With all the wonderful literature, poetry, magazine articles, polemical screeds, and manifestos I haven’t read yet (and that’s just what’s piled up on the coffee table), I usually don’t get around to reading a book more than once. I’m willing to make two exceptions for two wildly disparate reasons.
At some point, I know that I am going to read James Joyce’s beguiling and inscrutable masterpiece Ulysses again, if only to attempt to catch a fraction of the 80 percent of it that went over my head the first time. I would like to take it with me to Dublin at some point and be able to visit the places that Bloom wanders through as I read. At the very least, a Joyce literary tour is in order, stopping, of course, at the pertinent pubs along the route.
The second book I need to read again could be considered an easy-going southern cousin to Joyce’s mad ramble. John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces certainly attempts to do for New Orleans what Ulysses does for Dublin; it paints such a vivid (and hilarious) psychological portrait of the city that mere characters and plotlines become … not beside the point, but rather a means to understand the deeper nature of the city.
I fear that, while a large part of Dublin that Joyce—and by extension, Bloom—knew is still preserved and celebrated, the city that Toole and Ignatius J. Reilly would have recognized may be long gone.