To James Joyce fans, June 16 is Bloomsday, the day that Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin for the 732 pages of “Ulysses.” The modernist classic, though a difficult read, has generated a multinational public display of literary enthusiasm -- perhaps because it’s concentrated in just one day.
Joyce couldn’t have imagined when working on the book that thousands of people would flock to Sweny’s Pharmacy to buy lemon soap, as Bloom does in the novel. That’s just one of the stops in Dublin that Joyce fans will be making on Monday, where people don period costume, do public readings, and fill the pubs in his honor.
In Los Angeles, Bloomsday celebrants can gather at the Hammer, which celebrates Bloomsday this year with actors reading some of the book’s densest and dirtiest parts. The reading, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is bracketed by live music, Guinness and Irish food in the courtyard. The event is free; parking is $3.
The profane parts of “Ulysses,” of course, made it the subject of a landmark American obscenity case. That trial, and the publishing, creative and censoring actions that led up to it, are the focus of “The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’” by Kevin Birmingham, being published by the Penguin Press on Bloomsday itself. Birmingham describes his lively literary history as a “biography of ‘Ulysses’” that “revisits a time when novelists tested the limits of the law and when novels were dangerous enough to be burned.”
Joyce has fans in many professions, including computer programming, who create new technological twists on his work. This year it’s an app called He Liked Thick Word Soup. Sentences from “Ulysses” appear in a visual snarl that you must pull apart and reassemble with your fingers. “By the end of your odyssey, you will have read up to four pages and 100 sentences chosen from throughout the novel, the creators promise, adding, “Your fingers’ dexterity will have increased by an exponential factor, and your point of view on Modernist literature and experimental apps will have changed forever.”
Worldwide Bloomsday events include a literary pub crawl in Brooklyn; public readings in Brazil, Australia and Italy; an exhibition in the Netherlands; a daylong program in Shanghai that moves from location to location, as if Shanghai were Dublin; drinks at Madrid’s James Joyce Irish Pub; and Lucy Lawless (a.k.a. Xena, the Warrior Princess) performing in a Bloomsday cabaret in Auckland, New Zealand.
Like passing notes in class; I’m @paperhaus on Twitter