Ulysses with an iPad

I am a third of the way through Ulysses, James Joyce’s famously unreadable and controversial work of literary genius, and I have made a crucial discovery. An iPad or similar device is an almost indispensable aid to enjoying a work as rich and allusion-packed as this.

I never like to read the introduction to a serious book until I am well into the text. I want to read it fresh, let it work its magic, then find out more later. I started to do this with Ulysses, ploughing through nearly 200 dense, funny, poetic, often incoherent pages, frequently losing the thread, until I weakened and read the introduction (by Cedric Watts in my Wordsworth Classics edition).

Sure enough, it has told me too much of the plot for my liking, but its mention of the “electronic web” opened my eyes.

Going back to the first page of Ulysses, I googled “Buck Mulligan” and was suddenly able to appreciate the opening scene’s extraordinary fusion of Greek myth and Catholic ritual. I am learning about literature and civilization while enjoying a brilliantly frank and witty exploration of the lives of ordinary people.

Ulysses with an iPad – not what Joyce had in mind when he wrote his monumental modernist work in 1922, but great fun, which I would recommend to anyone.

[Editor’s note: Why do we have a post about reading on a blog about writing? Because if you want to write well, you need to read well. We always include a list of recommended reading in our training courses.]

Could Dickens help your business writing?

At the end of our Clarity training courses we give out a list of recommended reading. The idea is that people’s writing is influenced by what they read and that a dose of good fiction may counteract the corporate drivel that they are inundated with at work.

I’m thinking of adding Dickens’ novels to our list. But how, you may be wondering, could I possibly recommend a Victorian writer so often accused of long-windedness and sentimentality? The quality in Dickens that could be helpful is his vivid description of people and places.

The problem with so much business writing is its imprecision, its vagueness. It deals in processes and policies, and uses abstract nouns with other words piled in front of them as descriptors. For example, “the talent and development agenda” and “pragmatic effective learning and development solutions”.

Dickens wrote stories about individuals and places that we can visualise. We can hear them speak. We can almost smell them. That’s the way to communicate ideas – by creating pictures in the reader’s mind, by writing as far as possible about real people doing things. I think reading a bit of Dickens could help.

Time magazine is running a series of blog posts on why read Dickens in advance of the bicentenary of his birth on 7th February 2012.