Monday, July 16, 2012

Divine Barry

One of my literary goals during my fifties was to read James Joyce’s Ulysses by the time I turned sixty. I needed to get up my nerve, however, to begin . . . and the older I got, the more worried I was that I couldn’t make my way through the masterpiece on my own. I wished that I’d studied it in college, but hadn’t been even slightly tempted at that age. The clock was ticking.

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.


Larry Lorenz said...

I wrote a long response -- befitting Ulysses -- in which I said something to the effect that my greatest pleasure came on the day I finished it, Bloomsday, two or three years ago. Butnsomehow that was lost in the cybersphere. The gist was that I think I would have enjoyed it, yes, if I knew the original, yes, and could have, yes, followed that, yes, as I read, yes, yes, yes.

Unknown said...

Barry has found you after all these years, and I have a story to tell about my continued experiences with James Joyce and Ulysses.

I am in the process of unpacking my book in my new office, and I ran across the lovely, leather-bound copy of Ulysses that you, Judy, and Julie got me as a gift on the day of our final meeting. Our little group led me on a fascinating path and a new career, and that book has held a special place in my heart since that day.

I'll email you privately to save your readers from my nostalgic meanderings.

I'm glad to have found you and your blog,