August 6th, 2012 / 6:19 pm

Interview: Reader Who Recently Finished Infinite Jest

1.      So how long did it take you to read the book? 

I set a starting date at May 1 and then actually began a week before so I would have a buffer.  I finished around August 1.  So a little over 3 months.

2. Did you ever read the book in public places or leave the book out purposefully when visitors were over?  

Ha Ha.  I certainly read it in public places but I wouldn’t say I purposefully left it out.  It was out tho and people would see it.  I also mentioned it a lot in conversation.  I did this less to brag about the endeavor and more to make sure I backed up my talk about reading it.  I had tried reading 2666 by Bolano and never could get past book 5, I think book 5…Whichever one deals with all the deaths in Mexico.  I hate that, not finishing a book.  And I tend to have ADD and while reading a book will sometimes pick up other easier reading books, articles, chick mags, periodicals…For whatever reason I stayed focused on this book.  I didn’t so much as pick up another book while reading it.

3.     How did you deal with the footnotes, I mean logistically? I know some people like to use two bookmarks. 

Oh yea, two book marks.  I almost never use book marks and actually, it was more one book mark:  just for the end notes.  I did the dog ear for most of the main section.

4. Have you read other DFW? How did this book compare?

I have read a bunch of his nonfiction, which I love.  I had tried reading his short stories about 5 years ago and could not make it through them.  I am currently on a DFW binge though so I plan on picking all that stuff up and rereading it.  I love his nonfiction a lot, but this book…it had such a depth to it that you obviously are not going to get reading his nonfiction.  You can feel the work put into it, and the way it all adds up.  I remember reading somewhere to “trust” DFW while reading this book.  Just know at some point it’s going to click; and it did.

5. Did you ever read the book while on drugs or alcohol? 

I hope you don’t quote my name so my mom sees that I do drugs and alcohol…but yes.

Though with both:  If I have had too much to drink forget it.  And depending on the amount of bob hope consumed (Jest reference) it can be impractical to read.  I may be going along at a fairly good clip but the next evening or whatever, I will have forgotten most of what I read and end up having to reread a bunch. It was summer so I drank a shit-load of mojitos, I know that.

6. What other “large books” have you undertaken? 

Oh, I dunno.  The Tolkien trilogy.  I had just finished Savage Detectives by Bolano, which isn’t huge huge, but is still somewhat dense.

7. What type of training did you do to read Infinite Jest? 

Ha ha.  Well, for one, I did a lot of ab work.  But I always do ab work. I am not sure about the interviewer, but I do a fair amount of reading in a horizontal, type position: head on pillow, legs out. This book did produce quite a weight on the abdomen section.  A reader will need to place pillows under the book a lot, move around etc…And you can forget reading while laying on your side.  What actually got me to decide to just read the damn thing was reading Tom Bissel’s collection “Magic Hours.”  He mentions Wallace several times in the collection and also kinda of reviews the commencement speech Wallace did at Kenyon.  I had always planned on reading Infinite Jest, and just said fuck it.

8.      What type of pacing did you use? Did you read the same amount daily or read it in spurts or what? 

I know I picked it up daily for sure but depending on what was going on there might just be a page or two here and there.  I did the bulk of the reading on weekends or while bored at the local bookstore.

9.      Did you ever think about quitting?

Never give up.  Never, give, up.

10.   Do you think everyone should read Infinite Jest?

Fuck no.  Look, not everyone can handle reading…a lot of shit.  You know?  I work at a bookstore and at a certain point you start to get a feel of what people like to read.  Um, my friends, acquaintances; I’ll cut the shit:  people who actually read on a somewhat serious level?  Yes, read it.  There are a lot of reasons not too.  It is extremely long, and not just long but dense.  I have been reading stuff since then and it’s funny, 10 pages in Infinite Jest is like 30 in a normal spaced book.  But I really think a reader will get a lot out of it.  Once you start adapting to his style of writing and get over the length of the book and the lines and the paragraphs and the footnotes, it becomes a great work.  It is entertaining on a basic level:  There are identifiable character traits, exciting plot angles, but the book somehow dives deeper into the human psyche…I dunno.  I don’t really do well at writing about books and the reading experience but there is just a lot there.  I am all jazzed up on DFW so whatever happened in those pages I am still in a head space from it.  And I can say I don’t get that from every read.

11.   Did you feel a need to talk about “reading Infinite Jest” to others while reading the book? 

Yes.  But mainly just to again, make sure I kept reading it (this is especially true for the first two or three hundred pages.  At a certain point that goes away).  But I called my friend who had read it and spoke to her about it.  A guy who works with me read it and spoke about it.

12.   Where is the book now?

I am doing some bicycle work currently; brake work to be specific.  I am using the tome to hold up my bike while the tires are off so i can change out the brake pads.

13.   Well, you did it. What did you think of the experience?

It was a great experience.  And also, it has given me the confidence to tackle other works that I may not so otherwise.  It really did seem to elevate me as a reader, I shit you negative.

14.   What are you going to read after this endeavor? 

Well, so right now I am reading that Rolling Stone’ guys traveling interview with Wallace.  The author is sorta a prick but I am enjoying Wallace speaking about Infinite Jest and his path from grad school through writing the book.  I always like reading about the path of different artists.  They also talk movies some which I enjoy.  I am sorta researching what I want to read next.  I may read “Gravity’s Rainbow,” by Pynchon.  But I have also written down some other authors that I am gonna consider:  Saul Bellow, Delillo, Roth.  Of course, I must mention that all of these are authors that I have seen DFW namedrop so…yea, back to question 13.  The book is still influencing me.

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  1. yunmen

      Years ago, I made it all the way through Spinoza’s Ethics. I’m not saying this to brag; I would brag if I actually understood it. But even though I didn’t understand all of it, I did understand some of it, and I did get something out of reading it. That made me realize I could read other difficult books, too; since then, I’ve failed to completely understand Ada or Ardor and Infinite Jest and The Recognitions, but I’ve managed to partially understand them, which is better than nothing.

  2. garret travis

      great post, excited to read it. I’m actually reading infinite jest right now for the first time. saving this interview for when I finish in case of spoilers.

  3. hommeauxrats

      Nice read. Made me want to jump back to it. Haven’t touched it for a year. 

  4. Tom Beshear

      Amazingly, there AREN’T any spoilers.

  5. leapsloth14

       Conspiracy theory? Are you saying she didn’t read it? I’d like to bust her with that, big time. Is that your implication here?

  6. jtc

      to the reader, i recommend rereading the book, and then reading the infinite jest thesis here:  which blew my mind.

      i read gravity’s rainbow after ij. i think there’s a real connection between IJ and GR, as well as between wallace’s first novel and Pynchon’s the crying of lot 49. so, yeah, read gr next–could be cool.

  7. kb82

      I have about a month of more free time than I have had in a long time and I am attempting to read three large novels I haven’t read that I should have by now: Don Quixote, The Brothers Karamazov, The Magic Mountain.

  8. alan rossi

      the day after i finished IJ, my dog ate the cover and the first few pages.  he was really tired of me reading that book instead of taking him on walks and stuff.  

  9. Wallace Barker

      When I first started reading IJ I was a little annoyed because I had read lots of Pynchon and thought DFW was biting his style. But I kept reading and realized IJ was completely amazing and got over my initial annoyance.

  10. Don

      I really liked Infinite Jest when I was reading it, but the further I get from reading it the more flawed it seems. To call it “flawed” is absurd, I know, because it’s an amazing novel. There are moments that are perfect, and next to 99% of the literature in the world it is superior.

      But… I think it ought to be compared to other great, enormous works, and to those I am not sure it compares well. The more I think about it, the more it seems to lack the seriousness and power of 2666 or Pynchon’s V.

      I want to reread 2666 and Infinite Jest together and write about them. Not sure when I will be able to do that, as it seems like doing so could be emotionally damaging. Both are so bleak. My hypothesis is that DFW’s ethical/political naiveté is both the great achievement and the great flaw of the novel (ie. that his great achievement was writing such a compelling, sometimes awe-inspiring book that communicates such trite ethical/political naiveté – those two things should not be able to go together, but he makes it work). In a weird way, The Broom of the System is a more sincere/honest work than Infinite Jest because it doesn’t run away from DFW’s intellectualism and pretension; tBotS plays with the intellectualism and pretension and doesn’t hide them. In Infinite Jest and a lot of his later writing, DFW is in flight from his past as a philosophy student (see the endnote in Tense Present where he urges people NOT to read Derrida but to ‘trust’ his reading) and actually arguing against the sort of intellectual training he received because he came to see philosophy and the whole intellectual culture of postmodernity as emotionally/psychologically damaging.

      I mean, read the speech he gave at the liberal arts college graduation. It’s horrible and trite. Same with his answers to political questions in interviews. In the beginning, he wrote complex books about complex ideas (tBotS is a rough allegory for the conflict between the philosophies of Derrida and Wittgenstein), but with Infinite Jest he wrote a complex book that pointed to the simple/simplistic ethics of AA and self-help as a way out (maybe the only way out?) from what he came to see as the emotional/psychological crisis of American postmodernity. Phew. I actually agree with him about the emotional crisis but not about the solution.

      BUT, Infinite Jest is flawed (and not ‘serious’ enough) because it only looks at the emotional/communication crisis. It avoids any discussion of MURDER, and this is why 2666 is the superior work. There is violence in Infinite Jest, sometimes horrible violence, but it is all interpersonal. The politics is all slapstick.

      Damn, I can’t believe I wrote a comment this long on Htmlgiant. This is all incomplete and needs to be fleshed out in a real essay.

      (And it goes without saying that everyone who is serious about reading ought to read Infinite Jest, and writers ought to aim as high as DFW did, because the results will be interesting, even if you fail.)

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