Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Bloomsday and a Week with Joyce

“What did you do in the Great War Mr. Joyce?”
“I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?”

Bloomsday, June 16th, is almost here. Despite my earlier reservations (IMMENSE FEAR) about reading James Joyce at all, let alone Ulysses, I am actually now quite excited. The readalong, should my excitement become contagious, is hosted by o and her sign up post is here.

Rather tragically, my work life is unsympathetic to my wish to drink coffee and sit around reading all day, and I have to go to work on Bloomsday itself. But, instead missing all of the fun, I have decided to spend a whole week in celebration of James Joyce, Ulysses, and my education in both matters. To help me, because obviously this is going to be a huge challenge, I’ll be listening to BBC Radio 4’s celebratory programmes which I read about here.

In theory, my week will be going a bit like this:

  • Monday: Go and buy a copy of Ulysses. It is (I think) about 750 pages, how handy, about 100 pages per day. Try and read a substantial chunk to get going.
  • Tuesday: Read more Ulysses.
  • Wednesday: Repeat.
  • Thursday: More reading, listen to In Our Time on Radio 4, which “will discuss the background to Ulysses, considering its historical and literary context, its themes, contents and style, and the impact it has had since publication”. Useful!
  • Friday: Reading.
  • Saturday: The big day, read as much as I can, propose a toast to Mr. Joyce.
  • Sunday: IN THEORY finish reading Ulysses. Listen to the BBC dramatisation.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You: War Books [6/15]

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You really exceeded my expectations. It starts with a couple of love stories, some mediocre trench warfare but ends up being all about healing – soldiers’ minds and families as well as wounds. It is easy to be skeptical about modern books written about WWI because in some ways, although there are thousands of individual stories that could be told, everything has been said already BUT this was quite original.

The title is taken from the field card soldiers used to get, (I’ve never heard of these before) that look like the cover of the book – with blanks for names, dates and injuries. Another bit of trivia I learnt from this book was that when people were enlisting at the beginning of the war, they were given a choice between joining either for a year or for the duration of the war. So anyone listening to the ‘It’ll be over by Christmas’ propaganda would be getting much more than they were bargaining for.

Here’s why this book is great:

  • The book follows two couples: young love across social classes and a married couple just starting a family. The best parts of this book are those that describe how the relationships adjust after the men return from war.
  • The inability of some women to understand what their husbands had gone through was spot on.
  • Ditto the descriptions of women’s war work and nursing.
  • Realistic characters, especially the mistakes they made trying to hide their recovery (or need of it) from their families.
  • I learned lots about the plastic surgery offered to wounded soldiers wound, parts of the book were quite gruesome but fascinating at the same time.

Slightly less great:

  • The actual war parts weren’t amazing, the trenches and battles were quite lacklustre, especially in light of some of the other books I’ve read recently.
  • The common problem of historical fiction – getting the language right, at times this seemed far too modern.

Definitely worth a read, especially if you are interested in the VADs and women at home.