It pains me to write to you with such a discouraging prospect, however it can’t be helped. I should also add that although “giving up” is indeed a dismal statement for one to make, it can also refer to someone coming to the realization that this one thing they are working on or putting a lot of effort into is not right for them at this particular moment in their life and therefore “giving up” is the healthy thing to do. It is the latter for which I have given up on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (for now).
Last April I watched the critically acclaimed film The End of the Tour which is about the weekend a journalist / author named David Lipsky spent with David Foster Wallace at his home.
Having never read Wallace before (nor did I know much about him to be honest) and the film speaking a lot to the brilliance of his novel Infinite Jest, I quickly bought the book on Amazon.
When I received it in the mail, I had the familiar experience of smelling a book and flipping through the pages over and over again. This book smells so damn good!
I was excited to add this book to my Year of Big Books list. Little did I know what an undertaking reading this book would be. Upon opening to page 1, I was immediately met with an intricate and complicated text. Sweat beads formed on my forehead and I gulped at the prospect of reading 980 more pages of this. But I sat up straighter in my seat and told myself that I could do this. It would be a challenge, but that is the whole point of A Year of Big Books, right? I kept reading.
Over the next few days, I found little time for reading. While I neglected to pick up the book, I spent my time researching on how to actually read the book. I looked for study guides and podcasts. What I was met with was somewhat terror inducing.
10 Things to Know Before Reading Infinite Jest!
A Philistine’s Guide to Literature – Infinite Jest
500 Page Study Guide on Infinite Jest
Advice offered to the first time reader included reading the over 100 pages of footnotes, having multiple bookmarks, keeping a reader’s guide handy, using sticky color tabs to mark pages, and to pay attention to page 223. These are just examples of the advice I found on the internet. In reality, I found multiple blogs and websites dedicated to this book. Podcasts started reading the book but never finished and there are no explanations as to why they just ceased to exist.
It was at this point that I began to question if reading a book this complicated was a good idea considering the challenge I am participating in. It soon became painfully obvious that I was in over my head. I did not want to give up on the book, but I also did not want to neglect it of its rightful attention. I am still very interested in reading Infinite Jest, but now is not the right time. I would not be reading it the proper way.
I made the decision to quit this book yesterday. Let me put the experience in perspective for you. My mom, grandma, and I had driven to an outlet shopping mall about an hour and a half away from home. Not being a big shopper, I tend to sit in the car on these trips and read a book. Other car activities will include listening to music / podcasts, writing, reading magazines, or doing a Sudoku / word-search puzzle. Being that my iPod had decided to choose the day before to delete all my content for no reason, I had just switched to Google Play and had little music on there to listen to at the moment. Plus, I didn’t want to use data.
It seemed reading would be the primary activity of the day. But in the car, early on in the day, I made the decision to stop reading Infinite Jest and I had no other books to read. In my mind, I was thinking, Well, I probably should give up on this book, but if I do that then I will have no book to read all day.
Thus, I read some long neglected magazines and listened to one podcast (a conversation with President Obama and my favorite author Marilynne Robinson that I recommend EVERYONE listen to) while completing a Sudoku. The weather was super nice, sunny, and warm for February. All was well.
Infinite Jest has returned to its spot on my bookshelf. I look at it fondly, excited for the day when I will pick it up again and really study it as it should be studied. Reading this book demands more attention than most books. It requires legit work. Reading it at the quick speed I had intended would not have done the book at favors. Plus, at the point in which I quit, I was a bit confused as to what was going on. I seriously wondered if reading it so fast would lead me to reading a huge book and by the end asking, what the heck just happened? I don’t want to waste my time.
If I am to read Infinite Jest, I want to read it right.
Until next time, friend. Danielle.