Ulysses and the nature of difficult novels

Fans of author James Joyce and his novel Ulysses celebrate today (June 16th) because it is the day in which all the events of the book take place and it has come to be known as ‘Bloomsday’, named ofter one of the key characters in the book Leopold Bloom.

Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. Parts of it were first serialized in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and the entire work was published in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s fortieth birthday. It is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement.”According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking.”
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What I like in a detective story

I read and watch detective stories a lot. I think it is because they are essentially puzzles to be solved and I am a puzzle solver at heart. I enjoy all kinds of puzzles. A ‘puzzle’ for me is any problem for which I think there should be a solution that lies within my grasp and ability. This is also the likely reason I was drawn to science because much of that also involves puzzle solving. In my spare time I do cryptic crosswords and I also play the card game bridge where each hand is essentially a puzzle where a task is set and you have to figure out the best way to reach it.

Over time, I have found that I have clear preferences as to the kind of detective story. They should be lean and spare, where the focus is almost exclusively on how the solution to how the crime was committed is worked out. I prefer that any violence be avoided, or if there is any, for it to take place off-stage with as little graphic detail as necessary. There does does not even need to be a murder. In some Sherlock Holmes stories, not only is there no murder, there is not even a crime but just a mystery to be solved.
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Book Review: The Unnecessary Science by Gunther Laird

Some readers may recall that a couple of years ago, I made fun of a press release issued by the publishers of a book by Edward Feser that had the title Five Proofs of the Existence of God and claimed that “the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments” (my italics). The point of my brief post was that life was too short to read yet another book claiming to prove the existence of any god since there have been so many failed past attempts. I said that if someone had actually come up with an irrefutable proof, that would be be earth-shattering news and reported all over the media and so I would wait and see if that a happened before wading through yet another theological treatise.
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James Joyce and Ulysses

I have tried to read some of the classics of English literature. In particular I attempted the works of James Joyce, including his most famous work Ulysses. I gave up early on in that book, deciding that what I was likely to get out of it was not worth the effort that I needed to put into it. It also made me wonder what purpose was served by the author burying the message under so many layers of metaphor, code, obscure allusions, and word play that it required years of study by professors of literature to explain it. This high level of difficulty has led to the suspicion that some of the people who claim to have read and enjoyed it have not really done so but are merely being pretentious.
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The making of a ‘best seller’

Reporter Nick Confessore has been digging into how Donald Trump Jr.’s book became a #1 non-fiction bestseller an it appears to be exactly as I suggested in a previous post, that the Republican National Committee purchased copies in bulk to the tune f $94,800. Confessore has the documentation to prove it.

See also the follow up tweets.

Books-a-Million is selling the book at a discounted price of $23 so the $94,800 would have purchased more that 4,000 books.

How even lousy political books can become best sellers

I think it is safe to say that Donald Trump Jr., the grifter son in a grifter family, would not be considered a deep thinker or a literary genius. So how did it come to be that the book he purportedly wrote rose to #1 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list? In fact, it is surprising how so many political books by hack politicians are advertised as ‘best sellers’ according to this or that publication.
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Book review: Moneyland (2019)

The subtitle of this book by investigative journalist Oliver Bullough pretty much says it all: The inside story of the crooks and kleptocrats who rule the world. If you recall, my review of the film The Laundromat (2019) dealt with how the firm Mossack Fonseca specialized in creating shell companies for people to hide their ill-gotten gains from their victims and governments. This book lays bare how the corrupt system works, providing multiple detailed examples from all over the world.
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The racism in The Searchers and Heart of Darkness

I can vividly recall my strong negative reaction to Joseph Conrad’s highly acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness. Its racism appalled me as I wrote in a blog post ten years ago.

I remember the first time I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hailed by critics as a masterpiece. I was appalled at the blatantly racist portrayals of Africans and could barely get through the book. Many years later, I re-read it. The shock and anger that the original reading had aroused in me had worn off and I could see and appreciate Conrad’s skill with words in creating the deepening sense of foreboding as Marlow goes deeper into the jungle in search of Kurtz.

Ironically, Chinua Achebe gave a talk criticizing the book and saying that Conrad’s novel, whatever its other merits, perpetuated African stereotypes. The talk attracted a lot of attention and Conrad’s many admirers leapt to his defense, saying that Conrad was a product of his times and merely reflecting the views then current and that his book was actually a critique of the evils of colonialism.

Maybe so, but the racism was still there and still bothered me even on the second reading.

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