'Ulysses - Story of a Day' In a Day?

Ulysses takes place over the course of one day - 16th June, in roughly 18 hours. It should be possible to read it in one day, right? One can read faster than people can walk, right?That's going to be my weekend project - does the math add up?

I have had the book since I was 16 and I have not made it past the first few pages after numerous attempts. It has, in one form or the another, been on my reading list, but always for 'next year'. I am sick of doing that. A nice week-long break is coming up and "why put off  for tomorrow what you can today? or do this year, instead of next year, right?" 

Any serious reader, or more correctly in my case, a reader pretending seriousness, cannot claim to be one if he/she has not tackled the eight-thousander Himalayan peaks of: 
  • Joyce's Ulysses,
  • Proust's In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance Of Things Past),
  • Tolstoy's War and Peace, or
  • Eliot's Middlemarch
The above are on any great reading list, and if not included, then the compiler has to justify why not. It must be said that I have read none of the above. Partly, because of their daunting length and difficulty, but mainly because of their fabled complexity and literary weight. There are many in the camp of the Ulysses 'also rans' - those who have wanted to read it, have made numerous attempts and have failed, or have given up.

Mortimer Adler in How To Read a Book writes that most people read books slower than they need to, and that reading too slowly can make you lose the forest for the trees. He writes that the first reading should be quick and "not to worry if you don't understand every word". Get the main idea. My idea in past years was to attack the text in a scholarly and leisurely fashion. Read the Odyssey, then other commentaries, consult the Linati and Gilbert schema, so that I can appreciate what I read. That did not get too far. 

Adler believes that books like Ulysses are 'above the heads of most readers' anyways. They are great because they demand a lot of the reader and you will never really understand it in one reading. They need to be read again and again, some parts faster than others. The book will grow with you. Though it will not be possible if you haven't read it even once. 

With that sage advice, I feel well-armed and the plan of reading it so quickly does not seem that hair-brained either.

Personal Rules for reading Ulysses in a Day

1) It has to be done in 24 hours. Not, necessarily in one calendar day, for practical, logistical reasons and so that I don't lose my mind as I wander around Dublin.
2) No reading commentaries, guides or keys such as the Stuart or Linati schema. That would slow things down and affect the pure, naked effect of the text. 
3) Fail as I may, it's still not Finnegan's Wake (Chabon on Finnegan's Wake) and progress has been made  THIS year.


Made it to the end last night (Jan 10) - all 783 pages from "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan" to Molly Bloom's final  "... yes."
It took a total of 12 hours and 11 mins. Much less total time than I initially thought, but many more total days (There were other digressions, like reading other books). More on the book later. I am currently overwhelmed with the sheer mastery of Mr. Joyce. He is a real Colossus.


If Marilyn can do it, so can you!


Raghu said...

On Roger Ebert's suggestion I tried the Ulysses audiobook (narrated by Jim Norton in all its Gaelic glory). I got through 5-6 chapters before losing track. The narrated book runs some 27 hours, so speed-reading it in a day should be doable.

Max Weismann said...

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Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:


ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

Thank you,

Max Weismann

hirak said...

@Raghu: Should get that audio book at some point.

Having made it past the 1/2 way mark, I think that 24 hours are more than sufficient to finish the book (about 800 pgs.)

More curious now that I think that this is a damn hard book to narrate. There are so many puns and other word plays that are lost in an oral rendition.

hirak said...

For those in Ann Arbor the AADL has the CDs

Kathryn said...

oh my gosh, you're crazy. that is such a cool idea though! how did you keep track of how long it took you?

hirak said...


It took a total of 12 hours and 11 mins. Yeah, record keeping was a bit troublesome. But, I own the copy so I could write the time taken for each chapter on the back. Having a digital watch on hand(!) has its advantages.