Today is the 110th anniversary of Bloomsday (16th June 1904) - the day the fictional but very real Leopold Bloom wanders around Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses.
Leopold Bloom is one of my favourite characters in literature - indeed he's probably my most favourite. He is a warm, flawed, self-deprecating auto-didact who is always ready with an interesting fact whether other people want to hear it or not.
He's a more sympathetic character than the starkly intellectual Stephen Dedalus, whose peregrinations around Dublin criss-cross Bloom's as they meet and part and meet again. Stephen has the spikiness of youth; Bloom, the roundedness and maturity of middle age.
Bloom is a deeply sad man who deserves to be happier - and by the end of the novel there is some small hope that he might be. But Ulysses isn't a sad book. It's full of humour and ribaldry and life and sweat and physicality - and all of this is what makes Leopold Bloom so wonderfully human.
I can never understand when some people say Ulysses is unreadable. It most certainly isn't. Yes, there are parts that are obscure but the novel also presents humanity in a clear light that shows the solid earthbound fleshiness of it while delving into inner lives and private thoughts. This is what we are, Joyce tells us, and why should we shy from it?
If reading certain chapters proves difficult - I always found the Nighttown scenes hard to get a grip on - try the audio version.
In the Naxos edition that I have, Jim Norton (aka Bishop Brennan from Father Ted, among many other things) does a great job of bringing the whole thing to life.