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Infinite Summer – progress is being made

July 2, 2009

The name of the Infinite Jest reading challenge might be seasonally inappropriate (it has never felt less like summer, although the infinite has some resonance right now), but I’m now 12 days into it and starting to feel as though it’s not only achievable, but highly enjoyable.

When the book arrived in the post, I was intimidated by it’s heft. And by all the tips on how best to tackle this monster. It started to feel as though it was going to be punishment and I read for pleasure rather than pain. Still, I gamely printed off the custom-made bookmarks (complete with schedule) and laminated two of them: one to keep my place in the text and one for the endnotes, as advised. I signed up to the Google app somebody had ingeniously created to track reader progress against the deadlines. I added a column for #infsum in my Tweetdeck. And, on 21 June, I started reading.

Now, I signed up for this because it seemed like an interesting thing to do. There was a certain novelty value attached to reading – usually a solitary pleasure – en masse. Before I started, some quick-off-the-mark participants had already started, and started tweeting ominously about OMG just got to endnote 24 and When do I read Endnote 304? and Does anybody have a guide to the characters? and Do I need to re-read Hamlet before I start? and How many notebooks are people keeping? and Here is the url to the glossary I’ve started… and… and I really started to think I’d be better off finishing American Wife and using IJ to raise my computer screen to a less neck-straining height.  There were people tweeting their page number (up to p163 already!) and how far ahead of schedule they were (9% into #infsum and I’m already at the 38% mark!).  What had been described as “endurance reading” was now starting to look like a competition and I was thinking of copping out at the start.

I’m glad I didn’t.  What wasn’t clear to me amidst all the sound and the fury1 was that it was an amazing, funny, engaging book. Sure, there are sentences that go on for paragraphs, paragraphs that go on for pages, endnotes that strain the eyes with thousands of words in a tiny font, but it’s a wonderful book to read. I’m enjoying setting time aside to read each day and I love the tangential nature of some of the endnotes.  I don’t read with a dictionary. David Foster Wallace uses many more words that I can’t define than any author in my recent experience, but I find that stopping and looking words up, or noting them down to look up later, interferes more with the flow of the text than having an incomplete grasp of some vocubulary does.  I’m not writing notes – sometimes a character appears and I have no idea who they are.  It’s not until later – much later, perhaps; say, when I read a tweet “ah! Steeply!”  – that a light goes on.

So, I am enjoying this book immensely.  If you ask me what it’s about, I’ll struggle to tell you.  That might still be true even when I have finished it.  I’m fairly confident, though, that at the end I’ll still be able to say that it’s an amazing book and that I enjoyed it immensely.

1 I know this is from Macbeth, not Hamlet.

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Having said how much the competition aspect was alienating me, I was embarrassed by how pleased I felt to see my name on the weekly leader board…

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