James Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses was the author's attempt to write the internal thoughts of his protagonist, Leopold Bloom. The book transcribes Bloom's thoughts as he goes about a typical day in Dublin on June 16th, 1904.
Joyce used a variety of literary devices to create a sort of claustrophobic stream-of-consciousness, something not unlike the disjointedness of most people's thoughts. It doesn't make for easy reading, in fact Ulysses is famous for being tricky.
Millions of people have started the book, only to put it aside after a hundred pages or so. They get bogged down in dense thickets of words, run-on paragraphs, seemingly nonsensical trains of thought.
But the book has developed a second life. Every year on June 16th - the day portrayed in the book - Joyce fans worldwide gather to read passages from it. In fact, some 'Bloomsday' celebrations, as they are called, last up to 24-hours and feature hundreds of participants, each reading passages that amount to the better part of the book.
Joyce fans realized that the fierce, beautiful language of Ulysses is best appreciated when rendered by the human voice, preferably a voice lubricated with Irish whiskey.
Tucson's Bloomsday celebration included plenty of readings from the book. A number of speakers stood up and admitted they'd had problems reading it on their own, until they read it out loud in a group of people. One man waved a copy of his Ulysses Cliff Notes saying it helped him understand the book's mysteries.
The evening turned out to be more than a celebration of Joyce's book. It was also a celebration of Irish culture, well removed from the gaudiness of modern St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Here, young and old alike stared in rapt fascination as they listened to a succession of speakers. And when it came time to sing, everyone seemed to know the words to the old songs.
Winnie Nanna organized the Tucson Bloomsday Celebration, watching it grow from its start as a very informal affair in living rooms. And yes, she has read Ulysses. The whole way through. She beams with pride as she talks about its importance in literary and Irish history.