One day when I was fifty-nine, I was scanning a bulletin board at my local indie bookseller. There it was, calling to me—a little 3x5 card reading something like, “Want to read Ulysses, but afraid to do it on your own? I’m looking for a group to read it with me again. Whether it’s your first or tenth time through the book, call . . . Barry Devine."
My heart was beating faster. Barry Devine sounded like a fake name, a character from a romance novel, but I jotted down his number and called him the minute I returned home. He called me back. Yes, still had room in his group, which wouldn’t begin for a couple of weeks. I signed up on the spot.
Initially there were eight or nine of us in his group, including my then current boss, a young woman who said she’d always wanted to read Ulysses. (She dropped out after two chapters.) So did others drop . . . and the group was left with five regular attendees—one of whom was my sister. Another attendee wasn’t reading the book, just listening to the discussion.
We spent about eight months reading approximately fifty pages every two weeks. After the initial two or three meetings at the bookstore, we began to gather at my house. Those bi-weekly meetings were a bright spot on my calendar. The book was fantastic; the experience immensely enriching.
Barry was a young man, probably in his late twenties. He was smart, insightful, patient, and fun. He was engaged to a woman named Helena, a beautiful Greek American woman who joined our discussions when she could. Barry’s perspective as a man close to the age of Stephen Dedalus was insightful. My perspective as a woman familiar with the Catholic church was unique to the group. Readers' reactions to the book were varied, so the discussions were lively.
I have completely lost track of Barry, although I have never stopped counting the reading of Ulysses (by the time I was sixty!) as one of my own proudest accomplishments.
Recently I have discovered Frank DeLaney’s podcasts of Ulysses, and I’m discovering the book all over again—through the fresh, literary, droll and Irish eyes of Frank DeLaney. Check it out: DeLaney reads a few lines of the book each week, then deconstructs them. He claims it will take him twenty-two years to finish Ulysses at these five-minute podcasts once a week, but he doesn’t care. Neither do I, because his commentary is superb. Check it out. Ulysses podcasts
Meanwhile, if you ever meet a man named Barry Devine, please let him know of my undying gratitude.