I just got a Sony eReader, of which perhaps more anon, and I decided to read Ulysses in full. We always had that book at home but I could not get far with it, although I liked the beginning. Maybe it was when we were shown extracts from Finnegans Wake in the sixth form that I felt Joyce was not for me. I think we ‘did’ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at university (I studied German with subsidiary English).
So on the Reader I have a Penguin copy of the Odyssey, and lying around an old library copy of Harry Blamires guide to Ulysses, The Bloomsday Book – A guide through Joyce’s Ulysses (there is a newer one, but AFAIK it just adapts the page numbers to a newer edition). I bought it through abebooks. It was originally much consulted at West Sussex County Library. It is an unpretentious guide. In the Odyssey, I’ve just got to the point where Odysseus arrives back in Ithaca. The Penguin edition – an E.V.Rieu translation edited by his son – has a very useful chronological summary of the events in it. The Odyssey is anything but chronological in sequence.
I also have and am reading Richard David Precht, Wer bin ich – und wenn ja, wie viele? . This book is a bestseller in Germany. Precht studied philosophy and he set out to explain it to his stepchildren. His approach is unusual. He describes what fun it was to study philosophy and discuss it with other students, and how dry the lectures were, based on a historical approach. I think the title is a quote from a fellow student who was drunk.
There are many books about philosophy, but “Who Am I? And If So How Many?” is different from the rest. Never before has anyone introduced readers so expertly and, at the same time, so light-heartedly and elegantly to the big philosophical questions. Drawing on neuroscience, psychology, history, and even pop culture, Richard David Precht deftly elucidates the questions at the heart of human existence: What is truth? Does life have meaning? Why should I be good? And presents them in concise, witty, and engaging prose. The result is an exhilarating journey through the history of philosophy and a lucid introduction to current research on the brain. “Who Am I? And If So, How Many?” is a wonderfully accessible introduction to philosophy. The book is a kaleidoscope of philosophical problems, anecdotal information, neurological and biological science, and psychological research. The books is divided into three parts: What Can I Know? focuses on the brain and the nature and scope of human knowledge, starting with questions posed by Kant, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, and others; What Should I Do? deals with human morals and ethics, using neurological and sociological research to explain why we empathize with others and are compelled to act morally, and discusses the morality of euthanasia, abortion, cloning, and other controversial topics; and, What Can I Hope For? centers around the most important questions in life: What is happiness and why do we fall in love? Is there a God and how can we prove God’s existence? What is freedom? What is the purpose of life?
The final book I am reading is Defending the Guilty, by Alex McBride. This is an inside life of the criminal bar, both prosecuting and defending. You can look inside it at amazon – I have an amazon.de link in the right-hand sidebar. McBride is not like Ferdinand von Schirach – he doesn’t try to keep himself out of the stories. He alternates between stories of courtroom successes and failures and becoming a criminal barrister and brief considerations of problems in criminal law. Thus he starts on a lighthearted note (insofar as chopping up the body of a rabbi and getting the refuse collection day wrong is amusing) before turning to the problems of making a mistake in cross-examination which lets in precisely the evidence which will convict your client. Some of the successful trials are the result of luck.