Saturday, December 6, 2008

Alright! Alright! Alright!

It all began with a second reading of David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest", which is just an outstanding piece of literature. My son gave me a copy for my birthday, and it just absorbed me for the next three months. After that, I never was quite the same. I quit calling it a book and referred to it as a mind-altering literary experience.

So, I began to read "Infinite Jest" a second time. But it took me over a year to get up the gumption to open it again. The Jest demands much from the reader. At 1079 pages, it takes a good while to read, and the end notes add another challenge. The depth of the material is hard to work through. There are more characters than you can shake a pencil at. And there are plots within plots within plots. It is really quite intimidating.

(My advice to any reader: have at least two bookmarks; you're going to need them. One to mark your place in the book and the other to mark your place in the end notes. You need to read the end notes, every one of them, as you encounter them, and you're going to be flipping back and forth in the book a lot. But you need to read them. They really add a lot to the story.)

But it is so rewarding to the reader who pushes through it. When I finished it the first time, it was 1:00 in the morning, and I had to get up and walk around my neighborhood for the next two hours going "Wow! Oh, Wow!" It really was a profound experience for me.

So, it took a good while to work up the nerve to face it again, but I did. And it is at least ten times better reading it the second time. For one thing, the jumps in time aren't as foreign the second time around and are easier to keep up with. The reader has more background about the characters, the terminology, and all the other background stuff, so the individual pieces begin to make sense together. And overall, the plots and subplots and the characters all begin to pull together into a bigger whole. Still, it is a very complicated book. I bought a moleskine journal and began taking lots of notes as I read.

(More advice to any reader: keep a journal. It will help you keep track of everything that is going on, and there is a lot going on.)

My son thought my notes were worthwhile, for some odd reason, and prodded me to put them on the web. I was hesitant, partly because I found other web sites and blogs that seemed to do a much better job at describing the Jest than I felt I ever could (q.v. or, partly because I thought there were better minds than mine out there with a lot more to say about the Jest, but mainly because these notes were my own personal thoughts about the book.

But [blast him!] he started putting my notes up on his blog (see, if you're interested) and so, basically, shamed me into starting a blog of my own. Now, I'm not sure a blog is the best way to present reading notes. For one thing, the blog entries are going to be in reverse chronological order, with the latest appearing on the web page first. To read the blog entries as they appear on the blog page will be like reading the book backwards. So the reader must locate the first blog entry and read each entry in the order in which they were posted, to read them in the order that they were written from the book. Personally, I think a wiki might be a preferable way to publish reading notes, if one is going to publish them while reading the book, as I am doing now.

I'm about halfway through my second reading now, and I have a considerable backlog of notes to hammer in on my keyboard. But I'm going to type them in to save my son the effort of putting them up on his blog when he really should be working on his college papers.

I'll also put in the definitions for words that I had to look up. There were a lot of them. "Infinite Jest" is a real vocabulary builder.

(One more piece of advice for the reader: get a dictionary, a really big, thick one. You're going to need it.)

1 comment:

Chango said...

nice work. Thank you for sharing. I'm finding your notes very useful.

I'm also rereading IJ, having been away from it for 10 years. My first go around was immensely influential.

Little did I know at the time that he would move in down the street from me several years later.