Queen Harvest’s 2019 Reading Recap

For my fifth annual Reading Recap I decided to do something a little special: procrastinate for five months before finishing it. In my defense, I was very busy around New Year’s, and I am very not-busy now.

1. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (2017)

I am a sucker for tradition. Even if I don’t follow them myself, I admire their observance. Norse Mythology scratched my tradition itch in two ways.

Firstly, Gaiman follows the tradition of adapting ancient tales into modern tongue. These stories are entertaining by 21st century standards. I respect this retelling from a popular author for its potential to influence a new generation with old myths.

Secondly, I followed the tradition of listening to the stories orally, i.e., as an audiobook. Just like a classic translation of Homer’s epic Greek myths, I can’t be bothered to sit down and read these tales. Norse Mythology was good company for a long drive.

2. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Americanah succeeds in being two types of novel at once: both a literary tale of relationships, loves, friendships, and lives lived, and a commentary on dichotomies in society (American vs. Nigerian, European vs. African, “Non-American Black” vs. “American Black,” immigrant vs. native, poor vs. wealthy, probably more).

Adichie describes a discrimination double-whammy: being both an immigrant and black in the United States. The main character, as a black person in the U.S., is subject to the people around her making myriad assumptions based on her skin color, but as an immigrant she doesn’t even know what those assumptions are. As she describes in her blog:

Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care….If you are a woman, please do not speak your mind as you are used to doing in your country. Because in America, strong-minded black women are SCARY. And if you are a man, be hyper-mellow, never get too excited, or somebody will worry that you’re about to pull a gun.

I enjoyed Americanah for its insights into a culture that is not my own, and for the pure enjoyment of the story and writing.

3. 52 Loaves, William Alexander (2010)

I spent 2019 baking artisan bread every week. What splendid luck that William Alexander did the same thing several years ago and documented it in this memoir. 52 Loaves was a perfect companion for my journey; Alexander had roughly the same plans (bake artisan bread each week), goals (improved skills, consistently well-formed and delicious loaves), and desires (quit our old lives and become a baker in a European monastery). Alexander hilariously portrays himself as a manic character, driven by single-minded passion for perfection.

I learned a lot about the practice of baking bread from dedicated cookbooks (see below), but Alexander does the work of historical and scientific investigation into bread baking and condenses it down into the tastiest morsels. He traces the timeline of bread baking from Egypt and Morocco to England and France, and dips into the science of flour, yeast, and heat–all without feeling like a textbook. I gleaned useful tidbits of bread knowledge and felt validated by his experience of the same restrictions and frustrations. Any amateur bread baker should find 52 Loaves informative, engaging, and comforting.

3. The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1948)

This book was on my shelf as a gift from my Dad, but I was inspired to finally read it by the many favorable mentions it receives in Americanah. Disparate forces insisted I read it, and now the force is with me: this book is incredible.

Many of the main character Scobie’s emotions, thoughts, and actions are influenced by his Catholic faith; they may be unbelievable or unintelligible to a non-Catholic, but very very real to a lapsed one. Catholic or not, The Heart of the Matter is nothing but clear, perfect prose. Every page glows with powerful sentences that arrest you in the moment, written with the quiet certainty of ancient wisdom. Regardless of its foreign setting and circumstances, the novel is simply human. It is a tale of love and things that look like love and things that are done for what was once love.

4. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (2015)

a little life

Any initial goodwill was lost when it kicked off with this logic puzzle.

One should never read a book out of obligation. Unfortunately I let obligation drag me through 800+ pages of gratuitous abuse, self harm, and psychological torment. This novel is about one character, but the author couldn’t settle on one way to tell his story. The reader is subjected to jarring changes in narrative voice and meandering back stories of irrelevant characters. The personal stories of intense violence and trauma may be gratifying or affirming to certain readers; I’ll leave A Little Life to them.

5. The World According to Garp, John Irving (1978)

How many times have I read Garp? 4? 6? It’s hard to say. I keep returning to it. I proclaim to the world that it is perfect, that it is one of my favorite books. Then the thought creeps into my head, “You first read Garp as a teenager. There’s no way it’s as good as you remember.”

So I read it again. And it’s as good as I remember. It is perfect. It is one of my favorite books.

6. In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson (2001)

I lifted my moratorium on Bill Bryson’s personal narratives (see: 2015’s Reading Recap on Notes from a Small Island) because a trip to Australia deserved an Australian travelogue. Bryson did what he does best: read a bunch of books about Australia, took a trip around the country, and connected the best bits of history with his lived experience. My trip did not go beyond Sydney, but Bryson took me across the continent. His combination of intelligence, curiosity, and wit make In a Sunburned Country a delight.

7. Postcards from the Edge, Carrie Fisher (1987)

Postcards from the Edge is interesting as a look at the inner thoughts of an addict through the cycles of addition and recovery—while using, deciding to get clean, mid-rehab, post-rehab, relapse. It also explores how a recovering addict returns to their old life (work, family, relationships, self-image, etc.) without their old crutch.

As a piece of literary fiction, PftE leaves a lot to be desired. The narrative structure changes frequently, and there is a lack of fluidity to unify the various formats. Similarly, dialogues between characters are more like alternating monologues. Bon mots should be peppered in like a fine ground spice; these characters shake bon mots out like whole peppercorns that stick in your teeth and detract from the rest of the meal. The novel moves quickly, and it’s fine.

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)

I listened to THGttG in one sitting (driving), having read it over a decade ago. It is everything I remember it being: clever, funny, playful, an entire mythology created from scratch. It felt more like a children’s book than I remember it being (when I was a child), but that doesn’t detract from the delight it imparts.

9. The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding, Robert Hughes (1986)

“Australia started as a penal colony, and its population descended from convicts.” I grew up “knowing” exactly this much about the nation’s history, and I decided to expand my knowledge before visiting last fall. The Fatal Shore introduced the world (including Australians) to the reality of Australia’s origins as a Commonwealth nation. It revolutionized the way I see Australia, its people, and its history.

tHFbn4jySCayhDNN20FDAw

I couldn’t help taking a photo on the fatal shores of Sydney’s Shelly Beach.

The Fatal Shore follows a complete historical path from the “discovery” of Australia by Europeans, the reasons Britain chose to send convicts overseas, the terrible voyage from England to the South Pacific, the horrifying reality of prisoner life (and death), the inhumane treatment of natives, the eventual abolition of transportation, and finally the reluctance of modern Australians to acknowledge the “convict stain.”

 

The cruelty of “the system” is breathtaking. Hughes uses contemporary accounts to describe lashings and other gruesome punishments meted out at the whim of whomever happened to govern at any given time. The parallels with the American system of slavery are striking, as are the differences. The effects of European colonialism on Aboriginal people is touched on throughout the book, including one dedicated chapter, though that subject is not the book’s focus. There are consistent references to government policies and social structures that guaranteed cruel treatment of Aborigines for generations.

After reading The Fatal Shore, I cannot laugh at easy jokes about Australians-as-convicts. The truth is ugly and horrifying, and it imbues the Australian people with a complexity and strength that deserves more compassion. Despite my description here, The Fatal Shore is a fantastic read. I was fascinated and engrossed from the first to the last page.

10. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, Jen Sincero (2013)

Imagine the Works Progress Administration sent researchers door-to-door collecting all the sticky notes posted on Americans’ bathroom mirrors. Then the inspirational quotes written on all those sticky notes were transcribed into a single book. The result would have the tone, coherence, and usefulness of You Are a Badass.

Like many popular self-help books, You Are a Badass is a watered down compilation of better teachers’ advice. It mixes pop psychology, Eastern spirituality, the law of attraction, and whatever else might boost the readers’ self-esteem. Sincero’s dubious claims are delivered in cringe-inducing language that renders the book painful to read. For example, each chapter starts with a quote, and one quote is credited to “Albert Einstein; scientist, awesomist.” The gall.

I’m particularly perturbed by the way Sincero sings the praises of meditation and surrendering, but recommends it in service of a goal and manifestation of your desires (money, love, car, job, etc.). You want X; surrender and X will come to you. I take offense to this order of operations. If you surrender and still expect X, when X does not come you may become frustrated and disillusioned. Maybe you didn’t surrender well enough; maybe surrender is bullshit.

The point of surrender is that X may or may not come to you, but whatever does (whether X or even Y or Z) will be in tune with the universe. If you surrender your expectations, when X, Y, or Z arrives, you can welcome it as natural. Holding on to X is not surrender. *stepping off Tolle soapbox*

11. Do It Now: Essays on Narrative Improv, Parallelogramophonograph (2016)

This brief collection of briefer essays about improv is simple and direct, like the notes a coach might give after a show. I appreciate that the authors don’t pad the pages with theory or anecdotes, which thicken a book but don’t help an improvisor. These essays are geared toward improv forms that tell one continuous narrative over the course of a set. I haven’t performed such a form yet, but I expect to return to these essays if and when I ever do.

12. Poem a Day: Volume 3, Retta Bowen, et al. (2004)

This is the third and final volume of this series. I began each day of 2017-2019 with these poems, and I am a little sad to be left on my own again, without this curated daily selection. After a disappointing Volume 2, Volume 3 returned to what I loved about Volume 1. The selections showcase the English language. The editorial snippets are brief, interesting, and relevant to the poem. The poets’ dates of birth and death are included, and the poem is almost always connected to the specific day of the year (e.g., poet’s birthday, day it was written, day it was inspired). I treasure these volumes and will certainly return to them in time.

Bread Books

As mentioned above, baking bread was a big part of my 2019. I frequently referred to blogs, r/Breadit, and Youtube, but I primarily taught myself from books. The three below taught me almost everything I know.

Full disclosure/not an ad: A baguette class at Zingerman’s Bakehouse taught me how to knead and how to shape baguettes. Worth every penny.

B1. Bread Baking for Beginners: The Essential Guide to Baking Kneaded Breads, No-Knead Breads, and Enriched Breads, Bonnie Ohara (2018)

According to the introduction, Ohara learned to bake bread from many disparate sources of information, and she wants her book to be a single, unified reference of all that knowledge for the benefit and convenience of a beginner baker. As nice as that sounds, I had many questions this book did not answer.

I followed this book for my first loaves and each one flopped. Only very annoying people on the internet make a perfect loaf of bread on their first try, but I had immediate success when I tried a Flour Water Salt Yeast recipe. Is that because I worked out my beginner bread-making kinks with BBfB recipes? Or because Forkish’s methods are easier to follow and more reliable? Who can say.

Even if I’ve never enjoyed a basic loaf of bread from this book, I am indebted to it for one crowd-pleaser I make often: chocolate babka.

B2. Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, Ken Forkish (2012)

I recommend this book to anyone beginning to bake bread. Forkish gradually introduces readers to different elements of bread-baking. First, you work on mixing and shaping dough. Then you add steps to develop more flavor and improve the loaf’s quality. Finally, you create a sourdough starter and work with different variations on naturally leavened breads.

Forkish’s starter feeding method is incredibly wasteful, but I am still using the same starter I birthed fifteen months ago by his recipe. Instead of 400g of flour I only use 20g to feed it, but I don’t dispute that his creation method is effective.

The bacon bread recipe is spectacular. Make it ASAP.

B3. Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson (2010)

The first loaf of Robertson’s Basic Country Bread I made was magical. The oven spring was higher, the crumb was airier, and the crust was crisper than any sourdough I had made before. Similarly, the first sourdough baguettes I made from Tartine were more delicious, crispy, and beautiful than anything else I’ve ever made.

zcfhGk84TaaWlimQ2eAPpg

My apprentice poses with our work.

And that’s about it. Tartine Bread goes in depth on one base sourdough method, and expands it with variations. It would have been a mistake to begin with this book, but it was a perfect book to use post-FWSY for sourdough work.

Since I have consistently failed to make a decent pure sourdough loaf from FWSY, the Tartine recipe is the one I return to and experiment with. I have successfully made the recipes for sourdough with walnuts and with sesame seeds, and I frequently experiment with various ratios of different flours.

Closing Thoughts

The three books I loved the most (excepting Garp) were The Fatal Shore, The Heart of the Matter, and 52 Loaves. If you enjoy reading history, fiction, or memoirs, I will recommend these in a heartbeat.

By my calculations I read one book a month last year–a pitiful showing for myself. I ended the year highly motivated to read, and I have already reached a higher total for 2020.

Queen Harvest’s Top Fifty-Eight (58) Albums of 2017

Who doesn’t love an arbitrary, subjective, poorly thought out ranking?

# Artist Album Year Week of 2017
58 Fear Is On Our Side I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness 2006 15
57 Cheap Trick One on One 1984 8
56 Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood Nancy & Lee 1968 21
55 Evil Friends Portugal. The Man 2013 44
54 Siouxsie & the Banshees Through the Looking Glass 1980 17
53 Alela Diane The Pirate’s Gospel 2004 10
52 Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career 2009 41
51 Emmylou Harris Roses in the Snow 1980 5
50 The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America 2006 25
49 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV 1971 18
48 Dan Auerbach Waiting on a Song 2017 24
47 Neko Case Blacklisted 2002 19
46 The Mountain Goats Tallahassee 2002 47
45 Dum Dum Girls Too True 2014 51
44 The Wallflowers Bringing Down the Horse 1996 6
43 Outkast ATLiens 1996 2
42 Santogold Santogold 1980 30
41 REM Out of Time 1991 45
40 The Cure Disintegration 1989 28
39 Cate Le Bon Mug Museum 2013 32
38 Borns Dopamine 2015 36
37 Moses Sumney Lamentations EP 2016 52
36 The Dead Milkmen Big Lizard in my Backyard 1985 49
35 Wilco Sky Blue Sky 2007 29
34 Our Debut Album Our Debut Album 2017 46
33 Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 1998 42
32 Joanna Newsom The Milk-Eyed Mender 2004 43
31 Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill 1986 12
30 The Jam In the City 1977 1
29 Flight of the Conchords I Told You I Was Freaky 2009 39
28 Aimee Mann Whatever 1993 26
27 New Order Power, Corruption & Lies 1983 20
26 Violent Femmes Violent Femmes 1983 23
25 Tom Petty Wildflowers 1994 40
24 George Michael Faith 1987 48
23 Til Tuesday Welcome Home 1986 37
22 Television Marquee Moon 1977 9
21 Prince Purple Rain 1984 14
20 Open Mike Eagle Brick Body Kids Still Daydream 2017 38
19 Jonathan Coulton Thing-a-Week Two 2005 16
18 The Kinks The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 1968 8.1
17 Pixies Doolittle 1989 33
16 The Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree 2005 11
15 The Tragically Hip Fully Completely 1992 34
14 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2 2014 12.1
13 Broadcast Tender Buttons 2005 7
12 Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around 2002 50
11 Kesha Rainbow 2017 25
10 Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables 1980 4
9 Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2017 16.1
8 Original Broadway Cast Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 2017 22.1
7 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 3 2016 4.1
6 Iron & Wine The Shepherd’s Dog 2007 31
5 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2013 6.1
4 Cher Heart of Stone 1989 22
3 The Knife Deep Cuts 2003 27
2 Sleigh Bells Treats 2010 3
1 The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic 1990 13

2017: Final Quarter Note

Call me Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candle at dawn ’cause I am Burnt Out.

For your reference, my impersonal rating system follows:

★★★★★ I listen to it regularly.
★★★★☆ I will listen to it again.
★★★☆☆ I wouldn’t mind listening to it in a mix.
★★☆☆☆ If it comes on I won’t turn it off.
★☆☆☆☆ I’m not interested in hearing it again.

Week Forty

220px-tom_petty_wildflowersTom Petty – Wildflowers (1994) ★★★★☆

How could one complain about Wildflowers? Beautiful poetic songs, laid-back sneery songs, fast-paced songs on the move: classic Petty!

Week Forty-One

my_maudlin_careerCamera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (2009)
★★☆☆☆

I want to like Camera Obscura, but every song is the same faux-sock hop shtick and I can’t hear anything else.

Week Forty-Two

in_the_aeroplane_over_the_sea_album_cover_copyNeutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)★★★★☆

Part Dropkick Murphys, part Decemberists, part The Movie American Beauty (and yes, I realize this album pre-dates the success of those bands/that film). Good to listen to, but a little bit gross.

Week Forty-Three

the_milk-eyed_mender_28front_cover29Joanna Newsome – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) ★★★☆☆

I appreciated a heads-up w/r/t Newsome’s unusual voice before listening to this album. The music and lyrics drew me in and made me want to listen repeatedly.

Week Forty-Four

portugal_the_man_evil_friendsPortugal. The Man – Evil Friend (2013) ★★☆☆☆

I’ve listened to this album so many times, but I have no memory of it. That doesn’t speak well for it.

Forty-Five

r-e-m-_-_out_of_timeR.E.M. – Out of Time (1991) ★★★☆☆

Out of Time is an enjoyable listen. The hits are the standouts for good reason.

Week Forty-Six

Our Debut AlbumOur Debut Album – Our Debut Album (2017)★★★★☆

Dave Shumka and Graham Clark, of Stop Podcasting Yourself superstardom, wrote each of these songs in 60-minute sessions. Our Debut Album may not be Sgt. Pepper, but they’re some dang catchy songs that hold up to repeated listenings.

Week Forty-Seven

tallahassee-mountain_goatsx_the_480The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (2002) ★★★☆☆

All I can hear in Tallahassee is anger.

Week Forty-Eight

georgemichaelfaithalbumcoverGeorge Michael – Faith (1987) ★★★★★

The movie Keanu has a scene centered around “Father Figure” which convinced me I needed to give this song a fair shake. Much like Prince, I never realized the serious fandom for George Michael until his death. His music reminds me of David Bowie and Michael Jackson, with a healthy dose of old school crooner. Faith is a joy to listen to.

Week Forty-Nine

big_lizard_in_my_backyardThe Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard in my Backyard (1985) ★★★★☆

This album is a good time! Most songs sound like the executed ideas of 16 year olds, but really talented 16 year olds. Should we be worried about how on-the-nose “Right Wing Pigeon” is, or is nothing too crazy to worry about anymore?

Week Fifty

americanivJohnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) ★★★★★

Johnny Cash established his legend through unique vocals and outspoken voice, but I’ll always remember him as a generous patron of the arts. This album covers songwriters from John Lennon to Sting to Trent Reznor. From the artistic care Cash pours into every song, you can tell he is a true fan of the music. I love these songs, and the guitar sound is my favorite kind of guitar sound.

Week Fifty-One

dum_dum_girls_-_too_true_coverDum Dum Girls – Too True (2014)
★★★☆☆

Here is another high energy pop album I can really get behind. The title track has a nifty twist in the lyrics, and I believe continued attention will reveal more clever devices to surprise and delight.

Week Fifty-Two

2b527b81Moses Sumney – Lamentations EP (2016) ★★★★☆

If you’re looking for catchiness, this entire five-song EP is worth it for the song “Worth It.” The other tracks are undoubtedly beautiful; the kind of music one may listen to in moments of reflection and calm.

A Report to the Shareholders

I have no regrets about this project. I listened to exponentially more new music than I have in years past. I know for a fact I never would have listened to most of these albums, including most of my Top Ten, if left to my own devices. I appreciate everyone’s recommendations, even those I didn’t act on.

In 2018 I am going to take it down to a more me-friendly pace by listening to an average of two new albums a month, with half of them new releases. Here’s to 2018!

In Preview: James Joyce’s Ulysses

My journey to Ulysses began with another classic of the modern canon: the Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection. I listened to those two CDs ad nauseam, ceasing only when the 30th Anniversary Collection was released. Along with “King Tut” and “Monster Mash,” Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!” is one of the more well-known tracks. Though never a real favorite of mine, one verse in that letter from camp always stuck with me:

All the counselors hate the waiters,
And the lake has alligators.
And the head coach wants no sissies,
So he reads to us from something called Ulysses.

This was to be the first of many references to Joyce’s masterpiece that I would pick up on over the years. Mention of Ulysses is always couched in mysterious terms, characterizing the novel as dense, enigmatic, impenetrable. This reputation stands out to me as both a challenge and a warning; it is worth the effort of reading, but it will take effort to appreciate. I refuse to believe that any book written in English (or mostly English) is beyond my abilities, and I have decided it’s finally time to dig in and read the unreadable Ulysses.

Ulysses

On the recommendation of a Ulysses superfan, I am armed with the Vintage edition.

Beyond the challenge of its reputation, I have a couple more reasons to read Ulysses. The events of the novel take place on June 16, 1904, and Joyce-lovers worldwide commemorate the date in an annual celebration known as “Bloomsday.” The very idea of a global book party is appealing to me, and I don’t want to miss another year of it. More significant, perhaps, is the personal connection I have to Bloomsday: June 16th is my birthday. Finally, the character originated by Gene Wilder in The Producers is named “Leopold Bloom,” and I want to get that joke.

 

In the dozens of guides to, annotations of, and lectures on Ulysses, you’ll find many recommendations that first-time readers just read it. Don’t get bogged down in trying to decipher each line, but immerse yourself in the art of the writing and save the analysis for later. I intend to follow this advice, but I don’t think that means diving in totally blind. I made a To-Do reading list to best prepare myself for Ulysses. I realize it would take a life’s education in history, literature, language, and culture to fully understand the novel from the get-go, but I’m happy to work with what I’ve got.

My List

The Odyssey. The Odyssey is the most well known of Ulysses’ foundational works. I knew I wouldn’t make myself sit down to read it, so I took part in the ancient oral tradition of Homeric epics—an affordable audiobook set of W.H.D. Rouse’s translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey were too good to pass up and made for excellent road trip listening. The trials and tribulations of Odysseus are a significantly smaller part of The Odyssey than I realized. It has much more to do with the humanity of Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus than the monstrosities encountered. (As a side note, I was constantly reminded while listening that all my instincts for Greek pronunciation are dead wrong.)

Hamlet, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. I’ve seen reference to these specific plays in various Ulysses guides. This year I tried to read a Shakespeare play a month, and these three fit into my schedule nicely. These plays must be particularly inspiring to authors—I last read Hamlet for its relationship to Infinite Jest (another challenge novel) and The Tempest for its part in Robertson Davies’ Tempest-Tost (the first of the marvelous Salterton Trilogy). The rom-com industry wishes it could get away with Twelfth Night’s ridiculousness.

Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. What better way to prepare for reading Joyce than by reading Joyce? Not only are the characters in these works said to reappear in Ulysses, but the earlier works will be a preview of the author’s style and voice. I read Dubliners on the beach, as the author intended. By all accounts Joyce’s most accessible work, the short stories are deceptively simple. I look forward to revisiting Dubliners in the future, perhaps when I am more worldly and receptive of its subtleties.

I connected with Portrait of the Artist in ways I had not anticipated. Catholicism truly knows no geographical or temporal bounds: Jesuits in 19th century Dublin and Sunday school teachers in 21st century Alabama communicate the doctrine with comparably terrifying efficacy. I finished Portrait, read a brief Cliffs Notes booklet, and read Portrait again. Rereading with an eye toward specific symbols, motifs, and themes enriched the experience and made the repetition rewarding.

The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923, J.C. Beckett. The politics and history of Ireland and its people are essential to the people and plot of Ulysses, and I am woefully behind in this realm of knowledge. The Making of Modern Ireland, published in 1966, begins with the end of the Nine Years War, when England established a centralized rule over the whole island, and ends right around the time of Ulysses’ publication. My years of American education seem to have left Ireland completely out, so I will be honest: I had no concept of Ireland as the conquered people who have spent centuries under the thumb of the English. The Making of Modern Ireland is a take-no-prisoners account of top-down political and parliamentary history. I may not remember all the names and dates, but I have a much better sense of the course of Irish history.

It goes without saying, none of these works is simply a means to the end of Ulysses; obviously Homer and Shakespeare are worthy of dedicated study themselves. One may train to run a marathon in the future, but each day of exercise carries with it health and wellness benefits that are themselves successes. I am excited to read Ulysses, but I am happy to have an excuse to absorb other great works with purpose. It’s a journey, and every step is a journey unto itself.

Aftermath

My post-Ulysses plan revolves around listening more than reading. I

Reading Ulysses

Initial mock-up of what I will look like while reading Ulysses.

downloaded an audiobook in the Great Courses series on Ulysses, taught by Professor James A. W. Heffernan. (While it is listed at $129.95 on the series’ web site, the price is right at one $14.95 Audible credit.) I am most definitely going to track down Joseph Campbell’s lecture series on Ulysses called “Wings of Art.” I’m passionate about Campbell, and Campbell is passionate about Joyce, so I think we’ll all get along very well. I also picked up a second-hand copy of Stuart Gilbert’s famous James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gilbert’s work will probably be a nice reference for future readings of the novel.

 

With every check off the list, I enjoy this journey more. I begin Ulysses January 1, 2016. My goal is to be ready for Bloomsday 2016, which shouldn’t be a problem as far as the reading goes (understanding is a different matter). I am sure I am not ready, but I’m no sissy.