Monday, August 05, 2013

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Ugh. This book is ruining my summer. I keep trying to read bits of it and end up getting frustrated. I am liking maybe 1 chapter out of 10; this is not a good average and at this point not enough to keep me going. So I am officially done with this book.

Earlier this summer Buzzfeed published a post about the 27 "broiest books" and Infinite Jest was at the intersection of High-Brow and Broiest. (Shouldn't there be a hypen in there: bro-iest?) As I am kind of vague on what a "bro" even is I am not sure how this is helpful. But I did get the impression that even Buzzfeed did not consider a book's appearance on this graphic to be a compliment.

Just to head off the negative comments, I know a lot of people really like DFW and I am not planning to trash him here. I'm sorry his depression caused him to take his own life. A few people have mentioned to me that I should try his nonfiction and I do plan to do that. But all that said, is this book really as good as some people think it is? Is there no chance at all that some of the hype surrounding it is due to the perception that it is "difficult" and therefore accessible only to the best and brightest (and hence provides bragging rights to those who claim to like it)? I found many chapters incomprehensible, claustrophobic, and highly off-putting. I found the much heralded fractal structure to be undetectable and could discern few, if any, Hamlet references. Could I have consulted the many online and print guides to this book? Sure. But it comes down to this: I didn't care about any of these characters. I didn't like them, and I really really wasn't interested in reading about the  unpleasant things they were getting up to. And that is at the heart of it. But if you liked it, hey, good for you. If you didn't, join my club where we go back to our regular reading. 

(Book 21, 2013)


Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. I will admit that the book was difficult -- indeed, I put it away when it first came out after perhaps 90 pages or so and waited probably a decade to read it again. It was worth all of the effort, back-tracking, dictionary-use, and frustration that it took to finish it. Then I attended a symposium at the Ranson Center only to realize that I'd missed something important IN A FOOTNOTE, but I missed which footnote it was! So, perhaps in another ten years, I'm going at it again.

How old are you? Perhaps in a decade you could try again. It's a new kind of fiction, way beyond post-modern, and has much to say to anyone who can make it through -- even if it takes a decade. I don't think it can be read in "bits." Wait a while; then give yourself some serious time. I agree that you shouldn't read the guides: it hinders your own thought processes and doesn't allow those synaptic leaps so necessary to brain health and growth. Don't give up. Give it time.

Becky Holmes said...

Anonymous, thanks for your words of encouragement. I am amused that you think I might enjoy the book more in a decade; upon your advice I will therefore try reading it again when I am in my 60's. However, your suggestion fails to address the central problem: I don't like any of the characters, and I don't really think I am going to like them any more in 10 years. Nice to hear from you, though.

Donna said...

I'm still working on it, but I fear I will need to start over. I thought a 10 hour car trip in which I was NOT driving would be helpful, but I only got thru 60 pages — SIXTY! I've started writing notes for myself, which has helped a bit, but not much. I hate being defeated by a book and I will work on it, but at this point I think I will need both my legs broken and being stuck in bed for a couple of months with a blank notepad to take notes in order to finish it.

On the good side, "Cloud Atlas" is now a skip in the park.

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Anonymous said...

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