Monday, September 19, 2022

James Joyce and Ulysses at the Morgan Library

Published in 1922 Ulysses is on a lot of people's lists of "books I wish I read," or "books smart people read and I would like to think of myself as a smart person so I'll buy a copy but not read it," etc. My own included. I read a book about Ulysses once,

Final proof cover of Ulysses
Kevin Birmingham's The Most Dangerous Book (link to my review), which I strongly recommend.

Little City Books, the independent bookstore in my town, did a giveaway of Ulysses earlier this year so I helped myself to a free copy and of course it's been in my TBR pile untouched since then. 

So last week I finally got around to visiting the Morgan Library in Manhattan for their exhibit on James Joyce and Ulysses, entitled One Hundred Years of James Joyce's Ulysses.  It closes in a couple of weeks so if you're interested, don't wait.

I really enjoyed it. The exhibit talks about Joyce, his family, the various influences on the book, his earlier and later work and goes through the book section by section with historical artifacts like manuscript pages, letters, photos and even an audio recording of Joyce reading. There is also material about the difficulties of publishing the book, Joyce's writing process and the later trial. The exhibit is helped along by the audio tour which you should definitely take advantage of. Colm Toibin does the narration and it added a lot to my experience. 

Early edition of Ulysses
The exhibit is relatively small; you'll find it tucked away on the first floor of the Morgan near the permanent exhibit about the museum itself but it is well worth your time. For me the main takeaway was the impression that the book is a lot more approachable than I thought; maybe I could be the kind of smart person who actually reads the book after all!

I went on Twitter to chat about it later and a friend directed to me to Frank Delaney's podcast about the book, re:Joyce, which does look like it would be a great guide. And I mean, it's Frank Delaney. How can you go wrong? He said, "life is too short for an Irishman not to know Ulysses." Yes I said I will yes.

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