On Infinite Jest

In December, I finally finished reading Infite Jest, the magnum opus of David Foster Wallace. It was quite an effort: I started reading it in 2010 after hearing about Infinite Summer.1

Why did it take so long? It’s a complex, demanding book. There are a dozen central characters. It’s full of long-winded footnotes and invented words. There’s no single plot - it’s more like a collection of intertwined plots. Turns out that you won’t finish that kind of book by reading it every now and then before you go to bed.

Was it worth it? It’s one of those books where the journey was more important than the destination. I enjoyed the rich language and the humor. At times the book has quite serious takes on addiction, its main theme. Still, as a whole, it feels unsatisfying - not much was resolved. As a book, it’s hardly my favorite, but reading it was one of my top book-reading experiences.

Would I recommend it? I was going to title this post “You should read Infinite Jest”, but I’m not sure about that. If you’re thinking about reading the book, try reading the first 50 pages or so. If you hate it, well, it’s not going to get any better. If you like it, it’s probably a worthwhile read. If you decide to go forward, here are some tips:

  • Use (at least) two bookmarks, one for the main text and one for the footnotes. Even better, read it as an e-book. E-book is easier to carry around as well.
  • At first, it may seem confusing, but it will start making more sense after 300 pages or so.
  • You definitely shouldn’t skip the footnotes. They are as important as the main text.
  • Consider making notes about the characters. There are so many of them that you will lose track of who is who.
  • Reserve time for reading.

  1. I guess I could tell you what it is about, but really, does anyone ever tell you what Joyce’s Ulysses is about? No. They will tell you that it’s a complex book. ↩︎

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