Ulysses by James Joyce

“To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher.”

Read from March 21, 2018 – June 22, 2018 and DNF
Read/Listened – Restarted from the beginning on November 6, 2018 and finished Oct 28, 2019.

Ulysses isn’t a book that shouldn’t be reviewed and rated. This is a novel that needs to be absorbed and taken in slowly and then discussed for its insights and absurdity. It is an accomplishment to finish this complex and behemoth of a novel. It’s too much, of well, everything. There is so much to comprehend about this book that would likely take a PhD speciality to truly appreciate. Does that mean this book was entirely enjoyable for its near 1000 pages? Nope. Was it still worth reading? Absolutely.

When I first attempted to read this novel I approached it like any other novel and got a physical copy to read. While enjoyed sections of the book this way I found myself easily distracted from the book and couldn’t stay focused and ended up stopping a quarter of the way in. I was determined to read this novel so I thought I would try an audio accompaniment while also reading it physically. This was a strange step for me as I don’t really do audiobooks but it, however, proved to be key in finishing the novel. Not only did I enjoy more of the book but I also retained more.

On top of that, I also looked up summaries of each section before listening/reading it so that I could have a better understanding of the references, metaphors, and meaning behind some of the most difficult areas of the book. Doing this deepened my appreciation for the writing as well as my enjoyment.

While it took me over a year to finish this novel, I feel that it how it is is meant to be read as there is just too much to take and in and consider if not taken in methodically.

For those that would like to try my approach you can get audio and e-versions of Ulysses completely free from these websites:

  • Librivox – Two different audio versions. I would recommend the second.
  • Gutenberg.org – A variety of PDF and Ebook downloads

Librivox is amazing. The whole book has been read by volunteers from all of over the world and while some sections read better than others, it’s still wonderful that this resource exists and would strongly recommend that you check them out for other great recordings if you like audiobooks.

All and all, I’m proud I busted through this classic piece of literature and stand on my position on not rating it. I am curious about other people’s experiences reading this book, like how did you manage to finish it? Did you enjoy it? Or has gone to your DNF shelf? Shoot me a comment below!

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

“There is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you.”

4/5 stars.
Library binding, 884 pages.
Read from May 23, 2019 to June 11, 2019.

This iconic fantasy novel has been on my TBR list for years and after I friend of mine raved about how much she was enjoying reading it I decided to finally pick it up for myself. Little did I know that the Portuguese versions of this book, that my friend was reading, is broken down into four separate books which is what I was expecting, whereas the English version, the version I read, has all four of the books put into one gigantic tome! Nearly 900 bloody pages. It’s a good thing I enjoyed it.

Written in 1984, Bradley takes the classic story of King Arthur and gives us the version of the story from the perspective of all the female characters. Especially the perspectives of Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar. This feminist re-telling takes the generally male-centric story of Arthur and relays another perspective of how it all came to be with him and his legendary sword. The female characters are far less conniving in this story and instead, show what their real motives were and generally how hard it would have been to be a woman during King Arthur’s time.

Christianity is on the rise and the ways of the Goddess and of the old ways of magic are falling aside to make way for this new religion. Each character makes choices based on their own beliefs on how best to navigate this new world, whether that’s to preserve the old, embrace the new, or take a more neutral stance in which both can exist.

“All gods are one god.”

A lot of people slammed this book for its religious undertones, for, well, its occasionally very blatant remarks against Christianity, and many felt that the whole book was a platform to discuss issues with Christianity. I strongly disagree, especially having actually read the whole book. While yes, the story does make a lot of remarks against Christianity, it also does the same for the pagan Goddess that many of the women in the story follow. I think one of the main driving features of the novel was about how religion takes such a major hold in people’s lives, for better and for worse. Following the Goddess lead to some horrible and tragic circumstances for Morgaine and many of her kin. I feel that the book focused more on the distress that comes in trying to do the right thing by your religion as well as by your self and trying to be as faithful as you can. This internal conflict between wants, needs, and desires versus what is dictated by a character’s religion creates unending turmoil for every single character in the book, both male and female.

Spoilers ahead… Think of how much misery would have been spared if Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot had just run off together but because Gwen was so pious the two of them lived a life of misery and shame, always thinking themselves horrendously sinful. Morgaine, what would have her life had been like if the will of the Goddess had not forced her to lay with her half brother and bear her child? She lived her whole life trying to escape the confusion of that moment and what the Goddess meant to her in her own life…end of spoilers.

The beautiful part of the book is that it also shows how wonderful faith can be too as each of the characters does eventually find peace in the end with their choices, faiths, and fates.

The character work in this book is its true focal point and driving feature. Despite the length of the book and the occasional tediousness of the plot, especially towards the end, you fall in love with all the rich and dynamic characters. I think I had a love/relationship with the majority of the female-led characters in this book because you grow with them. I loathed Gwen for a long time and even though she is still my least favourite character her character development gives me an immense appreciation for her. Morgaine, the best character in this story, especially since she is normally portrayed as a conniving and incestuous whore in the traditional version of Arthur, is a phenomenal woman and character, with deep faults and strong ambitions. The characters aren’t perfect either as sometimes they make terrible choices or occasionally give the impression of the stereotype they were thought to be in the original story but with the back story and character development provided by Bradley you get the whole picture and can decide for yourself. It’s like the traditional story of Arthur is only one piece to the whole picture and Bradley wrote the rest and filled in the much-needed gaps so that the women finally got to have their own voices and perspectives heard.

Bradley was so far ahead of her time with this book so it’s no wonder that it is still considered a fantasy classic to this day. If you love fantasy and have not read this book yet, you’ve got to. Bradley recreated the whole realm of Camelot, Avalon, and Arthur with this book and I don’t think I could ever go back to the original version since I like this one so much!

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“On what slender threads do life and fortune hang.”

I like big books and I cannot lie and this big book is an action-packed classic.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 1276 pages.
Read from July 19 to September 02, 2016.

Everyone has one. A big book that has been recommended to you a million times that is just sitting around collecting dust. You believe that those recommending the book are sincere, but every time you look at it you find yourself overwhelmed with its barbaric size. Well I am here to say, that it is time to bite the bullet and give that big book some love. It is worth it. My big book was this one, The Count of Monte Cristo, and after countless glances at it from across my living room, to getting tired of not being able to check it off as read when it comes up on reading lists, I gave it go. Sadly, my hard copy of this book is in Canada so I had to settle for the ebook, which, given its size was probably for the best.

Edmund is a young and ambitious man. He has been promoted to Captain of a ship and is going to marry his love, Mercedes. However, as ambition goes, there are always those that are jealous. On the night of his wedding, Edmund is arrested for a crime he did not commit and thrown in jail without a trial. Behind a gaunt prison wall, Edmund spends his youth. He befriends a man Faria in the cell beside him who teaches Edmund everything he knows. The two of them plan to escape together. However, when things do not go as planned, Faria insists that he go on alone and that he go and find the massive stash of treasure that he has hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo. After escaping and finding that these riches are real, Edmund changes his identity to discover and plot revenge on those that had wronged him so cruelly.

Did you know that this story is based on true events? Dumas took the idea from the a book complied by French police-archivist Jacques Peuchet. Peuchet tells the story of a shoemaker, Pierre Picaud, living in Nimes in 1807 who was engaged to marry a rich woman and his three jealous friends accuse him of being spy for England. Picaud was placed under house arrest and had to be a servant for a very rich man. When this said rich man died, he left all of his money to the Picaud, whom he had come to love as a son.  Picaud then spent the next few years plotting revenge against his accusers. One of his old friends had even married Picaud’s ex-fianceé.

This first half of this book is a solid 5-stars. I couldn’t put it down. However the last half wavered for me. I had to re-read some sections to follow some of the many new characters that were introduced and I found some of the content a bit dry compared to the action that I was reading before hand. However, the ending was worth it. When it all comes together, it is clear why this books is a long standing classic.

This is a timeless read. So I encourage you, if this is one of the big books that you have not tackled yet, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.