What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Ulysses
by James Joyce

Field-Tested by Josh Kimball

in Transit

I am a slow reader and I am stupid.

I read Ulysses in the fall of 2002. And in the winter of 2002. Also, in the spring, the summer, the fall, and the winter of 2003. When I started it, I lived in Boston. I read five or six pages at a time, on the bus, on the way to work and back. I loved it. I read 30 or 40 pages every day. Buck Mulligan. Leo got drunk. I’d stand at the transfer stop in Watertown, waiting, turning the pages, hoping that the people who left the nearby veterinarian’s office would see me reading such a stack of a book.

It got colder. I don’t read fast. I read five or eight pages a day. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want anyone to see me reading it anymore — still — three or four months later. I read it at night, in bed, when we had packed up all of our boxes to move. We lived with those boxes packed for a month while I read that book in the dark, in our bedroom.

We moved to Minneapolis. I kept reading. I’d cross the river, back and forth, going to work every day. I read a few pages each ride. I hated it. The book had been with me forever and it wasn’t giving me anything anymore. I despised it right up until I could feel the end coming. Then, sitting there on the bus going back or forth from work, I began again, truly.

I finished Ulysses in Minneapolis. Or in St. Paul. Somewhere on this side of the Mississippi. Or the other side. I didn’t like it or not like it. I think back on it now not like I think about an aesthetic experience constrained by my own limited personal perception and irrevocably framed by and conjoined to a specific chunk of space-time. I think of it not only as a thing; in a year; in a place. I think of it with the wariness I allow a person. I like it. I hate it. I don’t care about it. I came to know it. It has to somehow know me.

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