One-Minute Book Reviews

June 16, 2010

A Bloomsday Celebration of the Portrait of Dublin in ‘Ulysses’

Filed under: Classics,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 pm
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James Joyce’s Ulysses inspires celebrations around the world on the anniversary of the day on which its action takes place – June 16, 1904, known as Bloomsday after its main character, Leopold Bloom. Nowhere is the day observed more elaboratedly than in Dublin, where the novel is set.

John Gross writes of the role of Dublin in Ulysses in an essay on Joyce in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein:

“The city itself is brought to life to an extraordinary degree. As piece of urban portraiture, there is nothing like it in English, apart from Dickens’s London. We are led through a maze of courtyards, lanes and quays, though pub and library, schoolroom and hospital, cemetery and brothel. Voices and faces, hoardings and headlines, birdcries and traffic sounds, are all noted. So are Reuben J. Dodd, solicitor, and the one-legged sailor skirting Rabaiotti’s ice-cream car, snuffling Nosey Flynn and bald Pat the waiter (“Bald deaf Pat brought quite flat pad ink. Pat set with ink pen quite flat pad”). Shopfronts slip past. We are in a city on the move, a city of criss-crossing routes and chance encounters. And it is rendered in an appropriately dynamic manner. The profusion of detail would pall, if everything were described from the same fixed neutral standpoint. But as it is, every scene has its own tone. Joyce’s prose registers the individual sensibility and the distinctive aura.”

A listing of Bloomsday-week events in Dublin appears on the site for the city’s tourist board,  known as Visit Dublin. Ireland’s James Joyce Centre has background on the celebrations.

This is an updated version of a post that first appeared on June 16, 2008.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 15, 2008

A Bloomsday Appreciation of James Joyce’s Portrait of Dublin on June 16, 1904, in ‘Ulysses’ (Quote of the Day / John Gross):

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

James Joyce’s Ulysses inspires celebrations around the world on the anniversary of the day on which its action takes place – June 16, 1904, known as Bloomsday after its main character, Leopold Bloom. Nowhere is the day observed more elaborately than in Dublin, where the novel is set.

John Gross writes of the role of Dublin in Ulysses in an essay on Joyce in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein www.pauldrybooks.com:

“The city itself is brought to life to an extraordinary degree. As piece of urban portraiture, there is nothing like it in English, apart from Dickens’s London. We are led through a maze of courtyards, lanes and quays, though pub and library, schoolroom and hospital, cemetery and brothel. Voices and faces, hoardings and headlines, birdcries and traffic sounds, are all noted. So are Reuben J. Dodd, solicitor, and the one-legged sailor skirting Rabaiotti’s ice-cream car, snuffling Nosey Flynn and bald Pat the waiter (“Bald deaf Pat brought quite flat pad ink. Pat set with ink pen quite flat pad”). Shopfronts slip past. We are in a city on the move, a city of criss-crossing routes and chance encounters. And it is rendered in an appropriately dynamic manner. The profusion of detail would pall, if everything were described from the same fixed neutral standpoint. But as it is, every scene has its own tone. Joyce’s prose registers the individual sensibility and the distinctive aura.”

Furthermore: One of the most ambitious Bloomsday celebrations in the U.S. takes place annually at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, home of Joyce’s manuscript for Ulysses www.rosenbach.org/programs/bloomsday.html.

For a listing of Bloomsday events in Dublin, visit the sites for the James Joyce Centre www.jamesjoyce.ie and VisitDublin www.visitdublin.com/events/AllDublinEvents/Detail.aspx?id=235&mid=2740.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 27, 2008

Why Read the Classics? (Quote of the Day / Michael Dirda)

Why is it important to read the classics? Michael Dirda, who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism as a staff critic for the Washington Post, responds in his Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education: Essays on Great Writers and Their Books (Norton, 2005):

“People sometimes ask teachers or critics, ‘Which books should I read to become educated?’ The short answer is either ‘As many as you can’ or ‘A small handful that you study to pieces.’ But a better question might be this one: ‘Which books should I read first?’

“The answer to that is ‘The great patterning works of world literature and culture, the poems and stories that have shaped civilization.’

“Without a knowledge of the Greek myths, the Bible, ancient history, the world’s folktales and fairy tales, one can never fully understand the visual arts, most opera, and half the literature of later ages. Homer tells us about Ulysses in The Odyssey; then Dante, Tennyson, James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, and Eudora Welty add to, enrich, and subvert that story in great works of their own. The classics are important not because they are old but because they are always being renewed.”

Michael Dirda’s most recent book is Classics for Pleasure (Harcourt, 2007).

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 11, 2007

Which Writers Best Define English and American Literature? 25 Scholars and Critics Respond in ‘Literary Genius,’ Edited by Joseph Epstein

America’s finest literary essayist assembles a bracing collection of reflections on Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Willa Cather, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and others

Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature. Edited by Joseph Epstein. Wood Engravings by Barry Moser. Paul Dry Books, 246 pp., $34.95 hardcover, $18.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Reading these exceptionally fine essays is like catching up with all those brilliant professors you missed in college because you were sure you would benefit more in life from all your film theory classes on the semiotics of Patrick Swayze movies.

Literary Genius is a kind of print equivalent of a course from the Teaching Company, which rounds up academic supernovas and records their lectures on DVDs, so you can watch them at home over a beer and a bowl of Doritos. (No nasty homework assignments! No messy exams that conflict with your spring break plans! No loss to your grade if you go to class drunk or stoned out of your mind!) Joseph Epstein has collected 25 essays by world-class scholars and critics on vanished titans of English and American literature — Hilary Mantel on Jane Austen, A. N. Wilson on Charles Dickens, Justin Kaplan on Walt Whitman, David Womersley on Edward Gibbon, John Simon on T. S. Eliot. And you might wonder about more than what the Irish will think about Epstein’s decision to include James Joyce in the book: Why did Willa Cather make the cut but not Virginia Woolf? Why did Ernest Hemingway but not F. Scott Fitzgerald?

But the essays are everything that literary essays should be – bold, fluent, authoritative and written with flair and at times wit. Here is the first paragraph of a sparkling essay by John Gross on Joyce:

“One of the questions Napoleon used to ask, when a solider was recommended for promotion, was ‘Does he have luck?’ Writers need luck, too, and an important part of James Joyce’s achievement is that he was born at the right time. He was a modernist who was able to get his claim in first.”

Gross takes perhaps the most difficult literary genius of the 20th century and, with a few strokes, places him in context. He argues that wrote fine and distinctive books in Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man and a “perhaps mad” one in Finnegans Wake (which, unabridged, is “strictly for addicts”). But if he qualifies as a genius, it’s because of Ulysses and “the novel’s two greatest achievements” — its portrait of Dublin and its portrait of Leopold Bloom.

Most of the essays are similarly bracing. They typically range widely over an author’s work, avoiding the claustrophobic narrowness of so much recent literary criticism. Lois Potter gives Hamlet only a sentence in her essay on William Shakespeare. But her entry holds its own, in part, by reminding us that “Shakespeare’s reputation owes something to the dominance of the English language in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the fact that the ability to understand Shakespeare has become the ultimate test of the ability to use that language.”

Literary Genius includes brief excerpts from the work of all of its subjects and 59 handsome wood engravings by Barry Moser. These enhance its appeal as a gift, but its essays could stand on their own. You might expect no less from a book edited by Epstein, America’s finest literary essayist and its nearest counterpart to the late English critic V.S. Pritchett. “Timelessness, grandeur of vision, originality of outlook – all these, in concert and worked at a high power, comprise genius in the writer,” he writes. By those standards, this book shows genius, too.

Best line: Every essay has its own. A passage in Robert Pack’s essay on Frost suggests the freshness of perspectives in this book: “Along with being our leading nature poet, Robert Frost is also the poet who writes most extensively about marriage, love, and desire – all in the context of loss and death. Surely, no poet since John Milton treats the theme of sexual desire and marriage more extensively or more profoundly than Frost.” Pack might have replaced one of the “extensively”s. Even so, how many people associate Frost with poems about “sexual desire”?

Worst line: The first line James L. W. West III’s essay on Hemingway: “One sees Hemingway’s style best in his early short stories.” The problem isn’t the “one,” though West’s style is less conversational than that of most contributors. It’s that his essay is narrowe. West deals only with Hemingway’s short stories, while most of the writers give an overview of their subject’s work. His essay doesn’t mesh with the others, and Epstein seems to acknowledge it by burying it at the back.

Recommendation? This is could be a wonderful gift for serious readers and helpful to the many books clubs that are reading Austen and Cather.

Published: October 15, 2007. The publisher’s site www.pauldrybooks.com includes Epstein’s introduction to the book . A brief excerpt from its essay on John Milton appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Friday www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/.

Furthermore: Joseph Epstein edited the American Scholar for more than 20 years and has written 19 books. Barry Moser won the American Book Award for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. John Gross is a former editor of the London Times Literary Supplement and a staff member at the New York Times. Since 1989 he has been the theater critic of the Sunday Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk.

Other links: The Teaching Company www.teach12.com/

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It also for people who dislike long-winded reviews that are full of facts or plot summaries but don’t tell you what the critic thought of the book. You may not agree with views you read this site but you will know what those views are.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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