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Celebrating the 'Bloomsday' Centennial

Cover for the Vintage Books USA re-issue of James Joyce's classic, <i>Ulysses</i>
Cover for the Vintage Books USA re-issue of James Joyce's classic, Ulysses

Dublin, says writer Nuala O'Faolin, may be the only city in the world that has both a patron saint and a patron book.

The saint, of course, is Patrick, who famously rid the island nation of snakes and converted pagans to Christianity. The book: James Joyce's Ulysses.

Joyce's relationship with his hometown was uneasy at best. The author left Ireland as a young man and lived most of his life abroad. But on Wednesday, Dubliners celebrate the 100th anniversary of "Bloomsday." That would be June 16, 1904 -- the day the book's events take place. And it's not just a Dublin thing -- Joyce fans all over the world are celebrating the unique literary event.

The novel, considered by many literary critics to be one of the greatest books ever written, describes in florid detail a single day in the life Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus, a young would-be-writer -- a character based on Joyce himself. Bloom, a Jewish advertising salesman, spends the day wandering through the streets and offices, pubs and brothels of 1904 Dublin.

The difficulty of reading Ulysses is as legendary as the book itself -- many of the passages are written in Joyce's signature stream-of-consciousness style, and there are countless allusions to stories of the Bible and Greek mythology. In some versions of the book, notes explaining the meaning of certain passages go on for more than 250 pages.

NPR's Lynn Neary traveled to Dublin for some tips on how to climb this literary Mount Everest. She discovered a Dublin that Joyce would hardly have recognized -- a European city with a skyline dominated by construction cranes, in a hurry to modernize.

But some things about both Dublin and Joyce, Neary says, will always remain the same:

"There are still those in Dublin who neither like nor understand James Joyce. And there are others who are offended by the way a city which once rejected Joyce now uses him and his work to attract tourist dollars. But a lot of people in the city have to come to this conclusion about the great James Joyce: He was, when all is said and done, just one of them -- a Dubliner."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.