Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
From The Times June 6, 2009 Ulysses: A book for Dustmen as well as Dons Ulysses is about ordinary people, says Declan Kiberd, so that should be reflected in the way it is approached in the classroom
When a painter visited James Joyce in his Parisian apartment, the famous author pointed out the window to the son of the concierge playing on the steps. “One day,” he said, “that boy will be a reader of Ulysses.”
Already the book had a reputation for obscurity as well as obscenity, but Joyce remained confident that it would reach and move many ordinary readers. On its publication in 1922 he gave a copy as a present to François Quinton, his favourite waiter at Fouquet’s.
In those years he preferred not to discuss literature with experts or writers, but “loved to carry on a dialogue about Dickens with some unknown attendant at the post office window or to discuss the meaning and structure of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino with the person at the box office.”
ylvia Beach, whose bookshop published Joyce’s masterpiece when nobody else would, noted how he treated everyone as an equal, whether they were writers, children, waiters, princesses or charladies. He confided in her that everybody interested him and that he had never met a bore.
The middle decades of the 20th century were the years in which the idea of a common culture was abandoned — yet Ulysses depends on that very notion. Joyce himself was not forbiddingly learned. He cut more classes at University College Dublin than he attended and averaged less than 50 per cent in many of his exams. His classmate Con Curran noted that he made the little he learnt there go a very long way.
When Joyce left secondary school at 18 he knew most of the basic things that you need for reading (or writing) Ulysses — the Mass in Latin, the life and themes of Shakespeare, how electricity works, how water gets from a reservoir to the domestic tap, Charles Lamb’s version of The Adventures of Ulysses.