Interlude: The Raw Data

The book by the numbers:

Pages: 1,079

Publication Date: 1996

Dewey Decimal: 813/.54 20

ISBN: 0-316-92004-5

Weight (Paperback): 2.5 lbs

Dimensions: 6” x 9.25” x 2”

Cost: $17.99 + tax (@ BookPeople)

Time Magazine says: One of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.1

Pages I’ve read so far: 02

Things I’m doing instead of reading Infinite Jest:

Weighing it on my bathroom scale.


Footnotes:

1. 1923? Why 1923?

2. This makes my zero look like an oxygen molecule.

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Episode One: Ambush

Infinite Jest is a stalker.

It’s bad enough when other people get pushy about what books you should read, but when the book itself starts to make overtures–that’s just disturbing.

It began at my brother David’s apartment in Austin, TX where our family had convened for a small, paper-plate and pre-cooked, store-bought turkey Thanksgiving. His pad looks like most college kids’ places, hand-me-down furniture and naked walls adorned with the odd lonely poster, like fig-leaves tacked on for modesty’s sake. No free-standing bookshelves, only a built in nook bearing an assortment of  magazines, textbooks, and…a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I couldn’t help but notice that, unlike most copies of Infinite Jest I have seen out in the wild, this one had a creased spine.

“Have you read it?” I asked David, pointing .

“No way,” he said, “That’s my roommate’s.”

“Has he read it?”

“Not all the way. He tried but couldn’t finish it.”

I nodded my head knowingly.

A couple days later, after we emerged from our tryptophan comas, we decided to wander about the city. I had spent an angsty, unemployed year in Austin before taking a job in New Mexico, just long enough to develop fond attachments to various places about the town. We decided to visit one of my old haunts, a wonderful independent bookstore on Lamar St. called BookPeople.

As I walked in, I was immediately confronted by the “staff selection” bookcase, where at its keystone lay Infinite Jest. Directly below it, a laminated card read:

Jenn S. recommends:

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

Forget what you think you know about this book. That’s Step 1.

Step 2: Open the book and read it.

(I did, and it changed my whole damn life.)

"Nice try, Jenn S.," I thought.

I beat a hasty retreat, ducked through the magazine section, made a sharp right at the romance novels and…WALKED RIGHT INTO AN ENTIRE FUCKING WALL OF COPIES OF INFINITE JEST!

Ambush.

There they were, rows of Infinite Jest paperbacks, sitting there bulky and imposing, one after the other, like linebackers about to do whatever it is that linebackers do. Below was another laminated staff selection card:

Kester recommends:

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

I put off reading this book for over a decade. The thousand plus pages and endless footnotes screamed pretentious and inaccessible.

I was wrong. Wallace’s characters and narrative moved me, quite literally, from laughter to tears. Don’t neglect putting this off as long as I did.

Pick it up today.

Goddammit Kester.

I don’t believe in signs 1 but I do believe in persistence. If Infinite Jest was willing to be dogged enough to stalk me so thouroughly and with such feeling, I at least owed it it try. So, I selected a copy and walked over to the check-out line.

“Have you read it before?” asked the BookPerson2 manning 3 the cash register.

“No.”

“The store book club is about to start reading Infinite Jest if you want to join!”

I chose this one because of its winning personality and “take me home with you” puppy-dog eyes.

I now own a 10th anniversary paperback edition of of Infinite Jest. It’s on.

Things I’m doing instead of reading Infinite Jest:

Reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. (Purchased in tandem with DFW's IJ)

Things you can do with your copy of Infinite Jest when not reading it:

File it under "way-too-fucking-long" on your bookshelf.

Footnotes:

1. Supernatural signs are the only sort I don’t believe in. I’m at least agnostic when it comes to others–stop signs, for instance.

2. BookWoman to be exact. Kind of cute if my memory serves.

3. Womaning?

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Prologue: Who the hell is David Foster Wallace?

I had never heard of David Foster Wallace up until the day he put a noose around his neck and hung himself. Which, in of itself, isn’t that remarkable. I don’t know anything about most people who hang themselves. This makes me a little sad, because then I wonder if that’s why they killed themselves, because nobody knew anything about them. At any rate, people definitely knew of David Foster Wallace. His obituaries were filled with phrases like “genius grammarian,” “exuberant experimentalist,” and “fiercely honest.” On September 12, 2008 America (apparently) lost a once-in-a-generation literary talent.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering, “Who the hell is this guy?”

I consider myself to be a fairly well-read person, certainly well-read enough that I should have at least HEARD of him. I mean, I wear corduroy sport coats with patches on the elbows for Christ-sake. They don’t let just anybody wear those things. One must earn elbow-patches by reading One Hundred Years of Solitude in the original Spanish. 1

However, after his death, I suddenly couldn’t avoid him if I’d wanted to. Overnight, his scruffy, long-haired head peered up at me from every corner of the world-wide web, the glossy pages of every magazine; and his name was on the lips of every fucking hipster who wanted me know that they had read Infinite Jest before it was cool. (ie. before DFW died)

Infinite Jest.

The very title evokes imagery of something gargantuan and preposterous; a herculean task to be completed with much gnashing of teeth and sweat dripping off of brows, crinkling the pages with evidence of mental, physical, and emotional toil. In short, it sounds exactly like the sort of thing I have absolutely no interest in reading. I’m a big fan of the minimalist aesthetic, and am of the general opinion that the more you can say with less words the better. As far as novels go, if you can’t tell your story in less than 500 pages then you probably have no business telling it.

So, in the two years since David Foster Wallace affected his own tragic end, I have successfully avoided jumping on the Infinite Bandwagon, sidestepping offers to join “Infinite Summer” book-clubs, and politely declining well-intentioned but slightly smug offers from friends to let me borrow it. And for the most part have felt pretty okay about it.

…until the other day.

Things I’m doing instead of reading Infinite Jest:

Waiting for the movie to come out.

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Things that can be done with your copy of Infinite Jest while you’re not reading it.

Cat house.

Footnotes:

1. This is a lie.



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