Sunday, March 7, 2010

Books I'm Reading

I'm still new at this, this manner of displaying one's thoughts and contents out for the world to see, but I've often seen people on the web make note of the books they're reading and so I'd like to briefly discuss my own readings here. I've maintained a bi-annual book-reading count in a notebook journal for the last few years but, with a blog, why not put it out there for the online universe... I hope it's not as boring to people as listening to someone discuss their fantasy baseball team or the contents of their stamp collection.

Reading Right Now
Baseball Prospectus 2010 - I'm going to have a post this week all about this wonderful annual introduction to the upcoming baseball season. I received it last week and am slowly reading and leafing through it each day, savoring it while the baseball season's prelude, Spring Training, rises stretching from its hibernation in the bed of winter.

ReJoyce by Anthony Burgess - in the midst of a second reading as I prepare to re-approach the perigee of the celestial body that is Ulysses

Reading Next plan is to begin reading Ulysses again (perhaps with a second reading of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man first) and, as any good reading of this encyclopedic novel entails, I will be accompanying this second reading of it with a few of what the honorable Judge John M. Woolsey called its "satellites". Mainly these:

James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert - I acquired this book when I was already past the most ridiculous chapter of Ulysses, "Circe," and so I didn't get full of use of it yet. The format is a chapter-by-chapter walkthrough but it's not as good as some of the more recent ones in that respect. The lengthy introduction to the book and its themes, though, is perhaps my favorite piece of Joyce-commentary (out of everything I've read so far). The composition of this book was overseen by Joyce himself and, supposedly, Joyce spoke through Gilbert at times to give the reader some clues to his puzzle book so this, the first attempt by a writer to make sense of Ulysses, is an enlightening and essential sidekick.

Allusions in Ulysses: An Annotated List by Weldon Thornton - this is one my new toys. It's an enormous (506 pgs) and overwhelmingly thorough listing of the insane amount of references and allusions from Ulysses. What kind of allusion, you ask? One of the most daunting aspects of Ulysses is the fact that it contains so many references to things like: Shakespeare, Irish history, Thomas Aquinas, Catholicism, a ridiculous amount of old songs and plays or operas, Dante, The Bible, and about a million other people, places, and things. The book explains as many references as it can and does so in a chronological order, organized by chapter. This is most essential for the parts of the book where Stephen is talking or thinking because he is a walking Wikipedia and spins out that globular ball of yarn in his brain through poetic but opaque short sentences---like aphorisms or Tweets. An example from the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode:

As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies, Stephen said, from day to day, their molecules shuttled to and fro, so does the artist weave and unweave his image.

from Thornton...Dana, who is called Mother of the Irish Gods, was the greatest of the Danaan deities. She is mentioned in A.E.'s play Dierdre, which was alluded to earlier in this episode. J. Prescott points out an allusion here to Walter Pater's The Renaissance: "It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves"

Further down the Reading List
Finnegans Wake - I've already read A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake by Campbell/Robinson but I'm eager to begin a study of the book itself along with...

Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop - I've only read the introduction and first chapter but this appears to be the coolest Joyce book ever made. It's huge, not just lengthy but wide and has pictures and diagrams and all sorts of cool stuff. I look forward to reading this more than anything else.

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - I picked both of these up recently and am eager to get into them after I read Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther last year and loved it. (Also, the name Wolfgang is awesome.)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche - I read a few of Nietzsche's books a year or so ago and absolutely freakin' loved them. I took a break from the poet-philosopher to get more into the poet-novelist (Joyce) and hope to get into the former's most famous book this year. (I've actually got two editions of this, one a paperback Penguin classic, the other a huge hardcover with a cool cartoon of Nietzsche on the front and large font inside.) A couple other Nietzsche titles sit on the bench of my bookshelf waiting for their name to be called.

Besides those, there's a random smattering of books including some more Joyce ones, a couple Alan Watts titles, and a re-reading of Volume 4 of Joseph Campbell's Masks of God series. And, since I started this post with a baseball book, I might as well end it with one:

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker - I've been enjoying his blog for about three years now and this Spring, finally, he will be releasing a book. His reminiscences of growing up in a strange household are channeled through old 1970s baseball cards into sentimental, poetic, hilarious, and existential essays. One of my favorite baseball writers of the last few years.


  1. That Allusions book sounds intriguing - how do you use it? I mean, do you read a bit of it and then read the Joyce, or do you read the Joyce and when something seems peculiar do you look it up?

  2. I've only been thumbing through it so far, but if it seems like it'd work best to read Ulysses and then refer to the Allusions when something unknown comes up (and there's so much of throughout the book--names, songs, phrases in multiple languages).

    But it's also fun to just flip through and read--for instance if you've just read the Ithaca chapter (which is perhaps the book's richest when it comes to random obscure facts) it's great to just flip through the Allusions to that chapter and come across things like the fact that "My Favourite Hero", a schoolboy essay Bloom remembers writing (pg 685) was the title for an essay Joyce actually wrote when he was a child in school---it was an essay about his favorite hero Ulysses.