Tucson, Ariz. – James Joyce’s Ulysses is a notoriously difficult read.
The book chronicles one day – June 16, 1904 – in the life of fictional Dublin resident Leopold Bloom.
More than just a narration of Bloom’s experiences, Ulysses takes the reader into his head.
Joyce transcribed his character’s thoughts in jarring torrents of words, sentence fragments, run-on paragraphs, and flights of rhetorical fancy.
The book can test even the most patient of readers. Many get no further than the first few chapters.
Ulysses has, however, taken on a second life as an oratory piece.
Diehard Joyce fans realized that the book’s language, and its author’s intention, is much easier to understand when it’s read out loud, preferably to a slightly boozy audience.
Each year on June 16, a day now known as Bloomsday, fans gather around the world to take turns reading from the book.
Listen to a story about my visit to a 2011 Bloomsday celebration in Tucson:
The 2011 occasion in Tucson celebrated Joyce and other Irish contributions to literature.
Young Irish dancers high-stepped in the hall while a Joyce impersonator mingled with guests.
The crowd was mostly older, caught between rapt attention one moment, and boisterous encouragement the next.
A well-thumbed copy of Ulysses sat on the podium. Some read directly from its pages, while others used it as an arm rest as they recited long passages from memory.
Late in the evening, when it came time to sing a few of the old Irish songs, everyone knew the words by heart.