You may recall that, this year being the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’ve started a project of re-reading that book, along with 12 other literary works published the same year. Despite a good head start (see my April Quarterly report here), I’ve fallen behind. Other books that I simply had to read kept cropping up, and now that Witch Week is coming, I’ve dived into another half dozen novels that are not part of my Ulysses+ project.
And yet, I have made some progress. Here’s where I am now:
In addition to the 5 companion books mentioned in the April update, I’ve completed 2 more and started 3 others:
Completed: Willa Cather’s One of Ours, set in the years before WWI, is about a midwestern farm boy who yearns for something more than the life of a farmer. Torn between his love for his mother and his need for culture (art, music, and conversation beyond weather and crops), he makes compromises that cost him dearly. It’s a sad book, leaving me with the sense that one’s family can be the anchor that drowns a person rather than providing safe mooring.
Completed: P. G. Wodehouse’s The Girl on the Boat, a frothy romp, much of which happens on a cross-Atlantic voyage. Three men vie for the affections of the “girl” (Billie Bennett), a domineering mother makes life difficult for one of the men, and a Jeeves-like butler works a few miracles. (Jeeves had made his first appearance, in a short story, several years earlier.) Typical Woodhouse high-jinks.
Started: Katherine Mansfield’s collection of short stories, The Garden-Party, a few of which were first published in 1922. Lovely tales in this collection, all set in New Zealand. I’m more than half-way through, and, as this is a re-read, I can probably wrap this one up soon.
Started: E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, a book of high fantasy published in the same decade as Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter and Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist. It took me a while to become accustomed to the old-fashioned language (which Ursula K. Le Guin admired), and I’m still waiting for the Worm Ouroboros (an ancient Norse symbol of eternity) to appear, but the plot of witches vs. demons, with both sides equally good/bad, is unusual. There is no traditional villain for the good guys to fight, just ancient rivalries that allow first one side and then the other to find themselves on top. I’ve known about this book since my teens, and here I am, several decades later, finally reading it.
Started: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Yes, it’s short, only 70 pages, but length isn’t the issue. I haven’t counted the number of propositions and sub-propositions this book contains (anywhere from 5 to 15 per page), but each proposition requires analysis. Every line is a struggle to unpack, every proposition a concentrated nugget of meaning. Take proposition 3.3421 (on p. 18), for instance:
A particular mode of signifying may be unimportant but it is always important that it is a possible mode of signifying. And that is generally so in philosophy: again and again the individual case turns out to be unimportant, but the possibility of each individual case discloses something about the essence of the world.
It took me a while, but I see that Prop 3.3421 can apply to fiction. “Art is a lie that tells truth about the world,” as Greil Marcus and others have said.
To summarize: of the 12 companion books, I’ve completed 7 and started 3. That leaves 2 not even cracked open, but they’re easy ones, both re-reads: Sabatini’s Captain Blood, and Cummings The Enormous Room.
And then, of course, there’s Ulysses itself. A monster of a book, slightly easier than the Tractatus, but still a challenge. I’m going to have to save it for the end of this year. Too much else is going on.
And did I mention that Witch Week is coming?
I envy your tenacity with Ulysses, Lizzie, as I increasingly find myself drawn to shorter works, as though I’m trying to fit in as many works as possible. But your dedication is impressive!
The Eddison is extraordinary, with all that sustained Elizabethan language and ethos, though I’m still not sure about the frame story… Also the Hope Mirrlees is a sustained treatment of fairy traditions told in a distinctive voice.
And Witch Week – I think you may have mentioned it once or twice 😁 Thanks!
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Thanks for the encouraging words, Chris. I make no promises other than to keep Ulysses on my desk as a reminder of what I ought to be doing.
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That’s an impressive reading list! Captain Blood disappointed me, but I do want to read The Enormous Room. Good luck with Ulysses, and hooray for Witch Week!
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Thanks, Lory. I was surprised to see I’d made so much progress with the companion books, but Ulysses itself might defeat me. We’ll see what happens.