August 05, 2008

Dude, Infinite Jest, you guys.

Infinite Jest is a long fuckin' book.

What you need to know about me is, I like to read a lot of books. This is, on the one hand, because I like reading, and I like stories, and I like going to the library, and I like the comfort of having a book I'm working through in my backpack to crack at odd intervals in the day when I have nothing else going on. I like to read at meals. I like to read on the subway. I like to read.

On the other hand, I like to read a LOT of books. As in, fast. As in, not just for my own enjoyment, but for the sheer conquest of it. Totally divorced from their actual content, I like to get a big stack of books from the library and plow through them. Do not bring me on vacation and expect me to do anything but sit by the nearest body of water and please myself with what great time I'm making, page-count-wise, as I do nothing but read all day. I obviously love what's between the covers, but on the other end of my personality, opposite the literary smarty-pants end, is a caveman who takes pleasure only in conquest and quantity. I like a body-count. (I think this might be a vestige of the BOOK IT! program, an elementary school attempt at literacy-boosting where you got free pizza if you read a lot of books fast. We also had a local Arizona variant called "Hoop Marks," whose prize-system was based on bookmarks with pictures of the Phoenix Suns Gorilla. Maybe I blow through a mean stack of Queens Public Library-issue hardcovers because I am subconsciously expecting the Gorilla to burst through the wall with some Pizza Hut.)

This tendency is way more pronounced in summertime. In winter, you might convince me to settle in for an eight-hundred page biography or many-thousand page historical-science-fiction epic (I see you, Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle!"). But in summer, with its ample opportunities to read-for-the-sake-of-reading in the park, and the ever-present threat of the beach, I want to be clocking through books as though it's my job.

Returning from the movie, when I read maybe a book and a third in two and a half months, I was all ready to make up for lost time, an insane and more or less impossible book a day is what I promised myself.

That is why it was really dumb of me to check out Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest is a long book, you guys. No one you ever talk to about it will end their first sentence describing it without, somewhere in there, mentioning its length. And while as books, and even novels go, it's not the longest (my copy was 981 pages), it's dense as fuck and there are a whole mess of footnotes you actually need to, then end up wanting to, read.

Also, it's really good. Really infuriatingly good if you're a writer. Dude (David Foster Wallace) introduces a whole mess of characters and themes and a whole alternate-future-history-of-America and hops around in time and slips in and out of narrator-voices effortlessly and is basically a big barnstorming show-off about what a great novelist he is. Not even just a great writer, a great NOVELIST, with all the connotations of length and depth and character development and ornamentation the word "Novel" implies. It's funny and balls-smart. It made me wish I'd gone to college for about five different things I didn't go to college for in the course of the book. I get the impression that it's sort of a douche-y or cliche book to be into or to be seen reading, but as a guy who once got practically laughed out of a Creative Writing class for repping "Catcher In The Rye," I will attest that some times books get that reputation for a reason: they actually are quite good and a lot of douches get attracted to the flame of genuine awesomeness, and then a lot of other douches stay away from the resulting douche-cloud because they don't want to look like, y'know, douches.

And it is genuinely awesome. Also, reading it was sort of like being in a month-long relationship. We had our period of feeling each other out, then being absolutely smitten, then getting commitment-phobic about half-way through, like, "I know you're great, but there are a lot of other books out there I could be reading right now," then it being over and already reflecting on the good times like, "I wanted to be free of you so badly but now that you're gone I can't help but think of all the impossibly rich detail and hilarious anecdotes you contained, or the way you nailed dialects and were just generally infuriatingly well-wrought in about every way, and the way you made me feel like a shittier writer but made me want to be a better one. Also you said some pretty beautiful things about irony and how it's a lot like poison sometimes, and you said some pretty beautiful things about a ton of other stuff too."

So now I am book-single, and rebounding with a Phillip K Dick joint. I also have a Neal Stephenson piece (Snow Crash, which I'm re-reading, and if I remember correctly, will also make me feel like a WAY crappier writer by comparison) and a non-fiction deal about "stop snitching" culture lined up. I have promised my caveman side to spend the remains of the summer that aren't spent on work positively annihilating two-and-three-hundred-pagers, sitting in the sun, waiting for my pizza.

Posted by DC at August 5, 2008 11:25 PM
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