Some Notes Are Better Than Others: Reading Ulysses

In my ongoing attempt to be as pretentious as possible at work I last week began listening to Jim Norton & Marcella Riordan’s reading of Ulysses. Theirs is the only audiobook of the novel I’ve ever heard, and I’ve liked it well enough thus far that theirs may be the associated recorded voices I have for all his books. That’s the way it goes for me and audiobooks. I listen to them very rarely, but if I do, as was the case with William Gass’ The Tunnel and any number of old Bill Bryson books, the voice I heard, coincidentally in those cases it was that of the author reading but that needn’t be the case, becomes authoritative. That is to say, it becomes unthinkable to associate more than one audiobook reader per author, no matter how many of their works have been recorded. It would be like reading a book on my own and not hearing my own voice inside my head. Do other people, I wonder, construct and then “hear” character’s voices? If so, do they do the same for poetry? For, philosophy? Oh shit . . . for theology?!

At any rate, the Norton & Riordan version has been very good. I’ve enjoyed it greatly, and not simply because it gets me through the long afternoon slog of a job not-done. The different voices & brogues trotted out by Norton are especially helpful, what for Joyce’s notorious character shifts. I’m told that somebody does something similar with William Gaddis’ JR. If done well this could prove to be a boon for a good many reader.

I’d not so much as picked up Ulysses since 2002. This was the wonderful summer where I believed my doctoral studies would no longer be funded. I could return my books and set aside my notes. A friend of mine had left Scotland for the summer and had given me the use of his studio. Days on end, ten twelve hours at a time, reading whatever I wanted. Ulysses, Under the Volcano, Gravity’s Rainbow, A Frolic of his Own, a massive collection of Yeats. I plowed through a lot of the heavyhitters that summer & autumn. The literature courses when I was an undergrad had no great regard for modernity, I have to say, so I was intent on making up for it the way I always have: the self-indulgent, probably woefully inadequate way of the autodidact. I’ve retold this countless times here, I’m sure, but it was a fine time. A great time, even. The best of my young life, I dare say. So, yes, nearly ten years later, it was time to return to Ulysses. Read the rest of this entry »

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