Bloomsday, June 16th, celebrates James Joyce’s protagonist Leopold Bloom’s 1904 meander around Dublin, in which he replicates Ulysses’ travels in Homer’s Odyssey in one relatively ordinary day. (Apparently Joyce’s first exposure to the Odyssey used the Romanized name, Ulysses.)

Bloomsday brings two thoughts: The first comes from one of the disheartening aspects of the present day: When will we ban Ulysses again (for “pornographic” content)?
Possibly it’s safe because few to none of the book banning enthusiasts have read it.

The second thought is about an author’s balance between communicating with the reader and writing the author’s own truth. Some of Joyce’s chapters are difficult to access, but Joyce was investigating—experimenting with—literary styles. His intention was not to write accessible prose and poetry. The last and perhaps most famous of the chapters is a 3,000+ word sentence, Molly Bloom’s stream of consciousness interior monologue. It is gorgeous writing, and Joyce pulled off the behemoth sentence without confusing the reader. I was thinking about that author-reader balance and Ulysses because I’m reading a book that is very difficult to get through (A Journey to the End of the Millennium), partly because its author uses long sentences (not stream of consciousness). I went back to Joyce to help figure out why the long sentences of Journey don’t work as well as Molly Bloom’s. The difference is at least partly that A Journey is popular literature—on starting it, I expected the author to lean heavily toward making the story accessible to the reader. Once I got beyond that expectation, the reading got easier.

Mechanics, mechanics

One of the things I’m learning from reading other people’s work in progress is the importance and unimportance of mechanics. In several groups, I’ve read stuff that’s mechanically exquisite but not very interesting. Then the other day, there was a piece with interesting characters and the rhythm of a good song. But I had to keep stopping to reread because the Mechanicmechanics were ‘invented’ … no quote marks to set off dialog, one-line paragraphs breaking up thoughts, commas where they shouldn’t be, none where they should be, and so on. Maybe James Joyce or Faulkner can do that stuff, but it’s hard for we mortals.

I’m realizing good mechanics make it easier for the reader to enjoy the story. Sure, breaking convention is sometimes important, but it’s harder to pull off that plain vanilla mechanics.