One year ago today I announced to great acclaim the creation of the dumbest book ever challenge.
And then I decided to paint my garage.
Wait, let me back up a bit.
Back in 2015 I saw a theatre performance loosely based on James Joyce’s Ulysses. It was a delightful, absurd little piece of theatre, and it left a lasting impression on me. After watching that show, I decided that I needed to read Ulysses for myself. I put it off for several years. Then, about a year ago, me and Joe decided to read the Odyssey. We agreed that it was a pretty good book, and an altogether enjoyable experience.
“What should we read next?” Asked Joe.
I hemmed, and hawed and sputtered out a couple of suggestion. Then Joe suggested that we read Ulysses.
“That’s brilliant!” I said.
That exchange occurred on April 28th, 2020.
On August 17th I sent Joe the following email.
Ok, let me state the obvious.
Ulysses is a steaming pile of unedited, incoherent English words which is more mind numbing than a 17 hour toothpaste commercial and not quite as fun as a trip to the dentist. I have currently read 105 pages out of 783. Which is not great.
I am going to finish this book. I have set my will power to it. If you hold this book in as high esteem as I do I won’t blame you if you don’t want to waste the precious hours of your life it would take to complete.
Or maybe you love it and finished it months ago. What do I know?
The truth is that I must complete this book. Some time ago I made a public announcement that I would use my blog as a platform for reviewing the dumbest book ever written. While I appreciated the submissions which you and others put forward as to what that book would be, I have become utterly convinced that those submissions were inaccurate. The title of dumbest book ever belongs to Ulysses, and Ulysses alone.
I look forward to reviewing it.
I hope this update finds you well.
And then I decided to paint my garage. While painting my garage I listened to about half of Ulysses on audiobook. That was in October, and I haven’t picked it up since.
Look, I only have so much willpower, so I am now absolving myself from finishing this steaming pile of dog excrement. Why would I waste my time finishing this book, when I can listen to, oh I don’t know, like any podcast ever?
Why do I hate this book so much? Let me explain.
The Odyssey is based on the journey of Odysseus as he returns home from the Trojan war. Odysseus has been gone for many years, and the folks back home believe that he might be dead. A group of suitors is hounding Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, begging her for her hand in marriage. Penelope is a weaver, and agrees that once she finishes weaving some sort of rug she will marry one of the suitors.
Of course, Odysseus is an untrustworthy, philandering playboy who is using his journey as an opportunity to sleep around with as many women as he possibly can, so he is in no hurry to return home. As Penelope weaves her rug Odysseus’s is dithering around on his journey, wasting precious time. The inclusion of the rug in Homer’s story is like a ticking clock. Even when Odysseus’s actions border on the meaningless, there is a tension to the entire tale that cannot be denied. Although Odysseus is oblivious to the fact, the reader is keenly aware that he is racing against time.
In attempting to retell the story of Odysseus, Joyce cuts out the rug. There is no time limit. A protagonist, somewhat based on the character of Odysseus from Homer, wanders around Dublin and aimlessly flirts with a lot of women. It is utterly pointless, and mind numbingly boring. Joyce lobotomizes Homer in a way that is reminiscent of cutting the string on a kite. Once cut the string ceases to serve a function, and merely becomes a tangled mess.
There are some mildly interesting characters, and probably a couple of pertinent observations about the human condition. But these features are obscured by an absence of basic storytelling techniques, and excessively verbose language that does nothing to advance a coherent narrative.
I have not completed Ulysses, but I’ve read enough. The only positive thing I can say about the experience of reading this book is that it provided me with the existential realization that my time on this earth is limited, and that every second I spent engaged with this text was a second I would never get back.
Congratulations, James Joyce. You win. Ulysses is the dumbest book ever.
Photo by Dumbestblogger