James Joyce’s most famous work is, to say the least, intimidating to many would-be readers.

This Thursday, Irish native Seamus Carmichael will guide Lebanon County readers through the pages of “Ulysses.”

“Ulysses” was first published on Feb. 2, 1922 — Joyce’s 40th birthday — just a few years after it was serialized in The Little Review, an American journal. Set in Dublin, it tells the story of an ordinary day — June 16, 1904 — through the eyes of several characters; primarily, the book follows the various encounters of Leopold Bloom in a form that roughly parallels Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

Widely praised by scholars, the chaotic, sometimes controversial novel has appeared at or near the top of many “Great Books” lists.

Maybe it’s time to give it a try and see why.

“If you are intimidated by the novel, or have started it and quit, perhaps a guide will help,” Carmichael said in a press release.

Carmichael has read the book many times and “is willing to be that guide.”

He has partnered with the Lebanon Community Library for an event from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 5, to present an introduction to the novel “for those wanting to get to grips with a challenging, but incredibly rewarding and entertaining text,” the press release states. “Seamus will offer background, insights and online resources that open the world of ‘Ulysses’ up to an American reader.”

Carmichael is a native of Magherafelt in South Derry, Northern Ireland. He works in the library at Penn State Hershey Med Center, previously taught art history at the Lebanon campus of HACC and is a former board member at the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts. He also is an Irish singer and musician in the area.

His background made it a little easier for him to read the novel, he explains. “Like Joyce he was born into an Irish family, has a musical and artistic background, reads widely and has lived some of his life in Italy and most of his life since marriage, outside of his native Ireland.”

Carmichael explains that the book, “while full of references to Ireland and Dublin in particular, is a portrait of ordinary life on June 16th, 1904, as experienced by three main characters. They are Stephen Daedalus, an impoverished, artistic young writer, railing against the English-oriented, conservative, church-dominated culture of his native Dublin; Leopold Bloom, the Dublin-born son of Hungarian-Jewish parents, who works selling advertising for the newspapers, and his attractive wife, Molly, a singer and daughter of an Irish officer, who grew up in Gibraltar, the British outpost in southern Spain, currently having a fling with the promoter of her upcoming Irish tour.”

The date on which everything happens in the book, June 16, has become the day that lovers of Joyce’s masterpiece celebrate as “Bloomsday.” Accordingly, on Thursday, June 16, Lebanon Community Library will celebrate the 100th year of the novel’s existence from 5:30 to 7 p.m. “with an event featuring selected readings and music from the book, again led by Seamus Carmichael.”

Seamus Carmichael, pictured behind the musicians in a white shirt and jacket, enjoys music from his homeland at a seisiun, or Irish jam, in 2018. (Facebook)
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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.