As I look around my small UCD student residence—a different room in a different building, after moving at the official end of the semester to summer housing—I’m struck by the fact that this year, no matter how momentous it has been, how difficult, challenging, frustrating and remarkably inspiring, can be reduced to the same few objects that have defined the rest of my life: books.
On the bottom shelf of the tiny, built-in bookcase, is a stack of books that I bought for school this year: primary texts, “literature,” that I have read and marked up the way I have always done. This stack contains the rejects, the unfortunate ones that I have decided, despite my fondness (or, more often, because of genuine dislike) will likely never be read again—not in the immediate future. These are the unfortunate ones that will remain in Ireland while I make the journey home next week.
For me, books have always been a symbol of time, more reliable than any clock. My childhood and teenage years are reflected in the texts that I read, and so reading them again is like looking into a photo album, my life and the text a complicated memory. My undergraduate years were also filled with stacks of books, marking the progression of a semester, a block of time defined by words I read, often from necessity, and as I became further and further entrenched in the academic ideal, rarely for pleasure. Those books, the rejects that I never would read again, were quickly sold—back to the college bookstore, to young friends taking the same classes the next year, and sometimes (if I wasn’t too lazy to make the effort), sold online for the best price. The best ones were kept, secreted away in my heart and under my bed for another, rainier day.
These books at UCD will not be sold back to the bookstore. But this stack, unlike the other that has already made the 5,000 mile journey to West Virginia in my sister’s extra bag, will not go home, to be part of the library I have been amassing for my entire life. Books in boxes, bags, and storage, waiting for the time when my life will allow me the opportunity to buy a bookshelf—the first I will ever own—and display them; proof of my life and love, a symbol of home and the passage of time.
In this stack of rejected books, there are three copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I am not ashamed of this. I have one copy at home, in my imaginary library—an old, well-worn gilded copy, a gift from a dear friend, with his marks and thoughts carefully inscribed in the margins. That copy is important to me, and so I will keep it; Joyce and his Ulysses, however, I will donate to someone in Ireland who will hopefully find solace or comfort or beautiful intellectual exercise within those pages, a positive association that I have always—and will always, I think—lack with this particular text.
I have enjoyed so many things this year, a few of which have been shared in these blog posts. My final, perhaps most surprising and remarkable, day in Ireland was June 16, the anniversary of Joyce’s Bloomsday, the day of Leopold Bloom’s journey around Dublin in Ulysses. In Dublin and the surrounding villages—especially those mentioned in the book—a celebration of sorts occurs, popular with tourists, and Joyce is read everywhere, by travelers and academics and enthusiasts in period costume. I had planned to spend the day writing my thesis, but a close friend invited me to share the day with her. Our day was infinitely enjoyable, new friends and places to mark a special holiday only a bibliophile—or a Joycean—would enjoy. While I am not the greatest fan of Ulysses, it was fun to see lives–for one day, at least–defined by a book; to see the progression of an author’s thoughts and words inspire and affect more lives than mine, in a visible and joyful celebration.
I leave Ireland in a few days’ time, and I leave behind a stack of books full of pencil marks. I take with me, however, a deep knowledge of a place and its people, a national literature and personal memories of those who celebrate and contribute to it. I take home with me a soul filled with books.