Ulysses with an iPad


I am a third of the way through Ulysses, James Joyce’s famously unreadable and controversial work of literary genius, and I have made a crucial discovery. An iPad or similar device is an almost indispensable aid to enjoying a work as rich and allusion-packed as this.

I never like to read the introduction to a serious book until I am well into the text. I want to read it fresh, let it work its magic, then find out more later. I started to do this with Ulysses, ploughing through nearly 200 dense, funny, poetic, often incoherent pages, frequently losing the thread, until I weakened and read the introduction (by Cedric Watts in my Wordsworth Classics edition).

Sure enough, it has told me too much of the plot for my liking, but its mention of the “electronic web” opened my eyes.

Going back to the first page of Ulysses, I googled “Buck Mulligan” and was suddenly able to appreciate the opening scene’s extraordinary fusion of Greek myth and Catholic ritual. I am learning about literature and civilization while enjoying a brilliantly frank and witty exploration of the lives of ordinary people.

Ulysses with an iPad – not what Joyce had in mind when he wrote his monumental modernist work in 1922, but great fun, which I would recommend to anyone.

[Editor’s note: Why do we have a post about reading on a blog about writing? Because if you want to write well, you need to read well. We always include a list of recommended reading in our training courses.]

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One Response to Ulysses with an iPad

  1. Paula Sharratt March 29, 2016 at 9:46 am #


    I agree completely! When you go beyond ‘perceived difficulty’ (whether through internet cheating or just facing it and saying: ‘come on buster: I’m not afraid of you’ you arrive in or on or around the place: the joy(ce)ful consumption of culture and its appearance(s) and disappearances in the meandering worlds of Harold Bloom.

    I tried many times until I audio booked it and really sat quiet and still and then I read it and thought: ‘It’s only just begun…’

    I found the same thing with ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ Marlon James. As with Faulkner you can get stuck in a loop: audio book (wow: Shakesearean actors, what theatre) and then listen to the language as you read it and try speaking it. Maybe people lose that hand brain connection as they delve into the internet: you’re right the internet does help with confidence to assert yourself in the face of a mountain of cultural knowledge but also the internet is still beta and some difficulty in life is necessary when you realise that often when you watch something or watch and listen to something that there’s a tiny delay between sound and image which makes the experience less than satisfying…..

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