In lieu of the regular Reader’s Notebook entries I provide monthly, it’s time for an update on my progress with Infinite Jest.
I won’t lie: it’s been a slow go. And I’ll also admit for all the excitement of beginning the book in September, I was also kind of dreading it. I’m used to reading books that fall in the 250-400 page range. Books I can knock out in 36 hours if conditions allow, or more likely inside a week. Books I can easily carry anywhere I go, open for ten minutes, and make some progress on. Infinite Jest is none of those things.
I’ve already shared how the book is long: well over 1000 pages. But it’s also big. It measures 9″ x 6″. The font is fairly small. The spacing between lines isn’t the most generous cushion I’ve seen. So not only are there a lot of pages, but there’s a hell of a lot of material packed into those pages.
It also doesn’t help that David Foster Wallace’s writing style is the polar opposite of, say, McCarthy or Hemingway, authors known for their spare use of language. Wallace throws everything at you. In a description of an AA meeting, he goes into every detail of every item in the room, how people get there, what they’re all thinking, and on and on. He does this often without the benefit of paragraph breaks. You’ll be reading some of this small text on a huge page and realize you’ve gone almost three pages without the benefit of a paragraph break to give you a breather. It can be taxing.
And then there are the footnotes. I just passed the dreaded footnote that stretches on for 17 pages. It’s an extremely interesting footnote, to be sure, but it also takes away from whatever momentum you’ve built up in the main body of the story.
So all of this might make it sound like I’m not enjoying Infinite Jest. Not true. I am enjoying it. There are some fantastic parts that have made me laugh out loud. There are some sections that are so well written that it almost hurts to read them. And then there’s Wallace himself. Dude was smart. Not only was he smart, he most have done amazing amounts of research to write this book. It kind of makes you feel dumb, to be honest.
Am I loving it? Not yet, but I’m holding out hope. Everyone says the first 200 pages are the hardest to slog through. I got through those a couple weeks back and have finally started to get a feel for the book. It’s still hard to read for more than an hour at a time, so my progress continues to be slow. But I’m getting there.
I should mention that I changed my reading strategy before I began. I’m still using the Infinite Summer guidelines as road marks on my way through the novel. Just before I began, though, I read another “How to Read Infinite Jest” article that suggested, when reading it for the first time, setting aside all the added materials others recommend. Put the guides away, forget about Hamlet, don’t worry about anything but the novel itself. Just read. If you like it, come back in a year or five or ten with the guides, a healthy understanding of Hamlet, and then try to break it into its component parts.
So that’s what I did. I’m just reading. And hoping it’s all worth it and I will want to take another crack at it one day, then with the goal of really digging into it and figuring out what everything means.
My goal was to finish by the end of the year. I’m a little off track, but picking up speed. Hopefully I’ll be able to crack open the new Bill Simmons book right after the holidays.