Stately, {but hardly} plump Herbert Guggenheim came from the end of the bar bearing a red book. He held it aloft and intoned:

" 'Ulysses,' by James Joyce. One."

So began the 34-hour marathon reading of the Irish writer's masterpiece, a vocal odyssey through 783 pages of perambulations, prose and poetry.

It is, to continue borrowing from "Ulysses," "a grand book by them that knows." And the more than 40 souls who sat down at noon yesterday in The Irish Times pub for the opening lines -- the sixth such event -- were definitely in the know.

Hunched over often crumbling copies of the book, they followed the reading by Guggenheim, who as organizer, had the distinction of giving voice to the first chapter. He did it in 54 minutes, singing his Latin and stumbling only three times over 23 pages of text.

When he read "looked coldly," he looked coldly. He did the old woman's reeling voice. And he smiled when he read the first "dirty" joke, which involved one pot, making tea, and making water.

Reading "Ulysses" on June 16 has become a tradition, for it is on that day -- Bloomsday -- that the novel's serpentine action takes place in Dublin.

Guggenheim's effort has drawn a considerable following, and it is not unusual to have several hundred people at the finale. Such is the following -- at least among Joyceans in the area -- that when Guggenheim skipped last year because of the death of a close friend, people still showed up June 16. The reading this year was also a fund-raiser for the Washington Literacy Council.

It was held at The Irish Times, a pub near Union Station in Northwest Washington, which celebrated the day with a Bloomsday breakfast (Irish sausage, black pudding and white pudding, three fried eggs and rashers of Irish bacon). A portrait of Joyce permanently hangs on the wall, next to a campaign poster for John F. Kennedy, and not far from a smiling Ronald Reagan. Perhaps the only thing missing was absinthe, a favorite Joyce drink no longer recommended for consumption.

By the time Guggenheim read, "Wait until I have a few pints in me first," most of the crowd had beaten him to it.

Pub owner Hugh Kelly is a onetime traveling salesman with a penchant for literature. He said the marathon reading posed unusual problems for a pub, not the least of which is remaining open past the 3 a.m. deadline for serving alcohol.

Those intent on "a glorious drunk," as one character in the book says, simply had to wait until 10 a.m. today to resume. The pub has its own aroma, a mixture of smoke and ale, and that was to be the sustenance for listeners during the seven off hours.

"Hopefully they can float on the ether that's coming up from the floor, the walls and the cracks in the ceiling," Kelly said.

Or they can simply get high on literature. The purpose, after all, is to make "Ulysses" accessible. Even veterans of the work in attendance yesterday admitted they had not read the book in its entirety in years, if ever, and the performance ensured a healthy dose for consumption.

Robert Aubry Davis, of WETA public broadcasting, for example, is an expert on the book's third chapter. He wrote his college thesis on the color scheme, and when it came time to read, Davis hardly had to look at the pages. His copy, held together by thick black tape and bought for $2.95 in 1967, has more notes than type. (The controversial corrected edition, which irked many Joyce scholars, goes for $12.95.)

Stentorian and dressed all in green, Davis performed Chapter Three. When he read, "shut your eyes and see," he shut his eyes and paused, as if peering into the beyond.

Four people, all over 60, entered the pub at the exact moment when he yelled, "Hooray for the goddam idiot." Apparently Joyceans, they didn't even flinch.

"The thing is, you have to be a little bit pompous, a little bit blustery," Guggenheim said, describing the successful "Ulysses" reader. Davis was it, although Guggenheim confessed that in his six years, there have been some less than stellar performers.

"We've had to weed out a couple of people who sounded like they had a mouthful of mush," he said.

By 8:30 tonight, when Molly Bloom's internal monologue draws to an end, some 30 readers will have climbed to the pub's stage. Guggenheim, 33, who has two master's degrees and a PhD, has to fill in for those who don't show.

By then, his heart will be going like mad. But ask him if he'll do it again, and he says: