I originally wanted to title this post “Reading Infinite Jest: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” but I didn’t for two reasons, one being that only like three people would get that joke and the other being that I did actually enjoy my class on DFW and Infinite Jest. It WAS fun. Whenever I tell someone I took this class, they end up having a lot of questions and I have conveniently answered them below.
Q:Who is David Foster Wallace?
A: DFW was a writer famous for the aforementioned title, writing non-fiction, including a lengthy essay on TV criticism, and for giving one of the most famous commencement speeches ever at Kenyon College, “This Is Water.” Also, sadly, he committed suicide in 2008. He was famous for his innovative, post-modernist style, as well as his turbulent personal life which included mental health episodes, addiction, tumultuous relationships with women (Mary Karr being one of them), and family dilemas.
Q: Why take a class on him?
A: Even though I voraciously studied English lit in college, I completely missed the David Foster Wallace boat. I always saw it as a gap in my education, especially since he was hugely influential on many of my favorite modern day writers (John Green, Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman). I wanted to learn more about him as a writer by reading his stuff (instead of reading about his personal life on the internet), and I thought I would benefit most from doing it in a classroom setting. We all know I’m a huge nerd and love to learn, so tackling a big topic like Wallace and Infinite Jest would lend itself to a classroom setting with an instructor who knew a little more about that mammoth text than most and eleven other brains to opine on it.
Q: What is Infinite Jest about?
A: The book is a little over a thousand pages, with footnotes (which are definitely a part of the story) and a narrative that jumps between an elite tennis academy, a recovery house, and the geopolitical players in a North America where all the countries are united and the years are named after brands. Also, there’s a group of wheelchair assassins. Got all that?
It’s okay if you didn’t because, as DFW famously told his editor, Infinite Jest is meant to be read twice. Seriously. That book weighs three pounds and Wallace wanted people to read it twice. We took eight weeks to read this book and I feel like we covered a lot and a little all at once. So reading it twice? That doesn’t sound too appealing.
Q: What is Infinite Jest REALLY about?
A: Good question. At 1,080 pages, it about a lot of things. Consumerism, addiction, the American Dream, politics, tennis, family, entertainment…I could go on and on.
Q: How was the class?
A: Really great, actually. I enjoyed our instructor and, as always, my class was full of people who all approached the text differently than me. I was thankful to have my English major background so I knew a little bit about literary theory and post-modernism.
Q: How was reading Infinite Jest?
A: Less great. The book is consuming and it took me FOREVER to read. This was a total change for me since I’m usually reading more than one book at a time and I read really fast. It was hard to focus on anything else and I had some pretty weird dreams while reading it, too. It was frustrating when I’d come to a footnote that was ten pages long and other times I would wrinkle my nose at what DFW was writing about—it was either gross or bizarre. Other things I simply didn’t care about, such as all the chemicals in the particular drugs. My eyes glazed over as I skimmed those parts. Other parts I was invested.
Wow, that was a lot of complaining. I actually really liked the book once I finished. I gave it a rare five-star rating on Goodreads. Certain characters (Don Gately, the Incandenza brothers) were fascinating to me. I laughed out loud at multiple parts in the book. Wallace is just plain funny at times. It annoyed and intrigued me that there were almost no women in the book and the few that did show up were empty femme fatales. I’m glad that I read it because it truly was an experience and I feel like so much of Wallace’s influence is everywhere I know a little more about it.
I gave the book five stars for lots of reason, mostly because DFW tries for something huge with this mega-novel and he pulls it off.
Q: What’s next?
A: Well, reading things that are NOT Infinite Jest. But seriously, I do want to read more of his books especially his nonfiction. And I downloaded Every Love Story is a Ghost Story and I’ll probably see the movie with Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg when it comes out. My fascination with David Foster Wallace won’t go away, but I can wait a few years before I crack open Infinite Jest again…or not at all. We’ll see.
Q: Would you recommend Infinite Jest?
A: Only if you have a serious love for literature and huge post-modern novels (think Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow). I think if you want to read David Foster Wallace, there are better entry points. If you love him, you’ll get around to this behemoth eventually, and it is important to understanding Wallace as a writer.