Monday, June 15, 2009

Best I Read This

After a couple months of battle (which sped up significantly once my daily subway rides doubled in length--have you ever taken the local instead of the express just to get a little more reading in?) I finished David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest last Thursday, the 11th, at around 6:30 in the morning.

Listen, it is very tragic that David Foster Wallace is dead. I liked reading this monster very much and I liked it very much and it has given me a LOT to think about--and not just in a "what in the world happened in this book?" way, but also in a "hmmm, let me ponder his book's deeper meanings" way too. I wish DFW could have completed more fiction. This book was great and so much better than the majority of what I read, but it is not as good as his best nonfiction writing--and what I'm really saying is Infinite Jest is great, but "A Supposedly Fun Thing That I'll Never Do Again" (the essay, not necessarily the collection of essays of the same name. And you can download it as it originally appeared in Harpers here. [Consider that a link to be clicked and treasured.]) is one of the absolute best things I've ever read and this sort of reportage is a better use of DFW's maximalist tendencies than this 1100 page (with must always mention Infinite Jest's footnotes) adventure in non-convergent storytelling. Had he stuck around to write for us a little more I imagine he could have topped Jest, and if not, coming close would've been pretty great.

Set mostly at a suburban Massachusetts Tennis academy and a half-way house down the hill from that school, the story primarily relates to the rarely intersecting events at the two institutions. Infinite Jest gets its title from a film that was produced by the founder of the tennis academy (Mr. James Incadenza--the names in this book are very Pynchony) that is so entertaining that if you watch it you'll never want to do anything else at all besides watch it again and again. A band of wheelchair-bound Quebecois assassins are trying to track down this video to use as a weapon of secession and perhaps domination. The book begins with a scene that takes place several months after the rest of the book and suggests some very mysterious happenings, you read the book in anticipation of the resolution of these mysteries, but beware: for a time, Jim Incadenza's films were considered to spearhead the an anti-confluentialist movement.

The first many hundred pages of the book resembled, to me, the first couple hundred pages of a DeLillo novel--you're just getting character and tone, not too much byway of plot seems to be happening. But around page 600, maybe 700 I was absolutely stunned to realize that a story WAS happening in this novel. So much seems to occur behind the scenes or just out of frame that the mind is rendered mad with curiosity and fascination. This is what had me whipping this book out the moment I found a place to stand on any subway platform or place to sit on any public transportation: the good old wondering of What Happens Next?

On top of that, Wallace's writing is absolutely magnificent. I found myself particularly wrapped up in a rumble that occurs outside the half-way house, a description of Thanksgiving at the Incadenza household, and a half-page of Irish (or Scottish? Sorry, Niall. I just don't remember which it was.) dialogue.

If this were 8th Grade and you were my terrible 8th grade English teacher (looking back I've decided I didn't/don't care for her one bit) and you asked me the theme of this book I'd tell you: Happiness. or Dependency. More properly: the relationship between the two. Unlike the last massive book I finished, I can say I came away from Infinite Jest with a lot more to think about and many more benefits. Plus, this is a book I can talk about with a lot of people--soon after taking Infinite Jest into my possession I discovered that whipping it out while dining alone in the East Village isn't too different from walking a puppy down the street on a sunny day. Everyone seems to notice, everyone has something to say. I should make a Facebook group of all the people I interfaced with thanks to this book.

I have said enough (but so little) for now.

Let me leave you with some good links:
  • is always posting excellent DFW related-content. The mildly curious or in need of content should investigate there.
  • Infinite Summer is an internet bookclub organized to read and discuss Infinite Jest over the course of the summer. The website seems real legit, lots of great resources there.
  • I filled four notecards with vocabulary words learned (many still in need of looking up) from this book. I've also found three blogs or websites dedicated to vocabulary learnt from DFW. He was a brainiac, a sad, humble brainiac. One. Two. Three.
  • This is what I had to say after Wallace's suicide. This is the New Yorker's wrap up on the final days of Mr. Wallace.
  • In case you were ignoring me earlier (but felt like reading this whole post anyway), you can download the original version of A Supposedly Fun That I'll Never Do Again here. It is so good.
Tomorrow is June 16th. I'm beginning my second complete reading of what I remember considering the greatest work of literature created by the hand of man when I read it the first time ten years ago. Have you ever felt like it was Christmas Eve just because the next day you were going to get a book down off the shelf?


M said...

good luck conquering ulysses again. your post has inspired me to pick up a tome myself. perhaps i shall follow your lead and read it myself...for the first time.

Lauren said...

hmm, maybe i'll read ulysses again, too. i'm not having much luck with finnegan's wake right now.

congratulations on finishing this mammoth, too. i really enjoy your posts about literature, brigham. keep 'em coming.