A Week of Blooming Wisdom

Jamie O’Connell, editor and selector of Best-Loved Joyce, guides us through a week of Joycean quotes in the lead up to Bloomsday. Jamie also chats about James Joyce and what Bloomsday means to him.

A Week of Blooming Wisdom

All moanday, tearsday, wailsday, thumpday, frightday, shatterday…

Finnegans Wake

To celebrate the Bloomsday Festival that runs over the coming days (Bloomsday being Friday 16th), I’ve taken some quotes from Best-Loved Joyce that have inspired me, and I hope they inspire you. Using Joyce’s iconic days of the week in Finnegans Wake, here are seven(ish!) of my favourite Joyce quotes, which showcase some of his profound insights:


I want to see everyone… all creeds and classes… having a comfortable tidysized income… I call that patriotism.



The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What is beautiful is another question.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


If Socrates leave his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law, but always meeting ourselves



One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

‘The Dead’, Dubliners


She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post Office, as something large, secure and fixed

‘A Mother’, Dubliners


To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher


What is it about James Joyce that you love? Is it the man himself or his work or both?

For me, Joyce is the epitome of the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Many of the personal choices he made in his life would not have been choices I would’ve made; in fact, some of them were extremely destructive (he put his poor wife Nora Barnacle, along with other members of his family, through the wringer!). However, he had great integrity and vision when it came to his art. Out of the ‘lumps of earth’ (as he called it) he created work of great beauty and integrity, unflinching in it’s descriptions of human nature. His commitment and courage when it came to his craft/art is a inspiration for any writer.

If you could meet James Joyce today what would you ask him?

You took the ‘road less traveled’. What gave you the courage to do this?

What is your favourite James Joyce book or piece of literature?

My favourite work has shifted throughout the years. It is as Marcel Proust says (I paraphrase): we don’t read books, we read ourselves. As someone who was brought up in an extremely religious environment, in my twenties I could see myself in the struggles of Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of course, Dubliners was the most accessible of his work – it’s a cliché, I know, but ‘The Dead’ is definitely a favourite! Right now, I think Ulysses is my favourite work – it’s the work that I found the most wisdom and riches in when I was compiling Best-Loved Joyce.

Do you think Bloomsday is an important celebration and if so, why?

I think anything that highlights great literature can only be a good thing. Studies have repeatedly show that people who read regularly have higher levels of empathy and, in a world where it seems like empathy is vanishing and being replaced by fear of ‘the other’, literary festivals like Bloomsday, which encourage people to pick up a book, are not simply ‘entertainment’ or a form of ‘distraction’, they are part of the movement that keeps human nature from being drawn towards it’s more dangerous instincts.

Do you celebrate Bloomsday every year and if so what do you do?

For the last couple of years, while working on this text, I’ve had a ‘Bloomsday’ experience on a regular basis! This year I’m actually delighted to be giving a talk on Bloomsday (Friday 16th June) in Rathgar on ‘How Joyce can Change Your Life.’ (giving my event a little plug there!). Ten years ago, I avoided Joyce like the plague – now I have great admiration for him as a fan – I’m no academic. I’d like to contribute to the Bloomsday celebrations by offering people like myself, non-academics, a chance to understand some of the beauty and wisdom of Joyce’s work.

Jamie O’Connell, June 2017

Best-Loved Joyce is a beautiful and accessible introduction to the writings of James Joyce. Short, entertaining quotes from his major works: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, with more from his poetry & letters, and some family anecdotes handed down to grand-nephew Bob Joyce.
Best-Loved Joyce was published in May 2017 and is available here and in all good bookshops!
To celebrate Bloomsday we are offering 20% discount on all James Joyce related titles if you buy online at www.obrien.ie until Friday 23rd June –  Blooming Marvellous!

Learning to Love ‘Ulysses’ – An Editor’s View

UlyssesJamie O’Connell, a member of the editorial team that worked on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses, gives his view on the famous text and Bloomsday festivities.


As Bloomsday approaches, I await the parade of boater hats, striped jackets and lace dresses, as Joycean fans flock to Dublin to celebrate a book that has been said to have ‘changed the face of literature’. The first festival of its kind was in 1954 on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel; the 2013 pilgrimage through Dublin along the route taken in Ulysses is said to be the largest annual event yet.

I’ve often heard Ulysses described as the most acclaimed and yet unread book in the English language. Though I read Dubliners and The Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man a number of years ago, I skirted around Ulysses, primarily out of intimidation but also a certain amount of laziness. During my time at university I did read extracts, notably Episode 4. Joyce’s description of Leopold Bloom cooking and eating the kidneys had stayed with me, as with most people who’ve read it:

‘Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.’

I did start other episodes but they appeared indecipherable to me. After making various attempts, attacking the text from varying angles, I put the book aside with the thought that I’d likely finish it ‘some day’, though if I was honest, I probably felt I’d go through life without having quite got around to finishing it.

However, this year Ulysses and Bloomsday will have a very different significance to me. Last summer I began working for O’Brien Press and I’ve been part of the editorial team preparing the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses in conjunction with The James Joyce Centre.

It was not a usual editorial job. After all, Ulysses isn’t a manuscript that needs to be edited in any literary sense. Rather I’ve felt like a tenth century monk in one of those beehive huts, reading the prose letter by letter, word by word in various currently available versions, attempting to create an edition that is as close as possible to the original 1922 text. Wayward commas and colons were returned to their rightful place. Mixed up vowels, apparently ‘corrected’ in newer editions, were replaced with the original. And what has been created is something loyal to Joyce’s creative vision. After all, there have been many warning examples of ‘corrected’ Ulysses texts; a 1984 edition was eviscerated in the New York Review of Books for taking what it felt were liberties in its edits.

As luck would have it, I was given responsibility for Episode 14 ‘Oxen of the Sun’, described as the most difficult episode in Ulysses. On my first general read, I felt my stomach clench as I thought about the logistical nightmare of correcting a text that was written in a largely phonetic way with a near incomprehensible narrative. In the end, it involved reading each syllable out loud, comparing texts, checking each letter, all ninety-seven thousand of them.

But what did emerge as I read, was the expert skill Joyce had with voice. Like an actor that can shift from role to role seamlessly, so Joyce moves from one dialect to another with ease, from Shakespearian to Victorian to slang. The language is sometimes bawdy, with a mix of alliteration and plenty of innuendo – there’s no denying the richness and texture of the prose.

This new edition of Ulysses will launch this June to coincide with the 59th Bloomsday celebrations. That is why with a measure of pride of I think of my contribution to the 2013 festival and to the general Ulysses legacy, however tiny. Perhaps it’s time to don a boater hat and join the likes of David Norris and President Higgins as they pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest writers.

For more information on the Dublin Illustrated Edition of Ulysses click here.

Our take on ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce

DublinersOur wonderful designer Emma Byrne gives her thoughts on designing the jacket for our new edition of Dubliners by James Joyce, which was published last year as part of Dublin One City One Book 2012.


When something like Dubliners by James Joyce comes across your desk for a new jacket and design concept, it really deserves a little more attention. How do you represent the visual shell of one of the most famous books in the English language? Indeed.

All of life is here in this collection of fifteen short stories. The characters of these stories, these ordinary Dubliners lives, loves, triumphs and failures are observed with a sharpness and empathy that few writers have ever achieved.

Father Flynn in The Sisters, Jimmy Doyle trying to better himself and failing in After the Race, these, for me, were just two ‘windows’ on these Dubliners’ lives that convinced me that using the ‘window’ as a metaphor might be the approach to take. The stories centre on Joyce’s idea of an epiphany: a moment where a character has a special moment of self-understanding or illumination. The initial stories in the collection are narrated by children as protagonists and, as the stories continue, they deal with the lives and concerns of progressively older people. This is in line with Joyce’s tripartite division of the collection into childhood, adolescence and maturity.

There I had my two design elements:

1.The tripartite division of the collection of short stories into childhood, adolescence and maturity. This is achieved by splitting the word ‘Dubliners’ in three. Also within the book three photographs break up the main body of text.

2. A ‘window’ looking onto Dublin of the period hidden behind the letters. As the stories look deeply at their characters, the image used is College Green in 1914.

What did you think of our cover?

For more information on Dubliners click here.

Throughout the month of June receive a 20% discount on all our James Joyce books when you buy online at www.obrien.ie!

Happy Bloomsday!


Interview with Alfonso Zapico author of the graphic novel ‘James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner’

JamesJoyce-PortraitofaDublinerDid you miss the interview with author and illustrator Alfonso Zapico in the Irish Independent last week? Well don’t worry because we have all the inside information on his fantastic graphic novel James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner here! Read on to find out more about his fascinating project!

Alfonso, how did you come up with the idea to create a graphic novel about the life of James Joyce?

There are a lot of reasons I decided to write the book, no one reason alone. It was a test in a way, to see if I could actually do it. I like to try to build a life with all the elements around a character: the scenery, the places, the other characters, and to recreate the atmosphere of the time through my drawings. I suppose it’s similar to making a film, but with paper and ink. It was a very interesting experiment! The other reasons were more philosophical: James Joyce was a pioneer in 20th century literature: he changed people’s view of the world and society, he rejected the big heroic characters and gave prominence to ordinary men and women, real life, the little details of human existence. And the third reason, and maybe the most important one for me, is the rebelliousness of Joyce, his optimism, and the way he overcame so many challenges during his life. Perhaps this is an Irish trait, I think you can see it throughout Irish history.

How was your experience of researching the book and the life of James Joyce?

The most important thing for me was to try to get across to the reader the spirit of Joyce, this great artist and his world, his vision of life. When I was researching the life of James Joyce, two essential books for me were the biography of Joyce by Richard Ellmann and ‘Joyce for Beginners’ by David Norris & Carl Flint. Also, of course, Joyce’s books: in ‘Ulysses’, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ and ‘Dubliners’, I found lots of small details that helped me to build Joyce’s Dublin.

You also did some research for the book in Dublin, how was that?

I spent many months doing research for the book in Dublin and the experience was fantastic! I didn’t just want to create my drawings from old photos in books. In order to get across the essence of a place, you have to visit that place. I walked the Dublin streets, I saw the colour of the sky, I drank beer in the pubs, I ate fish and chips, I talked to Dubliners. Old photos are all very well, but Dublin is a magical city, and you have to go to the heart of Dublin to try to understand Joyce. Maybe this special atmosphere is not always visible to people who live in Dublin, but for me as a visitor, it was a joy the first time, the second time and every time I return to this wonderful city.

Thanks very much for the chat Alfonso!

Click here for more information on James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner

Plus head to www.obrien.ie where you can get 20% off all our James Joyce books for the month of June!

Happy Bloomsday!