Sunday, December 25, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 4: Calypso (Leopold Bloom enters the stage, finally)

We're almost two months into our little #1book140 Twitter book club project #occupyulysses, and I have to say, this is going a bit slow: I haven't even read 10 per cent of the book. The problem with Ulysses and me is that whenever I try reading it, I get totally obsessed with the novel (reading comments, The Odyssey; to make things worse, I've bought a huge Joyce biography by Richard Ellmann). This might be a good thing on the one hand, but on the other hand it doesn't really help with actually finishing the tome. It's like my former English teacher said: Ulysses is a good book to study, not a good book to read. Well, in a sense, #occupyulysses is meant to prove him wrong, since we want to actually read it, so I'll just get on with it.
In Calypso, Leopold Bloom finally enters Ulysses, and I think we're all relieved that we get a small break from Stephen's ponderous stream of consciousness. Bloom's thoughts are a bit easier to follow, although they are also drenched with memories and personal history, introduced without too much explanation. Bloom is occupied with preparing breakfast for his sleepy wife Molly, and this is, as far as I'm concerned, a rather likeable Bloom. He's got his secrets, sure, but at the moment, it's not too bad. He may seem pathetic at times, but this is mainly due to the fact that he thinks he's not being watched. I'm interested in my fellow readers' thoughts about Bloom: what do you think of him? Do you like him, do you identify with him, or does he annoy you?
And another question: Who do you like more? Stephen or Leopold? I probably still like Stephen a bit more than Leopold at the moment, but that might have something to do with the fact that I'm closer to Stephen's age, and that he's got similar problems ordering his thoughts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 3: Proteus (Ineluctable modality of the unreadable)

Oh boy! If you get past this chapter, you not only deserve a merit badge (hello @tessde!), you may even be in for the long run. When I read over this chapter (for the third or fourth time now, mind you!), I was absolutely helpless. There were passages or even pages where I had the feeling that I didn't understand a word. Now, after I've talked to friends and gave it the Spark Notes and Shmoop treatment (yep, I confess!), I roughly understand what Stephen's thoughts are all about. Still, this is a tiring chapter. I've checked several annotations concerning only the first paragraph, where Stephen thinks of Aristotle, Bishop Berkeley, and Dante (it's what all of us think about on a beautiful beach, isn't it?), and it took me ages to get through these twelve lines, and I still feel that I haven't come close to grasping them. So what's the problem with this chapter? As Jeri Johnson puts it: "the narrative proceeds through Stephen's interior monologue; thus, what we see depends entirely on what he thinks and this in turn is prompted by what he sees" (in the highly recommended Oxford World's Classics edition from 1998, p. 782). And Stephen's interior monologue goes in all directions: e.g. he visits his aunt (but only in his thoughts), thinks about Mulligan's insults again, and he thinks in German, Italian, and Latin, to make things more fun.

All things considered, this is still a great chapter because it gives you so much insight into the  despite all his headiness  fascinating character that is Stephen. And a lot of James Joyce is in Stephen, as many critics note, so this chapter also gives you insight into the creator of Ulysses. One of the things I admire the most about Ulysses is its narrator's honesty. There are no boundaries in what Joyce describes and what his characters do or think about, which might not be to everyone's taste, but is still important when you think about literary progress. Joyce has opened many doors (and not only toilet doors) for his successors when it comes to what is possible in literature. He has tried something new with each chapter in this novel, just to mess things up a bit more with Finnegans Wake (which I'll try too, just for fun). After all of Stephen and his cerebral celebrations, I can't wait though to finally make the acquaintance of the great literary hero Leopold Bloom and his wonderful down-to-earthness again.

Favourite Shakespeare reference: "So in the moon's midwatches I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore's tempting flood." (Is this Stephen thinking about suicide?)

Favourite line: "The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012

I've never done anything like this before, but there's a first time for everything, so next year I'm going to participate in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 initiated by Sarah Reads Too Much (Book blogger Heather Lindskold invited me to this, check out her awesome blog here: Between the Covers). This means: I'm going to read eight books that are on my reading list anyway (I'll read The Catcher in the Rye for the second time, this time in an uncensored version). Count me in! Here are my choices:

  • Any 19th-century classic: Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens
  • Any 20th-century classic: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  • Classic reread: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  • Classic play: The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
  • Classic mystery/horror/crime fiction: Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
  • Classic romance: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  • Classic that has been translated from its original language: La Nausée, by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Classic award winner: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Classic set in a country that I (realistically speaking) will not visit during my lifetime: Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov
Disclaimer: I usually never manage to read the books I'd like to read in a certain amount of time, and next year is going to be a hectic year, but anyway: This sounds like fun, so I might as well join the challenge.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 2: Nestor (Stephen teaches and is taught)

As I have noted in the previous post, I'm reading Ulysses together with some pals on Twitter (I'm @tomwaitsripoff over there). The reading speed varies greatly between the different participants, but we all have the same basic goal: to get to Molly's final "yes". This is the second stage for me. I hope you're all well on your way. Ride on!

This chapter with its theme of history and teaching resonates strongly with me, as I study History (and English) to become a teacher. There are many passages which make me think about myself and which remind me of situations in my own life, which is important for any book that aims to be more than pure entertainment. For example, Deasy's remark to Stephen: "You were not born to be a teacher, I think", reminded me of someone who told me, five minutes after we had met: "You don't strike me as a teacher." (I had told him what I was studying.) I found this as intrusive and inappropriate as I find Deasy in his haughtiness towards Stephen. And I'm sure every reader will know a person like Deasy in real life. Although the novel was written almost one hundred years ago, there is a sense of topicality in some of the topics Ulysses treats, e.g. Deasy's remarks about the importance of saving up money strike a peculiar chord in times of worldwide protests against capitalism. Here, Deasy embodies capitalism, which Stephen seems to despise (note: Deasy puts money in his savingsbox while Stephen puts it, carelessly, into his trouser pocket, much like myself).

In this chapter, we get more glimpses of Stephen's minds and thoughts, and they are quite confusing still. Without using annotations, it is hardly decipherable what Stephen is on about. It would help to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as some notes state, so I will probably do so soon, too. (For me, Ulysses basically means heaping up reading material, which I will never be able to read anyway.)

I've started reading The Odyssey now, as a friend noted that this would increase the fun of reading Ulysses (for me, it still is fun to read it), and the thing that attracted my attention immediately is that Homer uses recurring adjectives or descriptions for characters (e.g. Athene is the "bright-eyed" goddess). I'll pay attention to adjectives in connection to characters in the rest of Ulysses much more closely. There is a striking example in this chapter, which shows Stephen's so far almost non-existent humour: after his conversation with Deasy, Stephen thinks about how "Mulligan will dub me a new name: the bullockbefriending bard", referring to the bullock Deasy. I'm quite sure that Joyce was fascinated by adjectives in The Odyssey, and played around with them in all of Ulysses (I also quite like Mulligan's expression "jejune jesuit" addressing Stephen).

Up next will be the notorious Proteus chapter featuring a huge amount of stream-of-consciousness, if I remember correctly.

Favourite line: "But for her the race of the world would have trampled him under foot, a squashed boneless snail."

Favourite Shakespeare reference: "But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.
--Iago, Stephen murmured."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Occupying Ulysses - Chapter 1: Telemachus

I'm participating in the @1book140 Twitter book club, and this month, some of the members have started their attempt to finally finish the juggernaut of a novel that is Ulysses. I've tried before but failed miserably every time before reaching the middle. So the decision to read it with book lovers in an online group was very welcome indeed. We decided against a strict schedule, everyone will just try to waddle through this gargantuan work, and whoever gets to the end will be celebrated with virtual fireworks or some such thing. I'll try to read a couple of pages a day (I'll read it out because of the wonderful English (or Irish?) of Joyce which surely is meant to be heard). After each chapter, I'll write a messy blog post about it, to put my mind in order.

So, once again, I've read Telemachus, the first chapter about "stately, plump" Buck Mulligan, who is mocking everyone and everything, and Stephen Dedalus, who is passively brooding about his mother's death and his "friend" Mulligan's offences, unable to speak his mind. Although Bloom is the main protagonist of the novel, we don't get to see him until chapter 4, so for now, the spotlight is on Stephen, who is the protagonist in Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which I should have read, because a lot of Ulysses is based on this novel. We are in the mind of Stephen for much of the first three chapters, which is one of the major difficulties of Ulysses. The stream-of-consciousness passages are still the most mysterious and tricky ones, sometimes only containing one word ("Chrysostomos"; "Usurper"). The narrator's voice, however, is quite straight-forward and sober – at least in this chapter. Granted, there are some fancy words (I like "blithe"), but compared to later chapters, this one is fairly easy, although it gets more difficult in the end, once they are out of the Martello Tower.

What I especially like about Ulysses is the multitude of references (that's what I like about Gilmore Girls, too), particularly Hamlet and The Odyssey. Joyce can seem like a showoff at times, and he can be terribly self-indulgent, but at least in this chapter, he uses the references economically and wisely. His Hamlet references, for instance, put an emphasis on the similarity of the play with the novel, e.g. Hamlet's mourning for his father is echoed by Stephen's mourning for his mother; the Martello Tower calls to mind the platform on Elsinore Castle at the beginning of Hamlet.

So, should one read Ulysses with annotations? Well, I've tried it before, and never succeeded, so I guess this time, I'll just read as much as possible without annotations, and get back to certain passages to look things up. If things are over my head, that'll be fine, I just want to finally make it through the novel finally. I think the Occupy Ulysses has started nicely, let's hope we'll make our way to the final "yes".

Favourite line: "He proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Charles Dickens Project

It's Charles Dickens's 200th birthday on February 7, 2012, so I thought it would be great to finally read all his novels (I'm counting 20, including the Christmas novellas) front-to-back. This might take me ages, as I have other stuff to do (like learning for my final exams), but 2012 will certainly be a year full of Dickens, and I feel it's appropriate to celebrate this great Victorian writer by reading his works. The Guardian has already started its extensive coverage on all things Dickens, and I'm obviously not the first who's had the idea of reading all of Dickens's novels, as you can see in the Penguin blog, so I'm joining a bunch of Dickens lovers who take a first or another look into his masterful prose. I'll start with The Pickwick Papers again this week, and I will try writing down some of my thoughts on it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The most famous Shakespeare plays according to Wikipedia hits (September 2011)

I'm a statistics fan, so I like the tool, as it allows you to have a look at the hits for certain Wikipedia pages. In preparation for my final exams in English literature, I've prepared a list of the most famous Shakespeare plays in September 2011, according to this tool. Here's the result:

1. Romeo and Juliet 158.350 hits

2. Hamlet 114.727

3. Macbeth 101.863

4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream 69.710

5. Othello 64.979

6. The Tempest 55.252

7. The Merchant of Venice 44.192

8. King Lear 42.328

9. Much Ado about Nothing 40.935

10. Twelfth Night 35.608

11. As You Like It 32.701

12. The Taming of the Shrew 30.449

13. Julius Caesar 28.072

14. Richard III 27.045

15. Titus Andronicus 22.140

16. Coriolanus 21.542

17. Antony and Cleopatra 17.276

18. Henry V 16.803

19. The Winter’s Tale 13.449

20. The Comedy of Errors 12.887

21. Cymbeline 12.421

22. All’s Well That Ends Well 10.832

23. Measure for Measure 9.441

24. Henry IV, Part 1 8.717

25. Love’s Labour’s Lost 7.651

26. The Two Gentlemen of Verona 6.944

27. Troilus and Cressida 6.919

28. The Merry Wives of Windsor 6.498

29. Richard II 6.468

30. Henry VIII 5.168

31. Timon of Athens 3.869

32. Henry VI, Part 1 3.646

33. Pericles, Prince of Tyre 3.184

34. Henry IV, Part 2 2.880

35. The Life and Death of King John 2.436

36. The Two Noble Kinsmen 2.351

37. Henry VI, Part 2 1.883

38. Henry VI, Part 3 1.860

(Hits on

There are no surprises, I think, as to the most popular Shakespeare play on Wikipedia. There may be discussions among Shakespeare fans and critics as to which play is the greatest one (King Lear and Hamlet are frontrunners in that category), but there's no denying that Romeo and Juliet is clearly the one that most people will connect with the name of Shakespeare. Furthermore, I found it interesting that the first three plays are those which are labeled as tragedies, while A Midsummer Night's Dream is the first so-called comedy on fourth position. The first history play is Richard III (#14).

The plays that I will prepare for my exams are the five most popular tragedies on here: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear. It was important for me to choose a topic for my final exams that is highly relevant, and I thought Shakespeare would be a good choice. I'm reading King Lear at the moment, and I'm fascinated by Shakespeare's characters and plotting. He was ahead of his time, you get this feeling all the time when reading him. Unfortunately, some of the students at my university don't really like Shakespeare, as it is sometimes hard work to get to the bottom of Shakespeare's language. But I see Shakespeare's language as a kind of riddle, and if you find the solution, there's always a reward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mixtape #2 - It's (not) the end of the world

This mixtape is mainly dedicated to the great band R.E.M., which I was lucky enough to see live in front of the Cologne Cathedral in 2001 before their release of Reveal. They played for free, and they finished their amazing concert with the sublime "It's The End of the World (As We Know It)". As much as I loved R.E.M. back then and still love them now, I've got to admit that the news of their split left me cold. The lacklustre 2004 album Around the Sun left me disappointed and I couldn't be bothered with their following albums. As many fans will agree, R.E.M. never really recovered from their drummer Bill Berry leaving the band in 1997. The drum machines on Up are a painful reminder of how essential Berry was to the band. They did very good songs after 1997 (e.g. At My Most Beautiful), but not another great album.

In the past week, I've discovered Lana Del Rey, whose song Video Games is already one of my favourite songs of 2011. I won't add to the discussion that surrounds her (lips) and let the music speak for itself.

Listen to the mix here:

X-Ray Spex - Germfree Adolescents
Ol' Dirty Bastard - Shimmy Shimmy Ya
Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express
R.E.M. - E-Bow the Letter
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Bats in the Attic
Emmylou Harris - Heaven Only Knows
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
R.E.M. - The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Half Man Half Biscuit - Joy Division Oven Gloves
The Wedding Present - Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft
Anna Calvi - Desire
R.E.M. - It's the End of the World (As We Know It)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mixtape #1 - This mess we're in

Boy, this was fun. Inspired by @fromdesktildawn, I've compiled my first online mixtape. I really enjoyed putting the tracks together and listening to them, and I just hope – if anyone's listening – you won't be bored.

A couple of words about my music listening habits: I'm a huge BBC 6music fan. I've started listening to Marc Riley's show in 2007, and I've discovered many old and new fine tunes on there (Marc Riley basically discovered the Ting Tings, you know...), and one of my faves is on today's mixtape: Cockney Rebel's Judy Teen, which is one of the finest Glam Rock songs ever. Most new music I still find on 6music (Tom Ravenscroft! Gideon Coe! The Playlist!), but I also read Pitchfork now and then (although it's getting worse and worse), and I use as a reference. And of course there's Twitter which is a treasure trove.

I still buy music, mainly on vinyl, and this year's harvest included this year's #1 so far, Metronomy's The English Riviera (listen to the slick guitar on Corinne), Radiohead's King of Limbs (it's good but not overwhelming, but hey, limited edition!), PJ Harvey's Let England Shake (undeservedly Mercury Prize winner). Some of my favourite track's from this year are included on the mixtape too: Alex Ebert's Truth, which was already used in Breaking Bad, to my utmost pleasure, Lia Ices' heavenly Love Is Won, the controversial Vaccines If You Wanna, which is a cracker in my book. The rest of the tape is about my love for glam, punk, and drinking songs. Enjoy!


The Clash - White Riot
PJ Harvey (feat. Thom Yorke) - This Mess We're In
Alexander Ebert - Truth
Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
Cockney Rebel - Judy Teen
Real Estate - It's Real
David Bowie - Changes
Metronomy - Corinne
Queen - Keep Yourself Alive
The Vaccines - If You Wanna
The Pogues - Streams of Whisky
Lia Ices - Love Is Won

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Harry Potter Project #1

So, I’ve started the Harry Potter project. It just means that I will read the seven novels, and maybe watch the films afterwards, all for the first time. Why now? you might ask. Well, no special reason, I’ve always wanted to read them, just to find out whether they’re any good. I mean, how’s the saying? One billion Harry Potter fans can’t be wrong. I’ve read five chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone so far, and reading them was fun but also felt kind of strange, mainly for the fact that I was somewhat familiar with many things that were happening and with parts of the plot, which is another thing that makes the Harry Potter franchise special. Even the people who haven’t read the novels or watched the movies know a lot about Harry. There are the names: Dumbledore, Voldemort, Hogwarts, the sport Quidditch. I’ve stumbled across them in the past, so it was nice to finally learn more about these characters and things. And everbody knows the story about the genesis of the novel: It all started in a café, right? But of course J. K. Rowling couldn’t have started without giving serious thoughts as to how the novel would develop. That’s quite clear from the very beginning.

The novel starts off with a nice bit of exposition. One of the reasons why it must have been so popular is that the reader and Harry are on the same page as to most of the topics which means that the main protagonist has no advantage over the reader and is even more clueless at times. Then there’s the battle of good (Dumbledore) vs. evil (Voldemort) which has been popular since the world was young and makes clear that Rowling knows her Lord of the Rings, among other things. And the Dursleys are as horrible as can be imagined, which reminded me of Grimm’s fairy tales (Aunt Petunia surely is a version of Cinderella’s step mother). The talk about magic is also pretty common to most fantasy readers. Unicorns, wands, books of spells. So, why did it become popular in the first place if it doesn’t offer anything new? Well, it does. Rowling invents a whole new kind of sport (Quidditch is “like football in the Muggle world”), which is very clever, and she basically conjures up a whole new universe for readers, which already worked for J.R.R. Tolkien. The first novel serves as an opening door to that universe, which feels fascinating. I mean, almost every reader wants to know how Quidditch and the magic potions work, and there are other mysterious objects, like the package from vault 713, the wand which is a relative of Voldemort’s, which add suspense to the story. I do not wish to say that she just copied elements from older books, that would be unfair. She created something very original here, despite all the familiar fantasy elements. I certainly want to go on that train from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters which will depart soon.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Track of the Day: Emmy the Great - A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep

Emmy the Great's second album "Virtue" will be released on June 13.

You can download the song "A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep" via RCRDLBL.

It's a slow burner, so you might want to give it a few listens.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Track of the Day: The Dodos - Black Night

This reminds me once more of the Dodos' gig at the Melt! Festival 2009, with an awful sound. That's a shame really, because their sound is so unique, the drums and the rhythm being such a prominent feature of their music. This is a great taster for their new album which has already been released in March.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Track of the Day: Modified Toy Orchestra - Qwerty

Qwerty video from Modified Toy Orchestra on Vimeo.

This should be a hit. The Modified Toy Orchestra uses modified toys to make music and it sounds more original than anything else I've heard this year. Maybe ever. The kraftwerky-looking video only adds to the fun. The lyrics are spoken by one of those toys which has annoyed thousands (or millions?) of parents immensely. This is fun.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Africa Hitech - Out in the Streets

I'm totally having that.

Album "93 Million Miles" out 9th May 2011 on Warp Records.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Make a mixtape

I've recently discovered the website 52 tapes. A guy supposedly called Jim started compiling mixtapes about a year ago, each featuring a theme, e.g. "Leaving", "This Too Shall Pass" or "Come Again?". His choice of music is all over the place, and really enjoyable. First tape features Bob Dylan, Sleater-Kinney, and Low, amongst others. I'll spend a lot of time listening to his mixtapes, that's for sure.