How to Read Ulysses
Come on, it's Ulysses. Considered by many to be the second hardest book in the English language (mostly because the hardest book in the English language requires a working knowledge of 8 other languages to read), reading Ulysses is both enjoyable and provocative. Despite its reputation, it's not too difficult to read.
1. Understand Ulysses. Before learning how to read Ulysses, you have to know what you're getting into. Ulysses comprises 18 "Episodes". Each of these episodes was serialized separately, and each one reads completely differently. For example, Episode 14 parodies all of the great authors of the English language, going from Chaucer to Dickens, and Episode 18 is a lengthy monologue of about 10,000 words that comprises two giant run-on sentences. Every Episode reads like a completely different book, and therein lies the beauty of Ulysses.
2. Don't use a guidebook. When doing a formal, academic study of Ulysses, you should buy some form of guidebook. These books are about four hundred pages thick and explain Ulysses line by line. This is good because Ulysses is full of esoteric puns and references, and the guidebooks explain it all. However, switching from guidebook to guidebook over and over is very annoying. The best way to read Ulysses, if you're trying to read it for fun, is to just dive right in, saving all of those guidebooks for a college course.
3. Understand that it's funny. No, really, this 700 page text is hilarious. The entire idea of the novel is that Joyce is taking the epic heroes of The Odyssey and turning them into these pathetic Dubliners. The end of Episode 4 features a ten page poop joke written in the same elevated language as The Odyssey. Understanding that every sentence has some form of joke in it, be it some esoteric reference to literature or a subtle pun, turns Ulysses into a very intelligent comedy.
4. You're not going to understand everything. But that's mostly because Joyce designed it that way. Part of the joke is that you're not going to get everything, and there's humor in that. Laugh whenever you don't get something, because you've just walked into one of the most brilliant practical jokes in literature.
5. Take your time with each chapter. Because each chapter is written differently, it takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of each episode.
6. Know your episode. Since each episode has a different style, knowing what to appreciate beforehand can help. As such, here is a list of all of the episodes and their brand of comedy.
7. Use the schemas. Joyce wrote two graphic organizers. They are called the schemas. Use them to introduce yourself to the chapter. They can be found here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linati_schema_for_Ulysses and here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_schema_for_Ulysses
Read it aloud. In an Irish accent, preferably. A lot of the puns make more sense when heard.
8. Set up a schedule. Reading this novel is difficult, so you have to set up a schedule for yourself or you'll give up.
9. Read James Joyce's other works beforehand. A lot of Ulysses makes fun of Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, so reading them beforehand allows you to practice reading Joyce's style and give you background knowledge for some of Joyce's jokes.
10. Annotate. When you get a joke, write it down in the margins. It'll help you comprehend other similar jokes.
11. Laugh. This is a work of comic fiction. Laugh aloud. Laugh at everything. It's funny.
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