What is the best companion guide to Ulysses?
April 22, 2010 6:04 PM   Subscribe

What is the best companion guide to Ulysses?

My boyfriend's brother is graduating from his MBA program and this will be part of his gift from us.
posted by quodlibet to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Gifford's Ulysses Annotated is excellent. i used it in my undergraduate Ulysses course and it was a priceless resource.
posted by gursky at 6:08 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

"James Joyce's Ulysses" by Stuart Gilbert is classic, if a bit tedious. I really enjoyed "Re Joyce" by Anthony Burgess. It's not as comprehensive as say Ulysses Annotated, but it's more human and I got a lot more out of it. Out of all the books on Ulysses I read, I liked it the best. However, it's not Ulysses specific, but is certainly Ulysses centric.
posted by milarepa at 6:11 PM on April 22, 2010

I enjoyed Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce's Masterpiece by Declan Kiberd, and it was just released last year, so he probably doesn't have it already.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 6:13 PM on April 22, 2010

Agreed with the Gifford recommendation. The New Bloomsday Book and Gilbert's companion aren't bad, either. Gilbert worked with Joyce directly on his so it's the most authoritative.

Depends on what you want, though. I think Bloomsday is the most accessible of the three if you just want something for leisure reading and not academic research.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:17 PM on April 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ulysses (Audio CD), narrated by Donal Donnelly. It is a masterpiece. Production took six months, I believe, and the narrator worked closely with Joyce scholars in developing his interpretation. Hearing the book spoken brings out the various characters, moods, and layers of thought, speech, and self-reflection. It's one of the most memorable and rewarding literary experiences I've ever had.
posted by alms at 7:29 PM on April 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

The first time I read Ulysses I did it with The New Bloomsday Book, as Kellydammit mentions above. It made me positively love love LOVE the experience, so that's the most glowing recommendation I can give it!
posted by scody at 10:07 PM on April 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stuart Gilbert is helpful, but if I remember correctly, he occasionally does things like count the number of times Joyce uses the word "key" in a particular chapter.

The Bloomsday Book is not analytical. Its primary purpose is to summarize each chapter so that you, as the reader, can get your bearings and understand what is going on. This is tremendously helpful the first time through.

I also have a great deal of affection for Nabakov's Lectures on Literature. He has a whole section on Ulysses in there, and he is refreshingly blunt about where and when he thinks Joyce goes wrong. The small bit of Joyce scholarship that I have waded through got a little tedious in its kowtowing to Joyce's genius. Nabakov's perspective is a nice change from that, and I have also always liked his idea that reason everything goes haywire in chapter 12 is because book itself is dreaming (p. 350).
posted by colfax at 10:40 PM on April 22, 2010

I +1'd alms, because I'm old enough to want to appreciate Ulysses without the ancillary support I surrounded myself in my younger days. If he's at the point where he definitely wants a companion guide, though, New Bloomsday is probably the one, though I'd like to think that the ultimate purpose of all guides to Joyce is to lead you to where they can be put to one side.
posted by holgate at 10:41 PM on April 22, 2010

nthing Gifford. It worked for me!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 8:24 AM on April 23, 2010

Agreed with the Gifford recommendation. The New Bloomsday Book and Gilbert's companion aren't bad, either. Gilbert worked with Joyce directly on his so it's the most authoritative.

Another vote for this. These two books are pretty standard if you're taking a course or something on the book. The Bloomsday book is especially necessary, imo, and the annotations are really interesting but can get overwhelming.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:52 AM on April 23, 2010

Is is this his first time reading Ulysses, or is he already a dedicated fan wanting to get even deeper?

I don't have Gifford's Ulysses Annotated but I've looked at it, and frankly think that for a first time reader, or a more casual reader, it's just way too much information. I have Stuart Gilbert's book and it's a bit too much as well sometimes but gives a superb appreciation for the finer points of the overall structure.

When I read it in college, the prof recommended a basic chapter summary guide for us. I don't remember which book it was from - I think it might've been Burgess's ReJoyce but I'm not positive. But it had a basic chapter by chapter summary of the action, which made reading the actual book easier because you didn't have to spend as much thought trying to figure out "what's going on" and could more easily enjoy "how it's being told, and why."

Also, my professor had once studied under Nabokov, so while we weren't asked to read Nabokov's lectures book (mentioned above), we got a lot of Nabokov's thoughts quoted at us, so on that basis I'd recommend that book too.

I'd also like to suggest Joseph Campbell's Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: on the Art of James Joyce. Campbell gives a take on Joyce that's a bit different, focusing on the uses of myth in a modern context. Campbell is also one of the best explainers of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which is also covered here, should your friend ever take an interest in that too.
posted by dnash at 1:46 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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