Hello everyone, and welcome back to the blog. In anticipation of the Ulysses read along that Lori and I are hosting, I wanted to post a short list of guides to Ulysses. Lots of people use guides to help them make some sense of this monumental work. Guides can give you a place to start by providings short chapter summaries, background and historical information, and notes on style. In this post I'm going to talk about the three guides that I have personal experience with. I'll give you a brief overview and my opinion on their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully this will help you choose the guide that's right for you.
Fargnoli and Gillespie
Description: This book is organized like an encyclopedia, with alphabetically listed entries on all of Joyce's work, as well as on his personal life and some important historical events. The entries are relatively short (I think the longest is about a page) and serve as concise factual summaries of a given topic. There are entries for each episode of Ulysses, as well as for all the major characters.
My Thoughts: I love this book. This was the only guide I actually used when I read Ulysses for the first time, and it was immensely helpful. The entries for each episode provide nice short summaries that give you all the information you need without weighing you down or telling you how to interpret things. I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone planning to read Ulysses.
TLDR: Get this one.
Summary: The New Bloomsday Book is a true guide to Ulysses. It goes through each episode, summarizing and explaining the major events, characters, and symbols. The author makes connections between the episodes and tries to unravel some of the thematic and symbolic content of the novel. The chapters are, on average, between ten and twenty pages long.
My Thoughts: I feel a bit ambivalent about this book. On one hand, I love the in-depth chapter summaries that it provides. The writing is good and the explanations are all very clear. On the other hand, the author does a lot of interpretation for the reader, and I don't like my experience of the book to be colored by someone else's reading, especially the first time. If you use this guide, and a lot of people do, just remember that the interpretations in it are not law, they are one scholar's opinions.
TLDR: A good guide, but a little heavier on interpretation than I would like.
Gifford and Seidman
Summary: Ulysses Annotated is a line-by-line annotation of Ulysses that is nearly as long as the book itself. Every single reference, historical even, person, turn of phrases, or unusual word is explained or defined. While it doesn't go into interpretation or symbolism very much, this book will explain literally everything else to you in minute detail. Scholars everywhere have this book on their shelves.
My Thoughts: Do not use this book. No, really, don't. It is an awesome book, and if you intend to write a scholarly paper on Ulysses then you absolutely need it, but if you are intending to read, finish, and enjoy Ulysses, then please do not try to read this book alongside it. It will swamp you and bore you and tell you everything that you don't need to know. I genuinely think that using this book will keep you from enjoying Ulysses.
TLDR: Only use this if you intend to write your thesis on Ulysses.
So, those are the three guides that I personally own and have interacted with. I hope this has been helpful to those of you who want to read Ulysses with us. If you have any guides that you love (or hate), please let me know in the comments. I hope you will all join us for our read along, which starts May 1.