September is all about banned books here at PEN American. We reached out to writers, editors, literary illuminati, and PEN staff to write about the banned books that matter to them most. Today’s post comes from Margaux Weisman, publicist at Akashic Books.
the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets
Until I graduated from college—and had to find a job, get my heart broken, bear the burden of being a twenty-something during recession, watch friends go to rehab, watch my bank account dwindle to the negatives, and maneuver the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York City—reading Ulysses was the most difficult thing I’d ever done.
College is sort of a blur. I will harbor the lifelong regret of having not taken full advantage of the academic opportunities afforded to me in college. Instead, I spent that time learning what kind of men I never wanted to be involved with, ingratiating myself into the theater circle, memorizing monologues from plays like The Hot l Baltimore and Speed the Plow, drinking, journaling, and crying. I can’t say I really sunk my teeth into any of my studies, wrote a paper I’m especially proud of, or felt invigorated by any particular lecture. But I read Ulysses.
In a class on the modernist novel, I read Ulysses. I had a tremendous amount of guilt about my academic fall from grace. In high school I’d been a straight-A student and classic overachiever. If I wasn’t a good student then who was I? So when I read Ulysses and not only engaged with it, but loved it, I gained a renewed confidence in my scholastic aptitude.
Censored for obscenity, Ulysses is a massive tome that chronicles an ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Reading the book, the amount of focus and effort it takes, becomes a physical act. My favorite part is the end, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. Molly is flesh, she is body, and she is not trapped, floating above life in the intellectual atmosphere, as many of the men in Ulysses are. I think I identified with Molly. She may not have been a great intellect, but she was really living. And she was real.
To read more pieces from Banned Books Month, click here.
Margaux Weisman handles publicity for Akashic Books. She is a writer and an MFA candidate at The New School.