In the footsteps of James Joyce and Leopold Bloom

Bloomsday week in DublinMy favorites of Dublin’s many layers are those that bring to life its rich literary history. Today is Bloomsday, when the strata laid down by James Joyce come to light all across the city (in the photo on the right, banners for Bloomsday on O’Connell Street).

A full day at work followed by dinner with business partners from New Zealand precluded any participation in Bloomsday — a genuine disappointment, so perhaps I can embrace Philip Larkin’s source of inspiration.

Nevertheless, I’ve found myself following Joyce and Bloom all week long, and indeed earlier during my two previous visits in August 2008 and February this year.

My flight arrived early enough that my hotel room wasn’t ready, so I headed north on Grafton Street (“gay with housed awnings”), across the O’Connell Bridge, briefly into the General Post Office, then onto the James Joyce Centre. The museum preserves the front door of Number 7 Eccles Street, where Joyce’s friend J.F. Byrne lived in 1904 and which Joyce used as the home of Leopold and Molly Bloom in the novel.

Leopold Bloom's front door

Jetlag began to catch up with me as I finished the exhibits, so I took the offer of a free lecture at the Joyce Centre to hear a great deal about Phoenix Park that I’d never have learned otherwise. It’s now on my list of places to visit next time I’m in Dublin.

South on O’Connell Street, past Trinity College and the old Irish Houses of Parliament (already the Bank of Ireland in 1904), and back toward the hotel on aching feet…

The next afternoon, I headed north on Grafton Street again, but turned right onto Duke Street, where Davy Byrnes Pub exists in all its nonfictional glory.

Davy Byrnes - "Moral pub."

He entered Davy Byrne’s. Moral pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once.

There were far more mouthwatering options on the contemporary menu, but I set aside my disdain for tourist behavior and ordered the gorgonzola sandwich.

Leopold Bloom's gorgonzola sandwich

Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese.

As much as I missed doing something symbolically Joycean on Bloomsday itself, I realized that Ulysses is everywhere, all the time in modern Dublin, and the real Dublin suffuses Ulysses on every page. An evening in a Dublin restaurant with Antipodean colleagues may have been no less “Joycean” than turning the rusty knob of Leopold Bloom’s front door or eating bread topped with overwhelmingly green cheese.

You can see a more complete photo tour of Joyce and Bloom’s Dublin by Tony Thwaites of the University of Queensland, to whom I’m indebted for some of my own after-the-fact details and choice Ulysses quotes.

The alleged BBC book list Facebook meme

It’s time to catch up on the bandwagons that passed me by over the past few months.

Without the pressure of feeling as though I needed to share my list alongside everybody else, I spent some time trying to figure out where this list really came from. Most importantly, there’s no such list on the BBC website. However, there is a similar list that the BBC published in 2003, with many of the same books in a different order.

There are interesting differences between the 2003 BBC list and the 2009-2011 Facebook version — both in terms of the list itself and the context provided with each. The Facebook version alleges that the “BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books,” while the original site only states that the BBC “began the search for the nation’s favorite novel, and … asked you to nominate your favourite books.” Variations also exist among the versions of the instructions that accompany the list, adding or removing formatting, asterisks, comments, and so on to indicate the variety of ways in which the individual has consumed the book.

Whoever compiled the list I’m using consolidated books in a series but also left individual books from the same series. For example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made the BBC list at #9, while both the book (#36) and the series (#33) made the list on Facebook.

What’s most thought-provoking to me, though, is how a list of books sorted by popularity among Britons at a particular point in time has been transformed into an apparent challenge from an authority figure and a competition within our social circles. How very American…

Verbatim, the instructions making their way around Facebook:
Instructions: Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Copy this into your NOTES. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt, and underline the ones for which you’ve seen the movies.

My list (after the jump): Continue reading “The alleged BBC book list Facebook meme”