of art, some scientific insights, just change the whole human race. Understanding those changes are personally enlightening.

We’re constantly redefining what’s modern, which is another reason why it’s hard to read Ulysses. To young readers today, this 1922 novel is not shocking, other than the fact that characters don’t talk on smartphones or socialize on the Internet. To Joyce, his youth seemed radically different from the world of his parents, and he spent so many years trying to capture June 16, 1904 that I wonder if Joyce noticed the world radically changed again by 1922?

Ulysses is a novel, but it’s both literary archeology, and from the viewpoint of the 22nd century, historical insight into the early 20th century.

JWH

Picking 52 Books to Read in 2015

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Last year I read 67 books. At first thought, I wondered if I could read 100 books in 2015.  But I neither want to spend all my time reading, nor do I want to be in a race to finish 100 books. Reading one book a week is a nice pace for me, however for many years now, I’ve been buying about five books a week. This certainly presents a problem if I don’t want to speed up my reading pace.

To complicate the situation, I’ve been buying some rather outstanding books that I’m lusting to read soon. I’ve gathered books for decades in anticipation of retiring. I thought for sure retiring would let me read 100-200 books a year, but after my first year of not working I’ve discovered I’m not inclined to be a superbookworm. I now have more books than I could read in five retired lives. Once on my bookshelf, books are out-of-sight out-of-mind, leaving me literary hungry to prowl the bookstores. I need to fix that.

Since I’m always compelled to start projects I never finished, I thought this week’s ambitious endeavor would be to go through my physical bookshelves, my library at Audible.com and my Kindle library at Amazon.com and pick the 52 books I’d most loved to read most. To nag myself daily of this project, I thought I’d pile them up somewhere very visible so they will sneer at me to be read. But since so many are digital, invisible from view, I figured I needed to slightly amend that inspiration. Thus the muse for this blog post. I’ll make a list that I will meditate on daily, and keep it near the pile of physical books that are begging me to be read.

Here are the 52 books I’d love to read in 2015. I’d be immensely satisfied with myself if I did, and very proud if I read half their number. They will be in no order – just listed as I pull them from the shelves and stack them in their special pile. This is a nice snapshot of my interests at the beginning of 2015. It will be revealing to see how I do at the beginning of 2016. I’m pretty sure I’ll have read 52 books, but will it be these books?

I know myself well enough to know I won’t stick to the plan exactly, but I’m curious how close I can get at predicting my reading future. I know I will read a bunch of science fiction books I haven’t listed, and books for my book clubs that haven’t been selected yet. I will promote these books when we nominate books though, so I can get some extra incentive to read them. In fact, some of the books listed here are books I was supposed to read in 2014 for book clubs, but didn’t. And some of these books are ones I’ve started and never completed.

What’s interesting, is 52 books is probably more books than I read to get my Bachelor’s degree. And this list covers a lot of subjects. If I do read and comprehend them, it will be like getting another degree.

  1. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  2. The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  3. The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God by Peter Watson
  4. Ulysses by James Joyce
  5. The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt
  6. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer
  7. ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of The World’s First Computer by Scott McCartney
  8. Old Friends by Tracy Kidder
  9. What Makes This Book so Great by Jo Walton
  10. Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett
  11. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson
  12. Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle
  13. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  14. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  15. The History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot
  16. About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made by Ben Yagoda
  17. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos
  18. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
  19. It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd
  20. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
  21. This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman
  22. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  23. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life by Daniel C. Dennett
  24. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg
  25. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman
  26. Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
  27. The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson
  28. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
  29. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  30. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson
  31. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
  32. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  33. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade
  34. The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance by Anthony Gottlieb
  35. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  36. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  37. The Math Book by Clifford Pickover
  38. Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty by Morris Kline
  39. A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  40. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
  41. Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence by George B. Dyson
  42. The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments by Gertrude Himmelfarb
  43. The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
  44. A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 by Stephen Puleo
  45. The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason by Charles Freeman
  46. The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean
  47. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  48. How To Live or A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell
  49. Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages by Alex Wright
  50. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  51. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  52. Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

JWH

Physical Bookshelves versus Kindle Library

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, January 5, 2015

I’m in a buying quandary. Is it better to own a hardback or a digital book? This particular problem arose just now because I’m wondering how to acquire Ada’s Algorithm by James Essinger, a new book about Ada Lovelace. At Amazon it’s $12.99 for the Kindle edition, and $19.41 for the hardback. I’d save $6.42 by buying the digital book – that’s a good bit for a retired person. But since I routinely buy used hardback books for $3-5, I’d could save even more if I wait. But then Mr. Essinger would earn no royalty.  In fact, while reading about Ada’s Algorithm I see that he also wrote Jacquard’s Web, which I immediately bought just now for $4 (1 cent for the book, $3.99 for shipping). If I waited I could eventually get the same deal on the book about Ada Lovelace.

However, there is more to my buying decision than price. In the long run – defined as rest of my life – is it better to own a hardback or ebook? Which format is easier to read? Which format is easier to review? Which format is easier to reference and look stuff up?  Which format is easier to lend to friends? Once I start thinking about all these other factors, my brain begins begging for a nap.

ada_800x494

I love holding a hardback book. I love their dust jackets. But I don’t like owning a lot of possessions. I often cull my old books and give them to the Friends of the Library after I’ve read them, so buying the hardback doesn’t mean owning it for life. One advantage of buying the Kindle edition at Amazon is I own it without having to shelve and store it. In other words, Kindle books don’t weigh heavy on my sense of possessions, and thus I have them as long as Amazon remains in business, which if I’m lucky, is for the rest of my life.

If Kindle books were as exactly usable as hardbacks I think I would always buy the Kindle edition. Unfortunately, they aren’t – at least not at this moment. Hardbacks are far more user friendly when it comes to flipping around the book, and reading randomly. Hardbacks are nicer to lend to friends, and use for reference. Kindle books are easier to hold. Kindle books are easier to copy quotes from. And I can find a Kindle book faster.  And it’s a snap to search for a keyword.

I really wish Amazon would put some major effort into making managing my digital library more fun and useful. I own a whole lot of Kindle books I’ve forgotten that I own. Kindle books would be more appealing for collecting if we had better library management tools.

Man, my brain is really begging for a nap now. If Ada’s Algorithm had been $7.99 for the Kindle, I would have bought it immediately, and not even thought about writing this essay. Mr. Essiinger would have gotten paid, and I would be reading. Instead, I’ll wait for Jacquard’s Web to show up in the mail. In other words, price will determine what kind of book I buy. Next Christmas when I’m going through my old Wish List items at Amazon, I’ll see Ada’s Algorithm and if there’s a cheap hardback, order it. I ordered four or five books that way this Christmas when I was reviewing my Wish List for things to tell my wife what I want Santa Claus to bring me.  Hell, I don’t mind when Santa has to pay new hardback prices. I wish I had gotten Santa to get me the Ada book this Christmas.

That said, I do wish I had digital copies of all the books I’ve ever read or owned. I often give away books and later want to look at them again. Publishers want to raise ebook prices. That’s their prerogative.  As long as I can get used hardbacks for $3-5, then that’s the price that makes my decision. I’d be willing to pay two or three dollars more for ebooks, so the author gets paid, but not two or three times as much.

Finally, if I wait long enough, I see the ebook edition of books I want in the Kindle Daily Deal or Bookbub for $1.99. At that price I often buy books I’ve read just to have a copy for my digital library. Someday I don’t think I’ll have bookshelves or own hardback books, and it might even happen before I die. (Yes, it’s always about me.)

JWH