I get why everybody makes a fuss about Ulysses, what with all of its maddening and spectacular qualities, and with James Joyce’s shameless (and, to me, satisfying) arrogance about his own work. But I’ve never really gotten why people find this funny, dirty novel so hard to read.
I’ve picked up — and put down — The Corrections, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, various books by Paul Auster, Middlesex (even though I loved The Virgin Suicides), The Shipping News, Tipping the Velvet, Memoirs of a Geisha, She’s Come Undone and Cold Mountain. I couldn’t get into them, even by cheating and flipping through to sections later in the book that might be more interesting. They seemed like slogs. They may well be great books. Everyone says so. I just can’t get into them or through them. So it’s not like I’m a reader with epic stamina. It’s not an issue of length, either, although it always seems less horrible to slog through a book you’re not that into when it’s nice and slim. Maybe reading Ulysses is like meditating? (Meaning, if it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.) I don’t understand every reference in Ulysses, but then, I don’t understand every reference in most novels I’ve enjoyed reading. Certainly Ulysses is a novel the way New York (more than Dublin) is a city — it’s different every time you visit it.
Take a look!