November 2, 2015

What Would Leopold Bloom Do? Ask him yourself in our new advice column


Complex and confusing, filled with words you don’t know and people you don’t understand, life is even more difficult to navigate than Ulysses. But luckily, we have Ulysses to help us!


Why shouldn’t we be able to apply our reading efforts to our living efforts? Expansive, generous, humanist, funny, and, of course, difficult, Ulysses can provide answers to the questions kicked up like so much dust as we traverse our day.

Ask your questions, pose your problems, present your challenges, and Josh Cook, author of An Exaggerated Murder and resident Joyce expert, will dispense advice drawn from Joyce’s masterpiece. Just like Ulysses the advice will be serious, silly, and, of course, dirty as required, but always thoughtful and honest. You can send your inquiries to Josh at [email protected]!

Here are our next few questions.

Why Can’t I Get a Date? —Dateless in Des Moines

Stephen Daedelus is the Pele of not getting a date. He doesn’t bathe regularly, so that’s part of it, so step one is definitely to bathe regularly. Despite his intelligence, his erudition, his creativity, despite speaking, like, five languages, despite looking damn well when dressed nicely, Stephen can barely talk to women. Not even when those women are prostitutes and when he is very drunk. Stephen is plagued by fear and doubt. The result is a weird kind of overcompensation, where his attempts to prove his worth to those around him, as when he tells a barely amusing but teeth-grindingly pedantic “parable” or presents a theory of Hamlet he doesn’t even really believe, prove his desperation to impress rather than his intelligence, combined with a hyper-sensitivity to insult. In short, he was so doubtful of his own worth and so afraid of what surrounded him that he could be a real prat.

This fear and doubt come from many places including, but not limited to: fire and brimstone Irish Catholicism, an irresponsible father and thus a relatively impoverished lifestyle, potentially ambiguous sexuality, the burden of British Imperialism in Irish history, an identification with certain societal traditions, the anxiety of influence, and good old fashioned intellectual ennui.

The solution is not some kind of broish performance of confidence. Just because Stephen is the problem doesn’t mean Buck Mulligan is the solution. Nor is this about some kind of strategy for convincing someone of something. The solution to Stephen’s epic datelessness is a solid sense of self and I would imagine that solution would work for a lot of people, whether your inability to be your own human being comes from fear and doubt, like Stephen, or from some other source. Oh, and one time he got drunk and ended up on top of a tram crying “naked women!” in the rain, so step two is definitely don’t do that.

What are the best recipes from Ulysses? (Trick question, it’s the kidney in butter or nothing.) —Impending Brunch in Quebec

There’s always Stephen’s classic hangover cure, “The Cabman’s Kickstart.” Simply stare with weary ennui at a stale dinner roll while insulting a cup of coffee. You’ll be back to feeling every gram of the relentless pressure of history in no time. (OK. You’re right, it’s kidney in butter.)

Any good seedcake recipes? If you know what I mean. —Casually Euphemistic in Chicago

Fun fact, you can actually make seedcake from the crumbs inexplicably left in the cushions of funereal carriages. Just mix it with whatever of the pennycakes the seagulls leave behind and the pressed oils of a father of thousands and you’re good. If you know what I mean.

Can you tell me if Bloomsday/man in the Macintosh was indeed the answer to my strange dream the other day? —Freud’s Ghost in a Nearby Haunted House

Since this is Ulysses, the answer is “yes.” The man in the Macintosh is the facet of consciousness that observes all other consciousness and so, was indeed the answer to your strange dream the other day.

Given the area and mass of an average copy of Ulysses, how many spiders can you kill with it? —Arachnophobia in Akron

Stephen would be too busy seeing the spiders as a metaphor for British Imperialism to kill them, Molly would make Leopold do it, and Leopold would understand the vital role they play in an ecosystem and shepherd them to safety. So in any Ulysses-based scenario, the spiders live! Or, like eight to twelve I guess. Or one huntsman spider if you get to swing the book three or four times.

Josh Cook is a bookseller at Porter Square Books. His first novel, An Exaggerated Murder, was published by Melville House in March 2015.