'Finnegan' Book Group Full of Joyce

Erik Jespersen's Tuesday book group has a singular purpose: reading James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. They've been at it for a decade. Jespersen tells Scott Simon they're far from through.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

For the past 10 years, the Finnegan's Wake Reading Group has met in bars around the Boston area once a week to share a few beers and a few pages of James Joyce's brilliant, involved, and often confounding novel. They're half way through. They expect to finish in 2021.

Founder of that reading group is Erik Jesperson, who joins us from his home in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Mr. Jesperson, thanks for being with us.

ERIK JESPERSON: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: How much do you read at each meeting?

JESPERSON: We try to get a page done a day.

SIMON: Well, how much beer drinking do you do, as opposed to how much page reading?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHUCKLING)

JESPERSON: Well, we usually read for an hour to an hour and a half. But we do try to harbor a pint of Guinness during the event, at least one.

SIMON: Let me put you on the spot, though.

JESPERSON: Sure.

SIMON: What the hell is this book about?

JESPERSON: Oh. Well, almost every individual fits into, you know, one of five archetypes. And it's a father, the wife, the two boys who are twins, and then there is the daughter.

SIMON: And is there, in fact, a wake?

JESPERSON: Yeah, that's part of what it becomes. Because the father is wondering, you know, how he is to regain his vitality. And what inevitably happens is that he regains his vitality through what he has passed on to his children, as they supercede him. And so that is, in a sense, the human wake, when the next generation takes over and gives honor to the generation proceeding.

And the reading itself, because there are so many puns that takes place, and fractured verbal implications, that a lot of times doing it by yourself, you'd miss so much.

SIMON: What night of the week do you meet?

JESPERSON: We usually meet Tuesday nights.

SIMON: And how many people in the group?

JESPERSON: Well, there's four core members right now. And we have two satellite members that sort of, you know, come in now and again.

SIMON: Well, let me put it this way. Has anyone been able to resist calling this Tuesdays with Finnegan?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Or Tuesday's with Joyce, at any rate?

JESPERSON: I like Finnegan better.

SIMON: We want to get you to read something, finally, Mr. Jesperson.

JESPERSON: Oh, sure. All right.

(Reading): For the producer, Mr. John Baptister Vickar, caused a deep abuliousness to descend upon the Father of Truants and, at a side issue, pluterpromptly brought on the scene the cutletsized consort, foundling filly of forty shilling fostertailor and shipman's shopahoyden, weighing ten pebble ten, scaling five footsy five and spanning thirty-seven inchettes around the good companions, twenty-nine ditties around the wishful waistress, thirty-seven alsos around the answer to everything. Twenty-three of the same round each of the quis separabits. Fourteen round the beginning of happiness. and nicely nine round her shoes for slender. And it was kind of...

SIMON: I can see where you'd talk about that all night, yeah.

JESPERSON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Mr. Jesperson...

JESPERSON: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Good luck to you, sir.

JESPERSON: Oh, well, thank you very much.

SIMON: You'll be done in 20...

JESPERSON: The estimation is 2021. And I guarantee you, I stand here right now and I say we will most certainly be done by then, in honor of Joyce. And then, we'll start again.

SIMON: Erik Jesperson speaking with us from Somerville, Massachusetts.

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