As we enter the new year, it’s important to set goals, maybe tackle that big project you’ve been putting off. For me, it’s getting back to not reading one of the masterpieces of 20th century English literature, James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Everyone should not read Ulysses at least once. A lot of people may tell you they’ve not read it, but they usually start not reading it only to give up once they realize how hard it is to not follow the verbal gymnastics of Joyce’s dense, experimental prose.
But it’s such a great book to ignore! I mean, what is the point of classic novels if not to pick up a used copy for three bucks at Value Village, post it on Instagram, and then never actually read it?
That’s what I did. I wrote: “Can’t wait to avoid this bad boy! #toohard #700pagesfineprint #cruelysses #noharrypotter #amnotreading #maybejustthedirtyparts”
I first started not to read Ulysses a few years ago, but you know how it is. You get busy not writing that semi-autobiographical novel or not taking care of your parents. And of course, the kids’ rooms always need painting, so it’s important not to do that.
Plus, there are all those other books out there just begging not to be read: Don Quixote, Beowulf, anything Russian. For years, people told me I shouldn’t read Infinite Jest, and I have to say they were absolutely right.
One time, after I started not reading Ulysses, I got distracted by not reading The Goldfinch, which had been sitting on my bedside table for months and as far as I was concerned could continue to do so. I mean, it’s not going to not read itself! And then someone said, “Forget not reading Donna Tartt; you should not read Elena Ferrante instead.” Well, that did it. Because once you start not reading My Brilliant Friend, you have no choice but to not read all four Neapolitan novels.
As a result, I forgot that I was not reading Ulysses, so I had to start not reading it all over again! But then I got into not watching Game of Thrones…
But this year I’m really going to make an effort not to read it. I’m going to pick it up, carry it around with me, open it to random pages, say to myself, “That’s a single paragraph for days! And now it’s a script? And what’s that — poetry?” Then I’ll put it on the credenza where I can see it every day and really give it the ol’ college try, i.e. blow through $20,000 while getting drunk and not doing the assigned readings.
To get the most out of not reading Ulysses, you have to carve out some time, find a quiet space where you can concentrate on not at all absorbing the Irish- and Catholic-centric wordplay and something about always saying yes? I don’t know, haven’t read it. Usually, all it takes for me is to hit that first Latin phrase at the top of page one, and I instantly know there’s not a chance in hell I’m reading Ulysses.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s the 21st century; why are we still not reading difficult, dead-white-guy novels like James Joyce’s Ulysses? Surely there are other novels that better reflect the diversity of contemporary voices that I could not be reading instead.
Fair enough, but to truly appreciate the top New York Times picks that I will never get around to reading, it’s important to understand and study the masters who led the way that I will also not read. Not reading difficult books from the past makes you a better all-around non-reader. And Ulysses is among the most difficult books I have ever not read. It is massive, it is difficult. It is my great quest not to read it. Not reading Ulysses is my Moby-Dick – which someday I will not read too.