8 ways to celebrate James Joyce and Bloomsday

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All you literarians know that June 16 is Bloomsday, so called for Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’ which takes place in Dublin in a single day in 1904. That day being June 16, of course.

Despite of the modernist classic being a somewhat difficult read, Bloomsday has become a way for fans of James Joyce to come together and celebrate his iconic work. Here are eight ways you, too, can celebrate Bloomsday and James Joyce on Thursday.


1. In Ireland, celebrate all day long around Dublin with the James Joyce Centre; events include a breakfast, readings, Joycean tours around the city, songs and poetry readings, and actors wandering the streets dressed as characters from ‘Ulysses.’ And when the day is done, head to the Great Hiberian Metropolis Pub Quiz, where Irish whiskey is sure to be served.

2. For those of us who can’t get to Ireland, the entire novel ‘Ulysses’ is online -- as 2-D bar codes. The hundreds of black-and-white images render as the text of the book when turned under the gaze of a properly equipped cellphone, 800 characters at a time. Why would the people behind Books 2 Bar Codes do such a thing? No reason, really. As the Very Short List explains, ‘It’s the sort of totally pointless/oddly amusing/ultimately affecting effort that Joyce’s countryman Samuel Beckett would have appreciated.’

3. OK, you don’t need to have a cellphone with a bar-code reader. ‘Ulysses,’ which was originally published in 1922 -- its suitability for American readers was determined by the courts 11 years later, when an imported version was found not to be obscene -- can be found as an e-book at Project Gutenberg, online and entirely free.

4. Angelenos, New Yorkers and anyone with a decent Internet connection can listen in on Radio Bloomsday, which broadcasts an audio version of the excerpted ‘Ulysses’ on the East Coast and West Coast from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. In Los Angeles, it can be heard on KPFK-FM (90.7); in New York, on WBAI-FM (99.5). Readers include Alec Baldwin, Wallace Shawn, Anne Enright, Bob Odenkirk, Paul Muldoon, Roma Downey, John O’Callaghan, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara and Garrison Keillor.

5. In New York, buy tickets to the 30th annual Bloomsday on Broadway, featuring more than 100 actors, including Denis O’Hare, Fionnula Flanagan and Michael Cerveris, reading ‘Ulysses’ at Symphony Space. Things get started at noon and continue for about 13 hours; starting at 8 p.m., the show is to be broadcast live on WNYC-FM (93.9).

6. In Los Angeles, go to Machine Project’s Bloomsday Silent Read-A-Thon. Starting at 8 a.m. and going until 3 p.m., Echo Park’s Machine Project will enable attendees’ reading of ‘Ulysses’ in its entirety. The goal is aspirational -- readers would have to clip through the dense text at 100-plus pages an hour -- but the environment will be welcoming, with chairs, spare copies of ‘Ulysses’ and a coffee shop next door.

7. Another L.A. way to celebrate ‘Ulysses’ is James Joyce at the Hammer, a reading focused on the women of ‘Ulysses’ that gets underway at 7:30 p.m. The event will be preceded and concluded -- or bookended, as they say -- with Guinness-enhanced, musically accompanied happy hours in the Hammer’s courtyard.

8. And for a little taste of the real thing, there’s this rare recording of James Joyce reading from his own writing, pointed out by Boing Boing in 2009. The James Joyce Centre says that he was recorded reading from his work in 1924 and 1929 at the urging of Sylvia Beach, a woman who knew ‘Ulysses’ was special -- she was its publisher.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg