Speaking of Bloomsday: an informal chat about James Joyce (w/video)

Stand-up Librarian and CL Contributor Meredith Myers leads a discussion on the famous Irish author.

click to enlarge FEELING BOOKISH: Meredith Myers and Jeff Wilson. - CHUCK VOSBURGH
FEELING BOOKISH: Meredith Myers and Jeff Wilson.

In an effort to promote literacy in St. Petersburg (and drink free Guinness thanks to the cool folks at J.J. Taylor), I decided to call up my friends Jeff Morris at Wilson’s Book World and Tiffany Razzano from Wordier Than Thou, to plan a Bloomsday event on June 16th to honor Irish writer James Joyce and his 768-page masterpiece Ulysses; a book that almost nobody has actually read.

The year before, I had created a literary music video called “JOYCE Around” and encouraged everyone to read it, but in truth I was a huge hypocrite wearing an outfit of one too many shamrocks, and wait for it  — I’m not even Irish! This year, a friend gave me my own copy of Ulysses, not to mention, a rare edition from 1934. As a thank you to her I am proud to say that I have finally read it, realizing now that a phone call or a thank you card would have been much easier.

In an effort to help prepare for Monday’s big event and to help anybody else interested in reading Ulysses, I decided to sit down with Tiffany and Jeff to see if they might have some guidance on making the journey slightly easier than mine.

Meredith Myers: So, why do this event? What is it about Bloomsday and James Joyce that made you say, “yes I said yes I will yes”?

Tiffany Razzano: Ulysses is one of those literary behemoths, overwhelming and honestly kind of scary to delve into. But it’s a modern classic, one of those books that I feel I should read in my lifetime. So I thought this Bloomsday event would be the perfect reason to tackle it for the first time.

Jeff Morris: Naked, nubile book chicks.

MM: Good job, Jeff. I think we just lost Tiffany. Let’s hope she shows up on Monday. Oh never mind, we have Guinness. She’ll be there.

JM: Bloomsday is the thing that is associated with James Joyce. Ulysses is not my favorite novel of his, Finnegans Wake is, but nobody knows Finnegans Wake like they know Ulysses so as Bloomsday is associated with Ulysses — it’s a foot in the door.

MM: What do you think the genius of Joyce is?

JM: I love Joyce simply because of the way he puts words together, even non-sensible words.

MM: Yeah, you two apparently have that in common …

JM: When I first picked up Finnegans Wake, I looked at it and didn’t understand it. I mean I caught some of the religious references. Some of the mythological and Latin references, of course. But then I went, Wow, and I found myself smiling on every page! And even though I may not have understood what that page said, just the way the words went together was just like, Oh yeah, that’s cool, I like that.

MM: “I never saw such a stupid pussens as the pussens…”

JM: What?

MM: That’s Ulysses, Jeff and you know what I would like? For you to talk about it, do I have to worry about you bringing out your Finnegans Wake on Monday?

JM: “May moon she shines and they twit twinkle all the night, combing the comet’s tail up right and shooting popguns at the stars.”

MM: All right you quoted your Finnegans Wake, can we move on? Do you think Joyce would have challenges finding a publisher today?

JM: He would. He might be able to find a small publisher. But he had to have a private patron even back then.

MM: That’s right because nobody else had the balls to publish it. Was it banned because of the naughty Molly Bloom soliloquy in episode 18?

JM: No, there is also a song about masturbation and back then, people didn’t talk about stuff like that.

MM: Dang it! I missed another good part when I fell asleep? Stupid sleep. Joyce is dirty but he really is brilliant at it.

JM: Exactly. When you go into it like Fifty Shades of Grey specifically for “that” it is a whole other thing. Here, yes, there are elements of eroticism in it but that’s not the whole story. It is meant to supplement the story.

MM: When people think of James Joyce, they always think of Ulysses, why is that?

JM: Well, first off, it was banned. And it’s always had the reputation of being the hardest book ever to read.

MM: And do you think it is the hardest book?

JM: No, Finnegans Wake is the hardest. Finnegans Wake makes Ulysses look like See Dick Run.

MM: Really? Again? I feel like we are in the parlor game Six Degrees of Finnegans Wake… So as a bookseller, do people request James Joyce a lot?

JM: No. Well, every now and then, but it is usually more Dubliners or A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Those are the two that you see on required reading lists for school. If I get a copy of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, I usually put that on my recommended rack and they will usually go pretty fast.

MM: Yeah I think we all know who is buying the copies of Finnegans Wake. Now how would you recommend people read Ulysses? Do you have any suggestions or advice?

JM: Approach Joyce like poetry. Especially the stream of consciousness stuff, and you will do much better with it. In a way you have to break away from your mold of what is taught by Strunk and White from The Elements of Style, as “this is how you lay out a paragraph.” It’s much more like a conveying of an emotion or an idea. You find the other weird stuff that is tough to read, but then you look at it and go, okay, this conveys the emotion much better!

MM: Jeff, if you could be any character in Ulysses, who would you be?

JM: Molly Bloom because she gets to touch herself.

MM: Okay, now it’s really awkward. Although my favorite line in Ulysses is “redheaded women buck like goats.”

JM: Oh, I love that line. Is it true?

MM: With the way this interview is going, we just might see on Monday! So what can people expect from attending from this Bloomsday event?

JM: Pandemonium. And hopefully, they have a good time.

MM: And show how fun literacy and bookstores can be?

JM: Yeah. We are putting in a stripper pole … but it is a literary stripper pole.

MM: What makes it a literary stripper pole?

JM: We are going to paste words all over it.

MM: Wow, this is going to be an interesting evening. I’m also starting to think you have already been enjoying the Guinness… And what’s this about you having a kilt?

JM: I have several kilts. I’m one half Scot, one half Russian. That makes me cheap with a bad attitude.

MM: And I thought I was the comedian here. So are you going to wear your kilt on Monday?

JM: Do you want me to?

MM: Are you wearing it traditionally?

JM: Regimental is the term and I see what you are getting at. So yes, I will be wearing it regimental. Hey, when a girl asks, “What do you got under the kilt?” You can say, “Well if your hands are warm, you can find out.” If a guy asks you, you say “Same as you, only bigger.”

MM: Well, if I needed a big finish for this interview, I think that was it. I guess everybody’s just going to have to wait until Monday’s Bloomsday event to see if Jeff whips out his Finnegans Wake and if I get on that literary stripper pole!

For more information about Monday’s free Bloomsday – BYOBook event, visit WilsonsBookWorld.com or StandUpLibrarian.com. Wilson’s Book World is at 2394 M.L. King St N, St. Petersburg. The event starts at 7 p.m.


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