Every year, around May or so, my regular reading begins to slow down. Though I still read voraciously, I no longer read as quickly. Partly it’s because that’s the crunch of the school year. Partly it’s because each year, around May or so, I get distracted from my “pleasure reading.” Each year, I begin to reread Ulysses. Confession time: I love Ulysses.
I know. I know. No one loves Ulysses. No one’s even READ Ulysses, they just talk about it and carry it around. It’s the original Infinite Jest. But I have read it. Only once all the way through, but I’ve read it. There is something about Ulysses, as maddening as it is, that I keep returning to. I reread Ulysses. Each year I begin about a month before Bloomsday (June 16th, in case you didn’t know) in the hopes of finishing before the big day itself (I never have). I read books about Ulysses. I learn about Joyce and the cultural history of the book. I love the way Joyce captures the actual thought pattern of people. I love his experimentation with form and character. But more importantly, I love the challenge that Ulysses represents.
I love “tough” books and always have. Even when I want to read light, fun books I find myself returning to books that are tough. Books that you have to interpret and think about and piece together. They don’t all have to be as dense as Ulysses. They don’t all have to be as opaque or maddening. But I really like books with substance. I like puzzling through a book, tracing themes and motifs. I like analyzing technique almost as much as I love getting lost in the story. The very best books I’ve ever read allow me to do both.
This year, I got about a third of the way through Ulysses before Bloomsday because I was reading two critical books as I went along (Gilbert’s seminal work on the text and Declan Kiberd’s Ulysses and Us). Unlike in years past, this year I’m going to continue with Ulysses through the rest of the summer. I’ve finished it only once before (in college), and I’d love to finish it again. And, as much as I want to (and, who are we kidding, probably will) allow my brain to turn to mush in the first few weeks of summer by reading fun, fluffy books (hello, newest Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants book!), I’m committing to difficult books this summer. My goal for the next school year is taking my students from school readers to lifelong readers. I’ve always been a reader, but it’s really the “tough” books that I enjoy, and it’s time to return to them. What’s on your summer reading list?