Saturday, December 18, 2010

Infinite Gestation ...

I have embarked on one of the ultimate of commitments. One just shy of getting a tribal tattoo on the small of my back: I am reading David Foster Wallace's 3.2 pound, 1078.5-page novel "Infinite Jest."

People have done this before me. In fact, I live with a DFW head, the kind of person who would understand the significance of a Enfield Tennis Academy T-shirt with the name Incandenza ironed in block print, sandwiched by shoulder blades. Among those who have taken the roughly three-month time out from life to read this epic Gen X trophy, there is a sort of survivor mentality. No one seems to regret reading it, and everyone seems to have advice for how to tackle something that resembles in girth the hip younger sister of the Norton Anthology of British Literature. They changed, the grew. They are, admittedly, a bit insufferable. They say:

Use two bookmarks, one for the story, one for the end notes.
Trust David Foster Wallace. This is all worth it. And he was a genius. You'll love it. LOVE IT!
Use the available online references, including chronology aids, character bios and section summaries.
Set page goals: Something like 30 pages a day to finish at pace more like training for a marathon than the suggested gestation period for building a human being.

My attention span for books weighs in at about 250 pages. There are exceptions -- especially if the font is gigantic. But the font in "Infinite Jest" is mostly standard, with pages and pages of end notes, which are decidedly below regulation. It takes me approximately 8 hours to read a contemporary novel. I average two-ish books a week. This means, best case scenario, I could finish "Infinite Jest" in just less than 3 weeks if I devote all of my optic powers on this one book and hide the TV in the garage. Unfortunately, I've never heard of anyone finishing this book in less than two months, so I'm probably deceiving myself.

I've considered a few game plans:
1. Read "Infinite Jest," and supplement it with just graphic novels for when I need a boost of something different.
2. Read a set number of pages a week, and once I hit that goal read something else.
3. Read it only on weekends, when I really have time to plant my happy ass deep into the upholstery and get really weird with myself.
4. Maybe think about not reading it at all, and just going about my life secure in that decision.

But really, the only option for me is to bust through the fucker. I've got to read it and read it hard. Totally commit myself to this one book. Coax my body into cooking up something akin to Adderall. It's my only chance for success. 

So far, so good, though. I carried it with me to get my oil change, but the oil changers were so speedy that I barely made a dent in a section that I was enjoying. I had an errand at the mall afterward, and instead of shopping, I first spent 15 minutes on a bench near Santa's lap reading about Orin Incandenza, an NFL punter with a cockroach phobia.

I am, as of 1:43 a.m. Saturday morning, nearly 1/10th of the way through the book. See you this spring.


Stephen Cahaly said...

Hi Christa. I'm really looking forward to your opinions on the mammoth obligation. I'm one of Wallace's bandwagon fans, meaning I like him best when he's winning, namely, in the short stories, the essays, the nervous interviews.

I liked your previous post about recovering the check. It produced good and bad memories. The bad: going to get a haircut absentmindedly one day, I lost my glasses. Don't know whatever happened to them. Which meant at least for one day in my life I was doubly blind. The good: working at McD's in high school, I lost my wallet. But I found it! Where did I find it? I had placed it on the roof of my father's car while searching for the keys. Somehow all the grease must've kept it affixed, because in retracing my steps, there it was in the middle of the street, having made it as far away as the neighborhood.

By the way, "an NFL punter with a cockroach phobia", that was the Miami Dolphins punter against the New York Jets this season, called up from the bench repeatedly, proceeding to break all records.

Jodi said...

It took me an entire year to read Infinite Jest, but damnit I did it. It's awesome and frustrating and borderline bullshit/genius.

Good luck.

(I've just started Freedom and 600 pages might as well be 1100 as far as I'm concerned).