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Posted at 01:49 PM ET, 06/16/2011

Celebrating Bloomsday


A sculpture of Irish author James Joyce is seen beside his grave at Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, Switzerland. (Steffen Schmidt - AP)
James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” the sprawling, uber-complex, mind-boggling novel is either the bane of readers everywhere or the best book ever written, depending on who you ask (though sometimes those thoughts are also voiced by the same person).

The book starts:

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned: ‘Introibo ad altare Dei.’”

It only gets more confusing from there. It’s also one of the only books in which readers need a full-length guide to explain what’s going on. Forbes illustrates this point with a story: the publisher of Ulysses had to apologize to the author after messing up the order of some of the sentences. Joyce shrugged, saying no one would notice.

Still, the book is worshipped for its brilliance and audacity. Every June 16, the day the actions of the book took place in 1904, readers celebrate the nerdiest of all holidays: Bloomsday, named in honor of the main character. Around the world, Joyceans drink Guinness, eat liver and read some of the almost 265,000 words of Joyce’s masterpiece.

In D.C., you can get your Bloomsday fix today at James Hoban’s, and hear highlights from the novel — for free.

This year, in a mad dash of the digital age, a group of Bloomsday celebrants has decided to bring Ulysses to the Twitter generation by condensing the novel into 140-character bites. Called the “Bloomsday Burst,” the project is an attempt to celebrate Joyce’s words, not capture the exact plotline — or what plotline there is.

NPR spoke to the organizer, Stephen Cole, who said he broke the book into 96 sections--one for each 15 minutes of the day, each about eight pages. Cole then recruited volunteers from around the world to condense section into one tweet. The goal is to “finish” the entire book in a 24-hour span and then head out and toast the Twitter-feat with a Guinness.

Here’s the first of the 96 bursts in honor of Bloomsday, or follow the project along here.

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. Chrysostomos.less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

Stephen Dedalus stepped up, followed him wearily halfway and sat down on the edge of the gunrest, watching him...less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

A new art colour for our Irish poets: snotgreen. Isn't the sea… a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you ....less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness: It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant. Hellenise it.less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide. A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green.less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

If that still doesn’t satiate your Joyce needs, listen to the book read aloud. Radio Bloomsday will have a cast of actors, including Alec Baldwin, John Lithgow and Garrison Keillor on from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. to read the novel on air.

A version of this post was first published on Blog Post.

By  |  01:49 PM ET, 06/16/2011

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