Happy Bloomsday


Stage Irishmen.

Today is June 16, the closest thing international literature has to a holiday. Appropriately enough, Bloomsday marks a fictional event: The plus-or-minus 18-hour time frame covered in James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses, which depicts the activities of a group of Dublin residents on June 16, 1904. 

This year June 16 falls on a Thursday, as it did in 1904. Hopeless nerds the world over are celebrating. Here are some activities in Tel Aviv, Chicago, Kansas City and Los Angeles. There's even a Bloomsday event in Ocean City, N.J., which I'd like to believe is organized by my old friend Dave Swift, a longtime Ocean City hand who was always interested in organizing Joyce-related events even though he never as far as I knew cracked open a copy of Ulysses

That may actually be the point. My 2004 article on the Bloomsday phenomenon covered the contingent nature of literary reputation. Even academic darlings like Ulysses live or die based on popular support. The June 16 celebrants are not so much interested in literary merit as in midsummer fun and a pop version of Irishness that's more urbanized than the versions presented by such icons of the Old Sod as Warwick Davis and Lucky the Lucky Charms leprechaun. (It's a special testament to Ulysses' durability that it still attracts fans despite the rotten stewardship of the Joyce estate, which throws the wet blanket of copyright on would-be adapters ranging from the singer Kate Bush to the biologist Craig Venter.) 

Something I didn't mention back then has become more clear as I have seen friends and enemies get career boosts from publishing books (regardless of whether they sell enough copies even to make back their advances) while gradually losing my own inclination to read for pleasure. A book is really more valuable as a placeholder or conversation-starter than as something you read. Even in this Kindleriffic age, sales figures for books are vanishingly small relative to other media, but books are excellent for putting a point on a general idea, giving people a reason to interview you, redefining conventional wisdom, providing fodder for adaptations in other media and otherwise moving the public conversation along. I remain skeptical about the long-term future of the book you read from page one to the end, and especially of e-readers' efforts to reproduce that format electronically. But books still have enormous prop value and snob appeal. The old joke about Ulysses is that it's a book many people talk about and nobody reads. In that way as in so many others, it may have been ahead of its time. 

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  1. tl;dr

    1. The book, or the post?

  2. Yeah, I dunno. I’m thinking that books aren’t quite dead yet. Whether and to what degree they’ll be replaced by e-readers is another question, but I think the structure of books works too well to be supplanted anytime soon.

    1. When it comes to fiction I am kind of pissed at the novels structure.

      I mostly read sci-fi shit and the size of these things is pure moronic. The best parts make up maybe 20% of the book the rest being filler.

      What the structure of novels need is a good editor….and with a corresponding price drop.

      In support of this i would like to point out that back in the day when people actually bought and read fiction that they were dime store novels…and were less then a quarter the size of a current typical genera fiction novel.

      1. THIS. I find myself gravitating more toward older stuff like Heinlein partly because it’s concise.

        There is a lot of padding these days because there’s a minimum word count for things to be taken seriously.

        1. Depends on the author. Richard Morgan is pretty concise. Someone like Ian Banks is a lot more wordy, but since I like what he has to say, I don’t mind.

          1. And then there’s Neal Stephenson.

            1. And then there’s Maude.

            2. I actually didn’t think there was any filler in Cryptonomicon. Unfortunately, there’s everything he’s written since.

          2. Bank’s earlier stuff was more concise and his work is dialog heavy which eats up pages with short sentences making a lower word per page ratio.

      2. Short stories.

        Some of my favorite sci-fi books are collections of short stories. The problem is there isnt much of a place for authors to make money selling individual short stories these days.

        1. For a lot of authors, say, William Gibson or Theodore Sturgeon, their short story collections are much better than than any of their novels.

      3. Yes and no. Read some unabridged 19th century novels if you want to learn what long is all about. I’m a big Dumas fan and once read all 10,000 pages of his main Musketeers novels.

        1. This. I have a book written by an actual conquistador about his adventures civilising the new world, written some time in the 1500s.

          Man does that book go on. And each sentence goes on. And on.

        2. Obviously I was talking about Mark Twain onward which encompasses the the bulk of the history of American pop culture novel consumption.

          1. That was the yes part.

        3. Yeah. Just try The Fall of the Roman Empire.

      4. True. The other occupational hazard of science fiction is trilogies.

        I think the bar for trilogization should be higher than it is. I’ve got nothing against sequels. Ulysses is a sequel. So is the Odyssey, and so is the New Testament. But by doing a trilogy you’re asking a reader to commit to not one but three books right up front. That’s a lot to ask.

      5. OK, not trying to blog-whore here, but if anyone is interested in some sci-fi please try the link below.

        Comments welcome.

        … Hobbit

        1. I read it but you don’t have a comments page

  3. I read Ulysses twice in college. Still an e-book luddite. You can’t use e-books for decor.

    1. I have a Kindle (Christmas gift), and I use it to read public domain books, for the most part.

      1. I. Love. My. Kindle. It’s completely awesome. I don’t want any more paper books, and I wish I could put all my existing paper books on it (I could, but I’d have to pay for them again so fuck that).

        1. You and me both, E. I feel like reading a paper book is slumming.

          1. It’s superior in every way except not being somewhat impervious to water (for the hot tub, of course). You don’t have to hold it open; you don’t need to remember what page you’re on; it’s awesomely light and thin; you can have ten or 500 books and there’s only the Kindle; the list goes on.

            To anyone who thinks “oh, I’d still prefer paper books”, think again. Just try a Kindle and you’ll change your mind.

            1. I like both, but I’m definitely not ready to give up my books. The ability to carry around an entire library is pretty danged cool, though.

              1. They don’t put a lot of the kinds of books I like to read on the eee-lek-tronic format yet *sadface*

                1. Yeah, I love my kindle but it lacks Patrick McGrath and Yukio Mishima.

                2. Juggs isn’t a book.

                  1. Does it count as one if I read it for the articles? Does that magazine even have articles?

            2. Agreed, though I e-read on a Galaxy Tab using the Kindle app.

              1. I’m pretty confident that dedicated e-readers are going to be toast quite soon. Tablets of some sort that do everything else and handle e-books are the future. For now.

                1. I’m pretty confident that dedicated e-readers are going to be toast quite soon. Tablets of some sort that do everything else and handle e-books are the future. For now.

                  They gotta get the screens right. There’s something to reading a black-and-white LCD screen (e reader) vs. a brightly lit AMOLED screen. Your eyes just get tired reading the latter.

                  I thought the same thing when I got my android phone, but I find that after about a half hour, my eyes are just tired from reading text on it.

                  1. As Paul says, the E-Ink is critical and is what really makes the Kindle (you can read in bright sunlight, for instance, which you cannot do with a tablet/laptop). Unless they find a way to combine those screens, there will be a niche for the dedicated e-reader.

                  2. You mean reflective e-ink screen (kindle) vs. backlit LCD (iPad) I suspect.

                    I’m a huge fan of reflective screens for reading. Will be really interested to see how Qualcom’s 2nd gen mirasol (mems-mirror-array) color, > 30Hz refresh relective screens look.

                2. The other advantage the Kindle has is ungodly battery life, because the screen isn’t backlit.

                  1. RC, the great battery life isn’t because there isn’t a backlight. E-Ink only refreshes when you flip pages, not sixty times every second.

            3. When the revolution comes (that is why you invest in gold, RC) all of your highfalutin electronic gadgetry will be useless. Most, immediately. The rest, as soon as the bateries go.

              1. For now, the e-ink is great. But if the display is the only advantage, I don’t think the niche market will hold for very long.

                1. Pure e-ink book readers are a pretty simple and stable technology and could potentially become cheap commodity items. At a price of say $20 or less, anybody could have one, and you wouldn’t worry much about losing it or damaging it or having it stolen.

            4. (I could, but I’d have to pay for them again so fuck that).

              well, there’s an awful lot of stuff up on bittorrent. most of it is 14 book cycles of dudes with swords or pew pew space lasers trilogies, but there’s some actual stuff worth reading as well.

              but yeah for longer works in particular it’s really hard to beat a kindle for regular reading.

        2. I. Love. My. Kindle. Too.

          In fact, that’s where I read Reason, which gets there ‘way before the paper version.

          1. I can’t see going Kindle. I like to underline and make notes in books.

            1. Why I don’t like mine

              1. Graffiti is art, baby

            2. I can’t see going Kindle. I like to underline and make notes in books.

              Not only does the kindle allow you to do this, since your notes are electronically saved they are much easier to find.

          2. I’m not crazy about my new Sony e-reader. I loved the old one(505), but I stupidly broke it. The new one is touchscreen which make is harder to read and the glass is annoyingly reflective.

            1. I love the feel of a novel, and it reminds me of childhood to tilt the book to its side, and secretly be thrilled about my accomplishment

  4. Ah, Ulysses. A book so brilliant no one has ever succeeded in reading past page 10.

    1. Try Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man if you really want to experience pain.

      1. Don’t get the Joyce love, to be honest.

        1. Really? Has there ever been an author more perfect for post modern deconstruction?

          1. I think I know what my problem with him is now.

            1. Don’t hate the player!

              1. portrait is far simpler to read. it has some experimental touches (namely the voice of the work changing as the author grows older) but is a fairly straightforward narrative. though if you don’t know much about irish republicanism it’s going to be kinda mysterious as to why people are having dinner fights over sarcastic comments about parnell and stockings.

                the deal with ulysses is this – he helped invent what we know as the modern novel. cinematic narrative techniques, intricate and absurdly detailed plotting, multi-layered narratives and time shifts and so on.

                i can understand not liking it though; one can appreciate the history of cinema but not want to watch metropolis.

      2. My English teacher senior year of high school was literally in love with Joyce. She was also an insufferable pedant*, and her fanatacism for Joyce was enough to turn me off to him for life even if Portrait had turned out to be anything better than an unreadable self-indulgent ramble.

        *Best example: her recurring crusade against the word overwhelmed. She claimed that since “whelmed” already meant submerged, “overwhelmed” was redundant. I wanted to throw up when our salutatorian worked “whelmed” into his address.

        1. I wanted to throw up when our salutatorian worked “whelmed” into his address.

          Probably got him blown.

          [So wishing I could see X’s face as that mental image forms]

          1. He would have deserved it.

        2. I might start a campaign to bring back “gruntled”.

          If disgruntled means “unhappy”, then gruntled must mean “happy”, right?

          1. One of the Marines in The Malazan Book of the Fallen (all ten volumes available on Kindle!) is named Gruntle.

            He doesn’t seem particularly happy, though.

      3. I read PotAaaYM in its entirety and it’s one of my favorite novels. It was Ulysses that killed me.

      4. Srsly? Portrait of the Artist can be read, at least. But I hit a wall in the low double-digits of Ulysses. Call me a Filipine, but there’s other stuff to read.

  5. That is not a recent picture of Kate Bush at the link. She still looks pretty good for a 53 y/o broad…but not that good.

    Now at 20…

    1. Hachi machi! Her voice is distilled femininity.

  6. HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO what about my day?

    1. We Scots types still celebrate it. When we’re not too drunk to remember to celebrate it.

      Now let’s all sing, “I Belong to Glasgow”!

    2. If it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!

  7. I thought today was Picard Day?

    1. You are correct.

  8. A book is really more valuable as a placeholder or conversation-starter than as something you read.

    Oh bullshit. There are still millions of us who read for pleasure. Whether on paper or pixels doesn’t matter,

    And I’ve read Ulysses twice-once for a grade and once for pleasure. I think it’s best enjoyed if you don’t try to make sense of it or try to keep up with the narrative, because there really isn’t one. If you enjoy language for its own sake, if you enjoy puns and allusions and pastiches of literary forms, if you just like watching what someone can do with words, it’s a beautiful book. As a story, not so much, but oh well.

    1. Taste is a matter of taste, I guess. I’ve never been able to stomach Joyce, and I’ve read most of Faulkner.

    2. To that point, I think that while a smaller percentage may read books, we are still talking about millions of people. Also, many people read other people’s books and borrow them from libraries, so it’s hard to measure exactly how many people are reading how many books.

    3. Kind of like the film Fargo.

    4. Sure you’re not thinking of Finnegans Wake? It may not be an edge-of-your-seat page-turner, but Ulysses is plotted with fanatical attention to detail. It keeps scrupulous account of where characters are at what times, what they have in their pockets, how much they know at any given time, what becomes of objects they throw away, how long it takes to get from point to point, and so on. One of the problems with it is that it makes most books’ elisions and contrivances seem very sloppy by comparison.

  9. I have a field-day at our Half-Price Books, because not only do I still read for pleasure, but the majority of what I read are esoteric tomes on medieval social structure and warfare. So I’m never really competing with anyone for material (Half-Price is nearly worthless for popular books).

    1. I love that store. I wished they had them down in Florida. A good chunk of my classical library came from there, at ridiculously low prices.

      1. Hell yeah. I’ll walk in with $50, and walk out with two bulging sacks (language intentional) full of books, most of them $5 – $10. Can’t beat it.

        1. The only place I’ve done better is library sales. I cleaned up once at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. Bought something like five paper boxes worth of books for $20.

          1. Holy shit, I never even knew libraries sold books. I figures they just burned them when they were done (gotta protect that copyright). I’ll have to check that out.

            1. I got on an alert e-mail that tells me when Tampa’s main library is having a big sale.

            2. Incidentally, they don’t just sell discards. Libraries get a ton of book donations. Many of those go straight into the selling bin.

              1. “Friends of the Library” sales. They are like a booster club. I used to clean up back in the day when they couldn’t use the internet to research the scarcity and desirability of the books for sale.I miss book scouting in the pre-ubiquitous internet age.

                1. Back then, paperbacks were like a dime, and most hardbacks were a buck. Got some great deals. Now, of course, there are booksellers who will buy them up in bulk.

                  1. That +1 was for SIV’s comment

  10. What does one drink for Bloomsday?

    1. Everything in the liquor cabinet.

    2. Burgundy at lunch, cider at dinner.

    3. Anything Joyce would have drank.

      But I repeat myself.

  11. Well i have not read Dorhety’s burning man book….nor Ron’s singularity biology book, nor Matt’s McCain book, Nor Nick’s collection of reason articles book…

    But i did just buy Nick’s and Matt’s libertarian manifesto….and i do plan on reading it from from first to last page.

    So if you write a book Tim there is a 1 in 5 chance i will buy it….

    Also because you told us that the Iron Cross was page after page of Stiner jaming his M-40 into pill boxes and blasting away which it did not turn out to be…i strongly recommend that you write this mythical book of non-stop violence and destruction….that or something about the real estate market.

    1. Still, if I’ve gotten just one person to read Cross of Iron, it’s worth it.

        1. The one with Steiner, thus the Willi Heinrich book. (Movie-ized by Sam Fuller about 1980, starring Coburn and Mason IIRC.)

          But when and where did Cavanaugh ever write anything about it?

          1. Tim Cavanaugh|6.7.06 @ 3:13PM|#

            Um, what is the “random page” test? Didn’t you mean that “Cross of Iron” was the only book that “failed” it?

            You open the book at random, pick a random sentence from the page, and see if you like it. Most books fail quickly because they’re mostly made up of connective tissue that doesn’t make for very interesting sentences. Cross of Iron succeeds because, as I recall, on just about every page Steiner is gutting a Russian with his bayonet, or shoving a potato masher down the slit of a T-34, or emptying his Schmeiser at a charging squad of Georgians, or slapping some blubbering officer who’s lost his head during an attack. I’d say Building Red America is pretty much a nonperformer because none of the randomly sampled passages were very interesting (to me at any rate).


            Tim’s comment can be found in the comments….and yes because of that comment i bought and read the book. I did like the book but i was disappointed that it was not as non-stop as he portrayed it.

            Also Tim i think you should start up the random page test for book reviews….in fact i think you should do it for Nick’s and Matt’s new book.

            1. I’ll take it under advisement. I guess Cross of Iron may have mellowed in my memory, but glad you liked it.

          2. That was Peckinpah, not Fuller. And it was 1977.

            1. I stand corrected.

        2. Based on JC’s post, I’m going to guess it’s this one?

  12. With regard to the post’s last paragraph, it seems like Tim is talking about two different segments of the publishing biz. I’d agree that interest in fiction is on the wane, and I’d blame smartphones and tablets for giving us so many more options for entertainment during down time. As far as non-fiction, I’m not so sure. I think writing books is part of the process of cultivating a brand as a public intellectual these days, and it can’t be a thinker’s only outlet. But I’m not sure it follows that no one’s reading the books.

  13. Is there a good 1 paragraph synopsis of this book?

  14. I had an English Lit. professor who told the class that Ulysses literally saved his life. Then he told us that he got an erection whenever he heard the word “Newark.” He’s dead now. The end.

    1. Thread. Fucking. Winner.

  15. Is there a good 1 paragraph synopsis of this book?


    1. It shares with St. Patrick’s Day a one-sentence synopsis: People dress up in stupid outfits once a year and pretend to be Irish in order to justify their alcoholism.

      1. Why does one need to justify his alcoholism?

      2. So this book was about a guy who got together with other people and pretended to be Irish to justify their alcoholism? That sounds interesting!

  16. I thought this was going to be about “Bloom County” coming back or something.

    Seeing what it’s actually about, suffice it to say: Son, I am disappoint.

  17. Also:

    Bill the Cat for President – 2012!!

    1. ** Ack! **

  18. I read it once, five pages a day and with a ‘guide-book’ I would flip back and forth with as I read, and I had to say when finished I quite liked the book. My favorite part was when he meets the “cyclops.”


      This is the guide-book I used.

      For my trolls out there, yes, I’m sure the author is properly credentialed and not an aficionado of tractor pulls. (I mean the guide author, dunno about JJ).

      1. I have never been able to get through it. And I have gotten through a lot of big books in my lifetime (War and Peace, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Gulag Archipelago just to name three). But my eyes rolled to the back of my head after about five pages. I have tried to read it three times and given up after about fifty pages each time. And they say Finnigan’s Wake is even worse. I am not sure what it takes to read that book. But I don’t seem to have it.

        1. I think without the guide I may never have gotten through it.

      2. For my trolls out there, yes, I’m sure the author is properly credentialed and not an aficionado of tractor pulls. (I mean the guide author, dunno about JJ).

        Why not read Wikipedia articles on economics and belittle tractor pulls at the same time?

    2. Ew, really? The cyclops is always the worst part of any book! You’re killin me, man…

  19. Bloomsday in Ocean City, NJ is organized by the Ocean City Repertory Theater.

  20. I’d blame smartphones and tablets for giving us so many more options for entertainment during down time. Her voice is distilled femininity.

  21. Here you can choose more new products, enjoy more discounts, so you get favorite products while saving money.

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