Infinite Summer

I’ve had company the last two weeks — my old friend Nicka, who I have known for more than half my life. We had all sorts of adventures, including winetasting up in Amador County, and then the next weekend a whirlwind trip up north (where it is cold and foggy and nothing like the 100F of the Central Valley), where we visited the ocean and hung out in Eureka and state-park hopped along the coast and saw the redwoods.


It was great.

Later, after returning to my house, we were joined by our friend James who taught us all how to play the game of Burraco, which we proceeded to do, with the aid of lots of alcohol.

I have no idea what I'm doing...

I have no idea what I'm doing...

...especially as James had a habit of beating the pants off of me.

...especially as James had a habit of beating the pants off of me.

Everyone is gone now though, and the house is quiet. So I decided to start back in on Infinite Summer, the reading club for people who feel that perhaps there is a certain something lacking in their lives and they thus want to tackle reading the 981-page (1078 with footnotes) Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s epic 1996 novel. The challenge, as stated on the project page, is

Join endurance bibliophiles from around the world in reading Infinite Jest over the summer of 2009, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages1 รท 92 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

And you know I love a challenge.

Yes, that Infinite Jest.

Yes, that Infinite Jest.

What this blithely ironic plan ignores, of course, is that:

  • these pages are like, double-size. Seriously, it’s actually around 2000 pages according to the industry standard for word-density-per-page.
  • it’s hard going. The sentences are convoluted — clever and engaging, but convoluted. You have to be awake. I couldn’t read it when I had company; I was too tired late at night. You have to devote some actual serious time to this sucker.
  • And even when you do, it’s utterly confusing. The sentences are convoluted — clever and sometimes perfect, but convoluted — and there are stories within stories and I am only 6% of the way in and I am having trouble keeping track of the characters. It all seems like so many disconnected stories out of the apartments of America. It is funny as hell, but it hurts my head. It actually reminds me a lot of reading Joyce, which I have never successfully managed to do in large doses. I read 30 pages last night, then had to follow it down with a several-hour chaser of my old friend (and apparently annual summer companion, I’m again re-reading all the Lord Peter books) Dorothy Sayers, who is erudite but who at least intended to be readable.

So props to you, DFW. We’ll see how this goes. I am not yet past the point of no return; I still have to cross the few-hundred-page milestone that makes many readers throw up their hands in despair. But you know I love a challenge. And there’s a certain grace in taking on something ridiculous just for the sake of taking it on, much like my friend-of-a-friend who is riding the Great Divide cross-continent trail on a mountain unicycle. Of course, she’s at least raising money for charity. Reading great* books is a selfish and much less strenuous pursuit, but one worth doing anyway.

This seems to be a semi-popular sport among my friends; Lauren and Marcus are both attempting it too, and I know there are others.

* “great” is tbd, I think, though it is certainly very large.

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