Yet Another Literary Folly

Here's another e-book project I took on earlier this year, but there's no chance that Project Gutenberg will accept it, because technically this book is not public domain in the United States, even though it is just about everywhere else in the world. Nonetheless, I decided to put it online anyway, and if anyone with actual authority asks me to remove it, of course I will. I'm just counting on the likelihood that nobody will really care that much.

My best friend, David Lehman, died last weekend while we were out camping with some other friends. We talked into the night, went to bed in our respective tents, and in the morning he was gone. We played music together on a regular basis, and occasionally performed as Barleybone. I don't know if he ever read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, but one of his all-time favorite books, which he would read religiously, was Lord of the Rings. I feel just about that way now with this book.

I'd bought my Penguin paperback copy years ago, but when I tried once to read it, I was totally unprepared for its incredibly rich humor and complexity, and gave up after about a hundred pages. When I finally decided this year that it was time to give it another go, I took one look at the tiny print and said: I don't want to deal with this. Subsequently, I made the mistake of buying a Kindle version from Amazon, and it was pure, pirated, hastily-scanned, lazy-ass crap, with no evidence whatsoever of proofreading. This book deserves better than that.

So, I searched online for a reasonably definitive text, and found this one. However, its formatting was not amenable to the Kindle, and it still had a few mistakes which I wanted to correct. Which brings me to the following little essay:

On Formatting Finnegans Wake for the Kindle

When formatting text for the Kindle, certain compromises must be made. Absolute adherence to the original printed formatting is absurd, if not impossible. While most of Finnegans Wake is amenable to the usual Kindle format, Episode 2 of Book II notoriously is not.

There are four major classes of text in that episode:

  1. Body of text, occupying the central column
  2. Marginalia in the right margin, which always act as paragraph titles
  3. Marginalia in the left margin, which always act as comments or notes [B.C.A.D.]
  4. Footnotes
While it's not impossible to format three columns, typical Kindle devices lack the real estate to support them legibly. Embedding the notes within flowing text is also not very legible. After some consideration, I decided on a format that emphasizes flexibility and legibility while maintaining the distinctive roles of the four classes of text.


Right titles and left notes appear before the same line of text as on the printed page. Where they begin at the same location, right titles precede left notes. [In some places, where multiple notes are crowded together, a byte of jellyable fudgemint is used in arranging them.]

Footnote numbering is preserved, and footnotes appear after the same line as on the printed page. Because right titles and left notes are placed before that line, they are not split by footnotes.


All hyphenated word breaks are healed wherever spotted. In certain cases, the hyphen is retained if it makes sense, for example:

e            --> a-b-c-d-e
Words broken in print on the last line before a marginal note are completed before the note. If a word broken by footnotes in print does not invoke a footnote on the next page, it is completed before the footnotes. If it invokes a footnote on the next page, it is moved entirely past the current footnotes.

And so, without any further ado, here's the link to the master HTML copy, and here's another link to the Kindle version. Cheers!

October 1, 2017

The Circular File