Ulysses Podcast

Most readers who enjoy a good literary challenge have attempted to read Ulysses, James Joyce’s 1922 masterpiece. The text, while brilliant and representative of the 20th century shift into modernist thought, contains so many narrative cul-de-sacs and classical allusions that readers often turn to a guide to lead them through. Whether a college course or Twitter bot, Ulysses gurus abound, offering to light the path through the 265,222-word labyrinth Joyce built through Dublin.

For the centenary anniversary of the book’s publication on February 2, the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company began hosting an ensemble podcast reading. Spanning the four months between the publication anniversary and June 16, the day covered by the novel known as Bloomsday, each weekday brings a new episode of the novel, read aloud by a different literary luminary. Joyce’s fellow Irish wordsmiths Caoilinn Hughes and Paul Murray, authors Will Self and Jeanette Winterson, and even comedian Eddie Izzard have lent their voices to the podcast thus far.

Interspersed between readings of the text, the almost-weekly Bloomcast helps clarify the novel’s plot. Host Adam Biles, the literary director at Shakespeare and Company, is regularly joined by Alice McCrum of the American Library in Paris and Dr. Lex Paulson of the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco. Other guests have included Patrick Hastings, creator of UlyssesGuide.com, and Aggie, resident cat at Shakespeare and Company, whose vocal stylings are clearly audible throughout Episode Two.

While the bookstore encourages listeners to purchase a special Clothbound Classics centenary edition of Ulysses by publishing partner Penguin, complete with the shop’s Kilometer 0 hallmark stamp, Shakespeare and Company has more than just a bookselling connection to the novel. The original Parisian Shakespeare and Company, an English-language lending library run by American Sylvia Beach in the years between the world wars, also acted as publisher to the first edition of Ulysses.

Famously, Joyce was making edits to the proofs of the text even as the book was being printed in Dijon, but on February 2, 1922, Sylvia Beach met the morning train that carried the first two extant copies of Ulysses. One she gave to Joyce, and the other went on display in the window of her bookshop, but impatient customers forced her to hide the book until she could fulfill all pre-orders. The novel, which had already been banned in the States after excerpts in The Little Review brought the magazine’s editors up on obscenity charges, saw an initial print run of a thousand, some of which were smuggled into the U.S. over the Canadian border. Shakespeare and Company published eleven editions of Ulysses throughout the 1920s.

In 1964, another Parisian bookshop run by an American was rechristened from Le Mistral to Shakespeare and Company in honor of Sylvia Beach, who had died two years earlier. In fact, George Whitman was so taken with Beach’s legacy that he named his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman. After taking over the bookstore in 2006, this Sylvia began introducing new initiatives, like podcasts, to the legendary bookshop.

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