Thursday, December 28, 2006

I saw Dreamgirls the other night. I can see why there's awards buzz around Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy. Whenever they're on screen the movie comes alive. Certainly you can tell this was adapted from a stage show, since the scenes, the framing and the music are very "Broadway musical."

Now, I don't know if Beyonce was wasted on this part, or if she's just a flat actress, but I don't get why she has received a Golden Globe nomination for her part in this film. And I certainly don't know why Ms. Hudson got a nod for best supporting actress. Who the fuck was she supporting? You know, other than the whole production.

Something that surprised me at first was that people in the audience of the movie theater were clapping and cheering on the performers on screen. I can certainly understand why they would. Part of me was feeling like, "come on, it's not like they can hear you." But then, if the spirit moves you, you might as well move, right?

But overall, I don't think the movie deserves a best picture nod. Well, it doesn't deserve a win. I imagine that the stage show is something like 4 hours. And this was two-and-a-half. So there were gaps, and it was choppy. And Jon Lithgow had a bad haircut. And the guy from the American "The Office" played a screen writer, or a director. I was never sure. Anyway, the story wasn't well served by the film's length. It fails the story.

One final thing: There's a big scene for Ms. Hudson - the scene that got her the nod, I'm sure - where she's singing to her group mates and lover. And the gist of the song is "Look at me, love me, pay attention to me." Up to this point, her character, Effie, hasn't been the most likable. And in this scene, she's being pretty self centered. But the scene is perhaps the best in the film. Slowly, her groupmates and friends leave the stage until it's just Effie singing to an empty theater. This scene - for its staging and power - is worth the price of admission alone.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm with my parents. Well, I'm with one half of my parents. Seeing as I'm at the ass end of Generation X, it's only appropriate that I am the child of divorce. So I'm with my mom this year. Actually, I think this is the way it's going to be from now on. Thanksgiving with Dad, Christmas with Mom, and whatever in between.

I have been reading, but it's not been Brothers. In fact, the less I read of it, the more I like saying I'm reading it. Have to admit, it impresses people.

But that's not to say I haven't been reading. I recently finished Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell. Not a great book for her, but better than most. The story was kind of flabby, you could tell who was going to die before they bit it, and the characters were more caricatures, but what the hell. Now, I'm reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Don't know how long it'll take to read that.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm going to visit other family, and I'll do what I can to read on with Brothers. Wish me luck. And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

As you can see, I haven't really posted anything about Brothers in a while. And I've got a reason. Actually, I have several reasons. Basically, there's a lot of personal shit going on in my life right now, and Brothers is not at the top of my list of things to do. Not that it's at the bottom, but it's not breaking into the top 10. Now, I hope to have another posting about it before the New Year comes, but I do want to write that I will do my best to be back to it full force come 2007. I'm thinking that I should do one big book a year.

I also want to let you guys in on something else: It took me years to get into the groove of Ulysses. Seriously. I did a lot of stopping and starting on that book before I settled in and just read it. I hope it's different with Brothers. In fact, I'm going to be better with it than I was with Ulysses. But bear with me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I finally finished The Heart of the Matter yesterday, and Greene stayed in form with his depressing ending. And while I thought this was a very good novel, there was something about it that bothered me, which was Scobie's sudden devotion to God. But I'll get to that in a second.

First, I'd just like to write two things: One, I'm not going to give the ending away. Two, I recommend you read The Heart of the Matter, simply because - aside from my coming gripes - it's a great book. Graham Greene knows what he's doing when he sits down to write.

Now, the main gripe: Scobie became a good Catholic very fast. For most of the book, he's lackadaisical at best when it comes to mass and observing his faith. Then, it seems as if he becomes hard core overnight. I don't have a problem with him becoming religious, having conversations with God, and so on. Guilt does that to people. But there didn't seem to be a transition. There was no gradual slip back into - or into it in the first place - into his belief.

My only other complaint is that he uses a broken rosary as a very obvious metaphor, but if that's the worst of his sins as a writer, then I can live with that.

Okay, clumsy seque here...

At one point, Scobie talks to his priest, Father Rank, who says, "It's better to sin 70 times and repent each time than to sin once and never repent." This concerns me on two levels. On the one hand, it's clear that it's foreshadowing the end of the book, and it's a bit obvious. But on the other hand, it makes me wonder how many people - especially Catholics - actually believe that. I mean, if you have someone sinning so often, don't you think there's something going on? That maybe they need an intervention? At least the guy who sins once and doesn't repent isn't going around making life hell for those around him. Father Rank does save his own ass spiritually/philosophically at the end of the book, but I'll leave that for you to find out.

Anyway, that's it for now. Maybe I'll have more time for The Brothers Karamazov now, though don't hold your breath too much. I will make it to page 100, but I don't know when at this point. I've got a busy weekend ahead of me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I read some more of Brothers finally!

The elder Zosima takes leave of Pavlovich, Ivan and the others for a moment to see the people of his village, a group of about 20 women. The narrator says this is normal, that people come from all around to see Zosima because he has a reputation as a healer. Over the course of the chapter, he "heals" about three or four people. One woman is a shrieker. She's basically having a nervous breakdown, and Zosima covers her head, says a prayer, and that seems to clear things up. I bet he sees that woman again.

Anyway, another woman comes to him. Her infant has died, and her husband has given in to drink. This is actually a pretty good scenario, because there's nothing Zosima can really do here. So he basically feeds her a line. That line: Since the baby didn't have a lot of time on the earth, he's an angel in Heaven. So his mother should be happy. And of course she is.

The thing about the chapter is, there's not a lot to learn about anything other than Zosima. And while I've complained about Dostoyevsky's writing before, I have to say, this is a better way to show character - Action. Zosima is doing what he can to heal these people, though I think he's full of himself. He kind of deals with these people as if he's reading from a script. That's fine in terms of character development, but as a person... I don't know. Still, this is one hell of a step up from before. I think the novel should have started two chapters ago, instead of wasting time and space with the crap that Dostoyevsky shovelled out before.

So the verdict? Things are picking up.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

So Scobie and Helen kiss. And an affair begins. And then we cut to what I'm assuming is a month or two into the affair, when some of the shine has worn off, and the two lovers are... well, they're not exactly bickering. But Helen reminds Scobie of his wife, Louise, which isn't that great for Scobie. It is - as my friend Mike might say - a bit of a "weenie shrinker."

But there's a cold reality to this predicament. Scobie is married. Not only that, he's Catholic, which means he'll never be able to spiritually divorce Louise for Helen. And despite his lacadazical efforts to got to Mass, things like faith are important to Scobie. So a fight erupts, words are tossed back and forth like bombs, and Scobie leaves Helen for the time being. He later writes her a letter, professing his love for her, telling her that he'll always be there for her while he's alive.

That last part is important. Greene seems to be dropping lots of pretty heavy clues as to how this is going to turn out. The book pretty much opens with Scobie investigating a suicide, and now this. I probably just gave the whole thing away.

Anyway, something that's a little astonishing is that Scobie and Helen are flying under the radar in all of this. No one in the entire colony seems to know what's going on with them. When Scobie finishes the aforementioned letter, he goes to Helen's with it, slips it under her door. It's evidence. It's a physical declaration of his love for Helen. Since this is Greene, you know nothing good is going to come of it.

And nothing does. Scobie meets Helen at a party, and finds out she never got the letter. Not only that, but Louise is coming back from South Africa. She misses Scobie, basically. So our man is up a creek. To top it off, Helen's house boy got to the letter before she did and brought it to Yusef, the Syrian from whom Scobie took the loan to send Louise to South Africa. Now the blackmail begins.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I don't think the French chippy is actually French. I don't know why I thought she was French, but whatever. It doesn't have much bearing on the story. This is Graham Greene we're talking about here. A woman's involved, so there's going to be infidelity, and some tragedy (unless it's The Third Man, then it's just tragedy). I just wanted to clear that up before the holiday. I haven't read much more into The Heart of the Matter, so this isn't an update for that.

I promise to get back to Brothers soon. I'm going away for Thanksgiving, and I have a long bus ride ahead of me, so I'll kill some time with it then. And I'm going to start marking up the pages with notes and whatnot. My fear of marking up a nice book has put me off doing that, but it will make these blogs easier, so I'm going to do it.

If I don't see you before then, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I have not read any of The Brothers Karamozov this week. I hope to get to it sometime soon. What's happened is that I've been working on a project, which requires my attention on the train when I'm heading home. Well, it actually doesn't require my time then, but that's when I like to work on this project. If you want to know more, check out my Night Nurse blog. It should be over on the side there.

Anyway, I have been reading something else, though, Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. I actually really like Greene's work, and I got into him after seeing The Third Man, which is a great pic for Orson Welles. The Heart of the Matter is refreshing in a lot of ways, not least because it's pretty straight forward, and it's pretty tight, at least compared to Brothers. The difference, of course, is that Greene wasn't serializing this, whereas Dostoyevsky was.

Heart is about a cop named Scobie who works in Sierra Leone for the Brits (he is a Brit) during WWII. His wife, Louise, is something of a whiner who doesn't like SL. She wants to move to South Africa. Scobie, not having a lot of money, borrows from a local Syrian merchant since the bank won't give him the cash. Once his wife is gone, he meets a young French woman who literally washes up on shore after a boat sinks. That's about as far as I've gotten in the book, and even though I didn't know what was going to happen until I read the description on Amazon.com, I have been caught up in it.

I read somewhere that Heart is a fairly personal book for Greene, though I can't imagine it being any more personal than The Quiet American or The End of the Engagement (both great books, by the way). They all deal with the same things, adultery, longing, love, loss, and so on. In the case of Heart, it seems Greene stacked the deck a little in Scobie's favor, since Louise is rather unattractive as a character. Whatever happens next - and it's not hard to guess since the French chippy arrived - I figure it'll be pretty good.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I'm another 10 pages into this book, and there is some action. That's not to say there are horse chases, gun- or fist-fights. No, the kind of action I'm talking about is about 10 people standing around and talking! Whoo hoo!

Now that I'm past the introduction stage, Dostoyevsky has father Fyodor go with middle son Ivan to the local monestary (that's what it is as far as I can tell) where youngest Alexey is staying. He's there to ostensibly meet with the Elder, Zosima, so Zosima can mediate between Fyodor and eldest son Dimitri over inheritance issues. Dimitri, however, is late to the meeting. Along for the ride as well are two men, who are listed at the front of the book.

That's one thing about Russian novels: The bigger ones have character lists at the start. That's so you can keep up, though in this case it doesn't help because there is no information other than names and nicknames (and it seems everyone has at least 1,000 of those).

The two guys arePyotr Fomich Kalganov and Pyotr Alexandrovich Miusov. My first thought on meeting these guys was what's the deal with all the Pyotrs? But the second thought was who the hell are these people and why are they here? Ten pages later, I'm still guessing. Then again, not a lot can happen in those pages when all people do is talk about themseves.

Anyway, Zosima comes out to meet with this group, and he's got with him two men, Alexey and some other altar boy, whose name we never learn. They are taken into an inner sanctum, and a discussion about belief begins. It seems this Miusov guy is a believer. Goes to church, probably tithes, the whole deal. Fyodor Pavlovich, on the other hand, is pretty much an athiest and a fool.

Zosima has a nice little speech for Fyodor, about trust. He says: "A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he dos not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures..."

And so on.

Zosima is basically calling Fyodor out here. And it's interesting, because it seems that Dostoyevsky is calling himself out. Dostoyevsky was a gambler, and at times while reading this passage, I got hte feeling he was talking about himself, or to himself. Either way, from what I've gleaned about him, it doesn't seem like he deserves it. And maybe I'm reading it wrong.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I began The Brothers Karamozov a few days ago, and I've read the first 33 pages. And if I hadn't promised to read this damn thing I'd have thrown it across the room and be done with it. Before I get too far into it, let me give you some context. According to Wikipedia, and the one or two sources I leapt to from there, The Brothers Karamozov is the culmination of Dostoyevsky's writing life. This was it. The big bang. The one that was going to say it all. But most writers aren't that lucky. They tend to peak and then that's it. They might have flashes of brilliance in their later books, but generally there's one book, usually the one in the middle of their output, and that's the end of it. Take a look at Kurt Vonnegut. His peak was Slaughterhouse Five. The following books are good, but not that great. Then there are those who are unlucky enough to have their debut be their best, and the rest is downhill from there. I can't think of anyone offhand, but if you can think of someone, feel free to list him or her in the comments. We'll see if Dostoyevsky truly did write his greatest book at the end of his career. Based on the first 33 pages, I'd say he failed. His sin? He writes like an amateur. He tells. The first five chapters are about the father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamozov, and his three sons, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexey.

The first chapter tells of Fyodor, a land owner, who was married twice, had three sons by his two wives (one with his first, two with his second). He’s a widower, and something of a lecher. He likes to party. He likes to get down, waste money, and have a good time. He seems only vaguely aware of his sons, who are sent off to be raised by others. I get the impression that the people in the town don’t like him too much. But whatever. That doesn’t seem to faze him.

First son Dmitri is raised by Fyodor’s servant Grigor. For several years Dmitri lives in poverty because of this. His mother is dead, and there’s very little money to be had. I didn’t really care why. It’s not that Dmitri is hateful or a shit character. It’s just that Dostoyevsky doesn’t seem to care about telling the story well, so I don’t really care about what’s going on in it. Nevertheless, Dmitri prevails, and heads to college. He has to support himself, so he does so by writing news stories under the pen name “Eyewitness.” Why not use his own name? He’s not in the same town as his father. Does his father’s reputation extend so far? Or was this how things were done? Anyway, the stories are popular, and he writes quite a bit – enough to get by, until the cash kicks in, and he can enjoy university.

Second son Ivan

Third son Alexey seems na├»ve, but he’s not. How do we know? Because Dostoyevsky tells us so. Alexey goes through life like this. He seems like he’s a nice enough guy. But when he goes to university, he drops out and decides to become a priest. This leads him back home to his father, who will have nothing to do with Alexey becoming a priest.

I think one of the worst offenses comes in this chapter. When Alexey heads home to see his father, Dostoyevsky has to play catch up with the character of Fyodor.

He writes after three-and-a-half pages about Alexey:
“By the way, about Fyodor Pavlovich. For a long time before then…”

And so on.

A line like that makes me think of people who tell jokes badly. It makes me think if Dostoyevsky told a joke it would come off like this:

A woman walks into a bar and orders a drink. As the bartender pours her the drink, he asks, “Hey, why the long face?” Oh, and the woman is Celine Dion.

Nothing against Celine, but you get the point. This is sloppy work. And I don’t think writing this as a serial is an excuse. It’s bad planning on Dostoyevsky’s part. I only hope it gets better. If any of us wrote like this, or presented this as a debut novel, we would probably be rejected, and if we weren’t, I’d worry about the editor’s/agent’s taste.

Finally, an aside – it seems that there is no “save the cat” moment for any of the characters. This is a movie concept, but I think it works in books as well. When a character saves the cat, it happens early on, and it’s an act that shows the character give of himself for no gain. That endears us to the character, gives us something for which to root. It doesn’t have to be a “Save the cat” moment. It can be a “Kill the cat,” if it’s appropriate to the character (see American Psycho.)

In a book I think this can come in a character’s thoughts. In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim has his save the cat moment in his thoughts. Hey, he’s a pretty passive character. But there’s nothing in Brothers to endear me to any of the brothers or the father. Alexey may have that moment by giving himself to the priesthood, but I don’t have the greatest feeling about the group to which he’s pledging himself.

Now, I know I promised to read this book in its entirety, but I think I’ll only give it another 67 pages. If it gets no better, then on the dust pile it goes (it’s a nice copy, so maybe I’ll sell it). If I have to start another book, I think I’ll start Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Okay, that's it! I've had it! I can't stand it anymore! I'm going to jump off the roof! I'm going to quit! I'm burnt out, and I can't take it anymore. Give this job to someone else. I hate it! I hate it! Ihateit! I'm walking out right now!

Okay, no, I'm not. But still, this job sucks. And I have no problem putting this up on my blog.

See, the thing is, the people aren't bad to work for, it's the work itself that is awful. It's dull. It's monotonous. I'm a glorified data entry drone. It's mind numbing, spirit crushing, soul sucking work. Seriously, all I do is copy, paste and click several thousand times a day. My office-mate has carpal tunnel now. I already had it from another soul sucking job, but that's another story. Anyway, we're burnt out, we're tired, and we're working six days a week doing this, for at least 8 hours a day. I'm a little surprised no one has gone postal.

Now, it doesn't sound too bad, right? I mean, I enter meta-data into a Documentum Web Publisher. For at least 8 hours a day. Six days a week.

I'm dyin' here! Because it's been taking so much to get through this stuff, I've been worn out by the end of the day. Seriously, I just want it to end. We've just run through a huge block of files, and now we've got another project that has to be done this weekend, and I gotta tell you all, it's not going to happen. This is part of the reason why I haven't started The Brothers Karamozov yet. It's just so freakin' taxing.

So I'm going to force myself to find another job. I will have to actively look. Anyone in the New York City area, seriously, you've got a job opening? I'll do it. Shovelling shit? Fine. I'm there. Filing tax returns for drug dealers. That should be easy. I'll do it! I'll even flense your spleen! Swear to God! Help!

Friday, October 06, 2006

So Miho Hatori opened for Brazilian Girls at Webster Hall last night. I saw it and you didn't. Sucks for you, because Miho's going solo without Yuka Honda, so no more Cibo Matto, which sucks to say the least. Or does it mean that? I don't know. Cibo Matto were awesome.

Miho opened with a small band and a pretty quick set. She howled through a song called "Yellow Cab," which is about how it sucks to get a cab in Manhattan, especially since most cabs won't take you to Brooklyn. Or Queens. Or anywhere else outside of Manhattan for that matter. But the sound system wasn't kind to Miho's voice. She's great on albums, especially Cibo and Gorillaz, but in Webster, not so much. Personally, I think the treble on her mic was too high, but what the fuck do I know? Do I look like an audio guy to you?

The rest of the set was better, simply because there wasn't as much howling from her. The songs were softer, and it's like she wants to be a Japanese Bjork. Which is fine, because Miho's always experimented with music anyway. I mean, you don't belong to a band like Cibo Matto if you're going to be a pussy about music, right?

Standout songs: Sweet Samsara Parts 1 and 2.

Then Brazilian Girls hit the stage. Sabina Sciubba - lead singer - came out covered in a black trash bag labelled "Euro Trash." Okay, it's funnier when you've had a vodka tonic and half a mojito. They've got a new album to push, right? So over half the songs are from their older album and EPs, which is surprising. If you're doing a tour to promote the new stuff, then you play mostly new stuff.

But as the concert went along, I could kind of understand why they played the older stuff. The new songs were crunchier, perhaps even angrier at least sonically, if not lyrically. The older songs have a smoother, jazzier influence it seems to me. Maybe jazzier is the wrong word, but I'm at work, I've just had a massage, and I'm kind of zoning here.

Anyway, people are dancing, throwing their arms in the air, drinking, and so on. And what should appear before me? A knuckle of Woo Girls. They were talking to each other. Loudly. Throughout a good portion of the show. And they were drinking. Now, normally I would hate this because the more drinking the more voluable they would get. But not last night. No, they shut up and danced. But Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, people, if you're going to a concert, don't talk. If you're going to talk, don't go to a concert.

It's people like what made God invent silencers for automatic pistols.

Right, so the Woo Girls shut up and the Brazilian Girls played my two favorite songs to close out the evening. That's right, Don't Stop and Pussy. Don't Stop is just sexy. Pussy is just fun. And the great thing about both songs is there's a singalong bit for both of them. And I'll admit right now in front of you and my co-workers and everyone else, I'm a geek for singalongs during concerts. I'm also a geek for shout outs. Because during Pussy, Sabina asks, "Who wants pussy?" And really, who doesn't? So of course I'm saying "yes" to that.

Afterwards, my best friend - a woman, by the by - says to me "You were the loudest person there," during the "who wants pussy" part. Shit, Sabina could have said "Who wants to give me their kidney?" and I would have been the loudest idiot there. "ME! I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY KIDNEY! ME!!!"

I still haven't taken off the blue wrist band the bouncer guy at Webster put on me. I kept it on through a shower last night. But shit, these people here at the office are lucky I'm even coherent this morning, because as you can imagine, I'm tired.

That's it for now. Later on, maybe Sunday I'll do that coin toss and choose which book I'm going to read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I haven't picked a book to read yet. That's not to say I'm not reading. What I mean is that I haven't picked one of those classics that I promised I would do. I have been reading. Three books, in fact - An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, My War Gone By, I Miss It So, and Earth Seed. I've read Earth Seed before, back in Junior High. It's Pamela Sargent, and it's out of print, so I had to get my from Half.com. Unsuitable Job is PD James, a mystery, and I've seen the movie. I thought I remembered how it ended, but since I've been reading it, I realized I have no idea. War Gone By is an account of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Anyway, the reason I haven't chosen yet is because I'm decompressing. Ulysses is a big book, and I'm just not in the mood right now for another one. It's not that I don't want to read, or that I want to read dumb shit (none of the books are dumb - they're rather smart). So once I get finished with one of these three - whichever, it doesn't matter, though it's looking liek War Gone By will be the first to finish - I will dive into one of four books: The Brothers Karamozov, Don Quixote, Tristam Shandy, and The Red and the Black. I will choose by holding a coin flipping tournament. It'll be Brothers v. Don, and Shandy v. R&B to start. The winners of each will face off. Each toss will be the best two out of three. I'll see if I can get a witness to the procedings.

That's it for now. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 25, 2006

No More Joyce!

I was thinking I'd do a post about the perception of reality in Ulysses, and compare it to some other works, mostly stuff by Philip K. Dick, but man, I'm getting tired of this shit. I want to move on to some other book, some other writer. I'm thinking of either The Brothers Karamozov, or Don Quixote, or The Heart of the Matter. I'm leaning toward Heart, simply because it's short. What I'll do is go over what I'm reading from time to time, let you all know how it's going, let you in on what I think of said book, and so on.

However, I'm not married to those three books. If you have any suggestions, let me know. If I have it at my library or in my apartment, I'll give it a shot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Last time, I wrote a reeeally long post about Ulysses. I'm not going to do that this time. But I am going to talk about Ulysses again. In this case, the Modern Library named it the best book of the 20th Century, if not the best book of all time. Is that the case?

Well, to be honest, I don't know. I'm not exactly in a position to influence anything, other than those who read this post. And I'm pretty sure the people at the Modern Library aren't exactly dropping by too often.

Ulysses is a tough book. Joyce goes all over the place to tell his story. Part of the novel is told in newspaper headlines. Another part in the form of a script. He changes points of view, sometimes to characters who are never named, and who are not in the action before or after their moment in the sun, as it were. It's incredible, and sometimes the text just sings. Sometimes literally. There are two places where there is music.

I haven't read anything like this. I skimmed through Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and his experiments don't seem to be as effective as Joyces. Where Foer sometimes obscures text (the words run together until the page goes black), Joyce never tries to hide what he's saying. He just sometimes make you work for the meaning.

I read Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, one of Joyce's contemporaries, and while Ford certainly puts the reader through the motions, it's nothing on the level on which Joyce is working (blogger's note: I loved Parade's End moreso than Ulysses, but not by a lot.) Even Faulker was playing around with language, but I'm thinking they're still in two different leagues.

The difference between Joyce and his contemporaries is this: Joyce took more risks.

I think that's it, really, and years after his death, he's being rewarded for it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I promised that I would post today, and I will. I also promised that I would post a huge review/critique of Ulysses. Well, I’m not going to do that. I’m at work, and I actually have to show some effort today, even if my computer won’t. What I am going to do is start the critique. I’m going to give my impression of the book itself, and I’m going to try citing Sean Joyce from a New Yorker article about how he handles the Joyce estate. So bear with me.

Okay, here we go:
I finished Ulysses on September 11, 2006. When I started reading it back in February, I promised that I would read at least five pages a day, every day, until I was finished. My copy, published by Vintage, is 783 pages long. So I would be done in roughly 157 days. That’s about five months and one week. Well, I cut back to five days a week, though I did manage to stick to reading at least five pages a day. Hey, some days I did 10. I always read in multiples of five, until I got to the last section where Molly takes over the narration, where I read a sentence a day for eight days. More on this later.

Bear in mind, also, that I read most of Ulysses while coming home from work. I work in lower Manhattan. I live in Queens. I take the E-train to and from work most days. It is on the E-train where I read Ulysses. So this is the critique of a casual reader. I’m not some scholar, hidden away in a quiet library, or some nook, poring over each and every word or sentence, parsing meaning out of the text like some brainiac. I’m just some yahoo on the subway, usually around 5 or 6 p.m., with my head stuffed in a book.

To begin:
Ulysses follows a day in the life of Leopold Bloom. That day is June 16, 1904, to be specific. A lot happens to Bloom and his friends, but nothing more than you’d expect from a regular day. Over the course of what I figure is 24 hours, Bloom wakes up, takes a shit, eats breakfast, goes to a funeral, hangs out with his friends, reads a letter from a lover of his, hangs out with more friends, flirts with and masturbates to a young woman he meets at the beach, takes Stephen Dedalus (whom we all should know from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) to a whore house, then to a coffee shop, then home. And that’s it. Nothing much out of the ordinary happens, per se, but then, it’s just a day in the life.

Or, that’s basically it.

Now, you’d figure it’s just a day in the life, so it ought to be easy to read. Well, this is Ulysses, and Ulysses has a reputation for being a hard read, a reputation only partly earned. It would be more accurate to say that there are sections of Ulysses that are hard to read, and there are sections that simply fly by, most notably one of the latter parts of the book which is written like a play. Easiest five pages-a-day I read. But then there are sections that are simply blocks of text.

But this isn’t any harder than, say, Crime and Punishment, or The Inferno, and it’s certainly easier than Don Quixote. If you’ve made it through any of those – or any novel by Tolstoy, or Faulkner, or any of those guys – then you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through anything by Joyce. Except maybe Finnegan’s Wake, but I haven’t read that yet, so I can’t really comment.

I haven’t read all of Don Quixote either, but you get the point.
In a New Yorker article, Sean Joyce, James’ grandson, is said to have found his grandfather’s work “not only readable, but appealingly human.”
“As I got older, I realized Joyce is not the difficult writer they say he is,” Sean is quoted as saying in the article. “When [scholars] say, ‘We’ve done so much for him,’ I think, What about the thousands, not to say millions, of readers they scared off? All this crap they write—that’s good old American slang!”

And he’s right for the most part. These characters are appealingly human, because they think about things we all think about, feel things we all feel, and so on. What’s amazing – or what should at least be acknowledged – is that no one really attempted this kind of thing before. If I’m wrong, and someone other than Joyce did this in a novel, let me know.

This kind of thing is taken for granted now. Stream of consciousness is common, if not a staple, in today’s literature. Honesty about what people really think, about what people really do – hell, who doesn’t write about that? Depictions of some guy sitting on the toilet, taking a shit and wiping with newspaper? Well, okay, not so often.

One area where some readers might be put off would be in Joyce’s vocabulary. I have to admit, it’s rather daunting. I read somewhere – and I’ll try to find out where... okay, I probably won’t – that Joyce used 40,000 different words to compose his novel. I think that’s above the average range for most people’s vocabularies, but if you’re willing to use one of the larger dictionaries out there, you can get through it. Hell, I made it through without, just took the words in context, deconstructed them with what little Latin I remember, and I did all right.

But I think more than vocabulary, simple construction is the most daunting part of Ulysses. What I mean is how Joyce put those sentences together to tell the story. There are literally pages where it’s one big block of text. The text itself isn’t difficult in and of itself, but the appearance of so much text – no matter what that text actually says - can be daunting.

I’ll also be the first to admit here that I had to sometimes re-read what I’d just gone over. There are radical shifts in tone, character POV, and in one or two cases, shifts in the sexuality of the pronouns in use. At least, I’m pretty sure. See, there’s a scene in a whore house where Bloom goes from “he” to “she,” and someone... how to put this delicately? Hmm. I don’t think there’s a way, but I’ll try. Someone gets elbow deep into his/her nether regions.

Delicate enough?

Right. Let’s move on.

The final roadblocks to making Ulysses an “easy” read would be the symbols and metaphors. I didn’t get half of what Joyce threw out there. I didn’t get references to officials and important people of his day. I probably didn’t get all the religious references. Hell, there were times when I didn’t get normal sentences, but as I said, I was reading it on the E-train in Manhattan, so what are you going to do, right?

Right, I’m done for now. I’ll write more later, because I have more to write. Was the Modern Library right in claiming that Ulysses was the best book of the 20th Century? Did I actually like it? Does it really matter? All this, and more, next time.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I was going to devote my first blog to a light critique on James Joyce's Ulysses, but to be honest, it's the afternoon here in Kew Gardens, and it's raining, and I have to make Jambalaya. And I have to edit my novel. And I have to clean up. And about a thousand other things, too. So I'll write the critique when I actually have time, like when I'm at work.

But I want to give everyone who reads this - and I know there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of you - an idea of what to expect. You know, so you can be disappointed when I get lazy and stop really posting what I promise you here. This way, you'll have a solid list of things to bitch about. So, what I'm going to write about are things like the books I'm reading, the movies I've seen, and TV shows I watch with regularity. I'm probably not going to get too into my own personal life, especially my job. Why, you ask? Well, my job is so boring that someone fell asleep at their desk during an assignment. I shit you not. In fact, I want to take a nap right now just from typing this!

And I may not write that much about TV, mainly because - well, I watch a fair amount, but not much of it moves me. I don't have HBO, so you can probably understand why.

So, tomorrow, or maybe Sunday, I will have a critique of Ulysses, which I've just finished reading. I will try to write something substantial, something worth reading, something enjoyable if nothing.