Arts, On Campus

James Joyce’s Classic Novel Gathers Students and Faculty For a 28-Hour Reading

A chocolate cake with multicolored, abnormally tall candles sat in front of a surprised Joseph Nugent, a professor in Boston College’s English department, as the students and faculty participating in the 24-hour reading of Ulysses began to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Nugent blew out his candles and abruptly jumped out of his chair, thanking his students for the birthday surprise and encouraging everyone to reconvene in the reading room. 

Ulysses, written by James Joyce, follows an ordinary man called Leopold Bloom in a single day of his life in excruciating detail. The book documents each experience and his every thought. In Dublin, Ireland, on the anniversary of the June 16 day Bloom writes about, the city holds a Bloomsday festival with readings, re-enactments, walking tours, and more activities. 

“Leopold Blooms spent his real Bloomsday desperately trying to deflect his attention, his anxieties onto other matters,” Nugent said. “So you get to a certain birthday when the best thing to do is to avoid any thoughts and one way of doing this was to have a 24-hour reading of Ulysses.”

Nugent teaches a course each year entitled “Joyce’s Ulysses” where students take a semester to read Joyce’s 644-page book. 

On March 21 at 9 a.m. in the morning, students and faculty gathered in Connolly House to begin reading the entirety of Ulysses, a reading that would span over 28-and-a-half hours. 

Nina Khaghany, MCAS ’24, writing her honors thesis with Nugent, was one of the few students to stay through the entire reading. In the fall of her junior year, Khaghany enrolled in the course, and she organized Boston College’s first Bloomsday for her final project. 

“I think we’re really lucky because we have a lot of international students and faculty participating this year,” Khaghany said. “So we’re getting to hear different voices and different interpretations of the sounds of the book.”

At the front of the reading room was a podium where students would stand, wearing bowler hats and faux mustaches to resemble Bloom. Around noon, ingredients were placed on the dining table so that participants could replicate what Bloom ate for lunch in the novel: a gorgonzola cheese sandwich. 

The reader switched every 15 minutes and the group traveled to the dining area and the library throughout the night for changes in environment. 

A large number of people dedicated their Thursday evenings to the event, drinking coffee, tea, and energy drinks at midnight.  

By three in the morning, 10 people remained, either lying on the floor or the chairs around the room. But the readers’ energy remained as high, if not higher, than during the earlier hours of the journey. 

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, March 22, everyone gravitated to the library for the last two chapters of the book. Nugent placed bowler hats on each participant’s head for the final chapter from Bloom’s perspective.

The event ended at around 1:30 p.m. As the final line was read, everyone began to cheer and Nugent stood to express his gratitude for everyone who sacrificed their sleep to celebrate the classic novel. 

This year, the event was organized by a committee of volunteers from Nugent’s class, led by Jules DiGregorio, MCAS ’24. 

“I think the reason people in the class wanted to do this is because it shows your dedication to the craziness of the novel,” DiGregorio said. “Throughout the night, as we descended further into the plot, and descended further into a kind of insanity and sleep deprivation, it felt like a real bonding experience.”

March 24, 2024