App Review: James Joyce’s Ulysses, A Guide

What better way to celebrate Bloomsday – June 16, the day on which James Joyce’s Ulysses is set – than by discovering the novel in an interactive iPad app? Naxos, known for its classical music releases and audiobooks, has released the $9 Joyce’s Ulysses: A Guide which gives you Joyce’s great novel, plus a plethora of features to help you better understand this work, which can be daunting.

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The heart of this app is the full text of Ulysses, with annotations that help you understand the text, its references, the Dublin it’s set in, and its characters. Annotations appear in the right margin, allowing you to read without them obscuring the text:

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But the app contains multitudes: an abridged audiobook of Ulysses, from Naxos Audiobooks (I’d rather see the full audiobook, but that’s a lot more expensive), information about Joyce’s life, the music in the book (with recordings), photos of Dublin, and even the full text of a translation of Homer’s Odyssey, which is the template for Ulysses. You can even hear Joyce himself read a bit of the text; hearing Joyce’s voice was, for me, many years ago, something that opened up his texts, especially Finnegans Wake.

While you can buy ebooks of Ulysses, and even download it for free (since it’s in the public domain), it remains a complex text, and the annotations alone make this app worth the price. The additional features help understand the context and setting of Ulysses, and the only thing that I would like to have that’s not in the app is a map of Dublin, showing the travels of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedelus. (I actually bought a book with maps and photos the first time I visited Dublin to see some of the landmarks.)

This is just one of a growing number of excellent apps that let you explore literature on the iPad. Naxos has done a great job on this, and I hope they do more in the future.