Sorry to sound like the grad student everyone avoids after the seminar, but I recently read Ulysses for the third time, and I have some questions, only not about Ulysses but about its notorious successor, Finnegans Wake. For a very long time (in fact, up until recently, when I re-read . . . well, you know) I had always figured that though Bloom & Co were worth the trouble, life was too short for the roiling and possibly pointless obscurities of the Wake. Now I'm thinking perhaps life is too short not to give it a try, especially since I suspect it's the sort of book that improves with re-reading. I do have kind of a compulsion to finish any book I start, so this is a commitment, though maybe what I really need to do is get over my compulsion to finish all books I start.
So my first question: anyone out there have any advice? The first time I read Ulysses I pretty much read it straight through. The second time I read it in conjunction with Gifford and Seidman's Ulysses Annotated. The third time I read it in the recent Oxford World's Classics edition of the first printing, which was kind of a happy medium between the two, since it contains notes and maps and suchlike but not to the detailed extent of Gifford and Seidman, which is a separate, Ulysses-sized volume just of annotations. (But I have to say if I had looked through a copy of that Oxford edition in a brick-and-mortar store I never would have bought it - the type is really tiny. I waited until I had my new glasses to read it and even then it was a stretch. Also, there were some errors and omissions in that first 1922 edition that are simply repeated, with the correct wording or dropped lines supplied in the notes in the back: but why not just put them back where they belong?)
So, for the Wake: read it straight through? or along with annotations or guides? (I did discover that there is a Finnegans Wiki, which might be useful if I'm reading near a computer.) Is it really hugely helpful if you read it out loud?
Are there any indispensable or at least useful guidebooks? I knew about Joseph Campbell's Skeleton Key, but the more I looked around the more there seemed to be. Anyone have any thoughts on them? I'm particularly curious about John Bishop's Joyce's Book of the Dark, because I was in one of his classes at Berkeley - in fact it might have been during his first year of teaching - only it wasn't a Joyce class (I think I read Dubliners in college, but I didn't read Ulysses until I was out of college) but a course in late nineteenth-century British literature. That was the class in which we were discussing the late Victorian crisis of faith and a very earnest bespectacled grad student (not sure why he was in an undergrad course, but there he was) said, "But does that mean then that there is no God?" And at that very moment, no kidding, one of our California earthquakes struck and the whole building shook. The large glass windows rattled with particular violence. We all laughed, nervously. Anyway I remember reading an interview with John Bishop after his book came out and he described it (the Wake, not his book) as a sort of lusty brawling comic romp, and I thought, But I hate books like that and I went back to The Wings of the Dove or whatever I was reading. But I also used to hate sea stories and now here I am reading Moby Dick for the fourth . . . oh, sorry. I guess I can't help being that guy. . . .
Back to the various guides and keys and analyses: read them before? during? after? not at all?
Also, what about this Restored Finnegans Wake that was recently published by Penguin Classics? I haven't yet seen it listed in the USA (except as a used book) but I saw it on Amazon UK. Some of the comments though make me wonder if this might be a repeat of the controversial Gabler edition of Ulysses. On a more practical level, it sounds as if the pagination differs from the usual editions so it might be difficult to read alongside the guides, at least for a novice. But I do feel that if I'm going to read something it should be as close to what the author hoped for as possible.
Any thoughts, comments, suggestions? I promise not to go around talking about "the first time I read Finnegans Wake" or anything like that.