Well, today, Monday, September 21, 2009, is the official date on which page 981, the last page, of Infinite Jest is to be read. And I have finished. It is the end of Infinite Summer.
I am shocked at how much I loved Infinite Jest. I’d thought it would be impossible to read, and I found it the opposite of that. I had assumed (for what reason I don’t know) that it would have no plot, which is false. The plot threads are intriguing and actually do push all those pages forward. Wallace’s sentences are amazing. His tone, as he exposes all the good and bad of the way we live, is not superior, but right in there with us. His characters are revealed through their flaws and quirks, and they are real and lovable.
For the whole summer, I happily floated along on a little bit of IJ a day. It’s a little weird to be finished. As Wendy Macleod wrote in The Rumpus:
Finishing a book is like ending a love affair; the longer it’s been a part of your life, the harder it is to close the covers and walk away. You regret the parts that you read too quickly. In your eagerness to tick off pages and find out what happened next you didn’t always appreciate the elegance of the prose. You envy the next reader, the one who gets to discover the book for the first time.
How to write about a book with that many pages? Greg Carlisle did it in 500 pages in his book, Elegant Complexity. And this week, in 5 posts rather than 500 pages, I will share with you a few of my favorite things about IJ, starting with this sentence from page 5:
My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC’s vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer.
A sentence as lyrical and lovely as it is true. We have all been in exactly that moment before, watching the bits of dust dance in the sunlight.
[1st in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]
I’m so glad that you are sharing your thoughts on IJ, Cynthia! You always seem to zero in on insights that I feel instinctively as a reader, but have a hard time articulating. The Infinite Summer read was my second time through this amazing book. First time was an enthralled but impatient sprint, much like Wendy Macleod describes in your quote above. This time I was able to slow down and savor his voice, as well as dash off to Wikipedia constantly to follow up on the multifarious references I wasn’t sharp enough to get w/o a little help. And now I have a marked up,underlined,margin-filled-with-exclamations-and-notes copy of Infinite Jest lovingly mauled and tattered and bookmarked to within an inch of it’s bookish life! It’s an experience I haven’t had since I was in college 30 years ago (gasp), when I was fortunate enough to stumble into a Contemporary American Poetry seminar w/ a professor and poet named Albert Glover, who turned out to have been a past student and disciple of the 20th century’s own Maximus of Tyre, Charles Olson. I could write volumes about this extraordinary experience, but suffice to say that Albert Glover not only taught us ABOUT Olson and Projective Verse, he SHOWED us. He was a masterful educator capable of firing up the synapses of an entire roomful of tired, often hungover, undergraduates every morning by performing (literally and vividly inhabiting) a kind of Projective exegesis of Olson’s brilliant work that breathed us all in(spired) and exhaled us all out into the sunlight an hour later blinking, awestruck, and as silent as a bunch of stunned mullets !! It was a pivotal experience for me, with implications for my own work that are still playing themselves out today. And now I have, for the first time in 30 years, felt again, deeply, that same frisson of intellectual and aesthetic inspiration. The kind of learning that doesn’t feel so much like a transfer of knowledge as it does a strange form of remembering; a kind of recognition. Almost as if you knew certain things, and just needed to be reminded somehow. I have David Foster Wallace to thank for that.
Walt-thank you so much for this wonderful comment with its beautiful sentences.
When you described your copy of IJ as “a marked up,underlined,margin-filled-with-exclamations-and-notes copy of Infinite Jest lovingly mauled and tattered and bookmarked to within an inch of it’s bookish life,” it made me think of Count Almasy’s only possession–his copy of Herodotus’ The Histories in The English Patient, lovingly filled with notes, drawings, and papers.
I love the image of your professor Albert Glover breathing you all in and then exhaling you out into the sunshine.
With your comment in mind, I so look forward to one day rereading IJ.
I thought about doing Infinite Summer this year. But I ended up getting the book too late and just never got on board. This makes me want to have an Infinite Autumn.
Kim-oh yes, do have an Infinite Autumn. And thanks again for inspiration–see today’s post!
Whenever I read an epic novel, I race through it, impatient that so many are waiting my attention. Then when it’s all over I grieve the loss of people I’ve come to know and love. I take days before I can pick up another book, contemplating reading it again.
Tricia, that is so interesting because this is the first time it has ever happened to me. Usually, I move from one book to the next without pausing for more than a moment.
Yes, I too tend to race through novels, and then always berate myself for letting them go too quickly! But,. I usually jump into the next. I need to be reading. Sometimes a little too much, I think.
Well, that’s what I would have said about myself too until now. But I think this week of writing about IJ has been not only helpful but necessary to enable me to move to another book. So weird.
And, my next book is going to be Wild Lives, and I think I might just be ready to start it tonight! Thanks for the recommendation!
OOhhh. Let me know if you enjoy it as much as I did. Of course, coming after this experience of yours, who knows….