Thursday, September 10, 2009

Infinite Jest: I Know What I Did This Summer

I suppose I had always been aware of David Foster Wallace. I couldn't recall ever reading any of his writing, but I knew it was meant to be excellent. Beyond that? Couldn't tell you much. Similarly, I had heard of Infinite Jest, even knew that it was considered a modern classic, but couldn't add much more than that1.

All that changed on September 12, 2008, when David Foster Wallace committed suicide.

Having not known the man's work, I was somewhat taken aback about the outpouring of emotion from all over the globe. Article after article written about this extraordinary author, some pointing to various pieces of his work that existed online2, allowing me at least to sample what made the man's written word special.

And yet, article after article referenced Infinite Jest. And the fact that it was somewhat notorious for people not finishing the book.

I didn't give the matter too much more thought; after all, I had plenty of books I hadn't gotten to yet. Not to mention I had already earned my stripes when it had come to conquering "difficult" books, having read "Ulysses"3 in its entirety after picking up the book on a trip to Ireland4.

All that changed when I a) heard about the "Infinite Summer" project, and b) when Gracie told me about it. With those two hooks I immediately sought the book 5.

The first thing I noticed? This was a seriously large book. I immediately set about changing the bag I took to work from an "over-the-shoulder" vertebrae-bender to a more ergonomic backpack6, so I could better handle the load. The second thing I noticed? Dave Eggers wrote the forward, an author I had been introduced to when my parents gave my "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"7 for Christmas, and knew a lot better than DFW. The third thing I noticed? Dave Eggers clearly got his penchant for footnotes from DFW8.

I had been warned by Gracie that the book was a slow starter and somewhat all over the place, but I dilligently plugged away, reading on the Metro to and from work every day. The first couple of hundred pages were definitely a little difficult to dig into, but I was on a mission.

And then, between pages 242-258, David Foster Wallace melted my face off9.

From that moment on, there was no way I was not going to get to the bottom of the novel. Soon I was outstripping the "schedule" for the Infinite Summer project, and stealing time whenever I could to read it. I read a 200 page chunk in one sitting in my cubicle at work, when I probably should have been doing something to add to the corporate bottom line. I felt like I was on some literary roller-coaster, hurtling towards the end of this 1000+ page behemoth of a novel.

When I read the last line, I held my head in my hands for several minutes.

Some people feel cheated by the ending. Some people immediately start re-reading the novel10. I was neither; I almost flipped to the front to start again, but caught myself, wanting to bask in the ending.

Was the book amazing? Yes. Would I recommend you reading this book? Yes. Will I read this book again? Yes. Yes. Yes.

But one thing I can tell you. Knowing the contents of the novel, and the details of David Foster Wallace's life and death makes it all the more heart-breaking.


1. Including the fact that it was written by David Foster Wallace.


2. I think the first article I read was the one describing his trip to Wimbledon to see Federer.


3. By James Joyce, natch.


4. No, I didn't know what it all meant at the time. I mean, it's a really difficult book.


5. Have I mentioned that I love Amazon lately? No? Well, I love Amazon. It's the bestest.


6. which I continue to use. I am sure my back will thank me later.


7. I'm not sure exactly what it says about me that my parents heard a review of the book and thought "that sounds right up Garth's alley", and immediately purchased it for me.


8. To be fair, footnotes are really fun to use, even when you are blatantly overusing them. You know, like I am now.


9. in a good way, that is. But still: facial meltage did occur.


10. This clearly says something powerful, particularly for a novel famous for people not being able to finish a first reading.

3 Comments:

  • Congratulations!

    IJ is on my never-ending list of things to read. The size is definitely daunting.

    By Blogger BWoP, at 7:42 PM  

  • I'm more than a little bummed I didn't hear about this Infinite Summer deal in time, which is odd, because not only do I know everything, but I also worked on DFW's obit and immediately thought, "Yeah, I should read that," despite how intimidating it seems.

    Perhaps in some region of my sub-sub-conscious, I DID know about it, because, when I did eventually find out about the project (from April's post about giving up the ghost), I was nearly finished with "Consider the Lobster," which I found to be nine kinds of awesome.

    Coincidentally, I'd planned to go to the bookstore last night without a clear pick, but couldn't make it before closing.

    Problem solved. Look forward to the face melting.

    By Blogger Joe Speaker, at 2:00 PM  

  • Completely unrelated, but I can't seem to find your email address. I'm gonna be in DC next week, going to the Orioles game Sunday, and Nationals game Wednesday. Let me know if you're interested in going to either game, or just getting together for something else while I'm there.

    By Blogger alan, at 12:24 AM  

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