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My thoughts on books, photography & films.

Reading Infinite Jest

One more try. My third attempt, not to try and finish but to get started.

To read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

As I’m typing this, I’m feeling that I’ve accomplished something; I’ve just crossed page number 100. Still 950 pages more.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that fiction can be challenging, generally and thematically, and even on a sentence-by-sentence basis — that it’s okay if a person needs to work a bit while reading, for the rewards can be that much greater when one’s mind has been exercised and thus (presumably) expanded
— Dave Eggers, On a foreword to the latest edition of Infinite Jest

But how? What has changed from the previous attempts?

I tried to introduce myself to David Foster Wallace (DFW) through Infinite Jest (IJ). Turned out to be a bad idea. So I read a couple of his other works; got myself used to his style, humor, rhythms, and his genius.

To scale the book: discipline, dedicated time and undivided attention is a must.

I created a goal of reading 10 pages of the book every day on Beeminder. It’s been two weeks and I’ve crossed 100 pages.

“10 pages a day” isn’t that less? Be my guest! Everything about the book is different and new.

The entire plot is a non-linear narrative, happening at multiple timelines, across different characters, across various sub-plots all built on a hidden theme(which according to the author is subjective). The book has 200-page footnotes at the end — on one occasion a footnote is 30 odd pages long — which is so crucial to the plot, so one cannot skip them as we normally do. In short, it is like the movie Inception on steroids.

But this is not possible with Infinite Jest. This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws. If you could somehow smash it into smaller pieces, there would certainly be no way to put it back together again. It simply is. Page by page, line by line, it is probably the strangest, most distinctive, and most involved work of fiction by an American in the last twenty years.

As recommended by fellow DFW fans on the internet, I also carry around a companion/study guide(520 pages) written by Greg Carlisle on my phone to refer and to make sure I’m on the right track.


And did I tell you that the literary style is unlike you’ve ever read. The vocabulary, sentence structure, complex phrases, strange punctuations would warrant you to have linguistic conversations with your friends.

And yet the time spent in this book, in this world of language, is absolutely rewarded. When you exit these pages after that month of reading, you are a better person. It’s insane, but also hard to deny. Your brain is stronger because it’s been given a month long workout, and more importantly, your heart is sturdier, for there has scarcely been written a more moving account of desperation, depression, addiction, generational stasis and yearning, or the obsession with human expectations, with artistic and athletic and intellectual possibility

At the current page run rate, it would take another 3 months to finish the book. Hoping to finish it before the Indian summer. Will keep this entry updated.

Update: 10th Feb, Sunday.

Total Pages read = 160

The book is too heavy in its physical size, hands are getting stressed holding it for longer hours. Trying to listen to the book in its audio book version from Audible. One mustn’t read this book in the audio version; you would miss out on most of the amazing things like: Wordplay, brilliant sentences which you must read multiple times to understand and to enjoy, mysterious punctuations and not to mention footnotes.


Update April 14th

Completed! Done! In 3 months, before summer, as desired.

A feeling of exhaustion and relief. That is how I felt after finishing the book.

“But are you sure?”

mmmm.. no not really, I’m confused. I’ve technically finished reading all the pages, but did the novel really end?

I think that is how the author wants us to feel. He has in-fact confided a similar sentiment on the lines of: every reader will have a different interpretation of the ending, and each one will have a different opinion on their consequent rereads.

Here is my take on the book:

1) A brilliant piece of literature. The words, sentences, phrases, chapters, plots, sub-plots, rhythms, patterns, and the narrative style is unlike you’ve read before.

2) Half way through the book, after realising the complex nature of the narrative, I sort of stopped worrying about connecting the plot and started reading every chapter as an individual long form essay. Doing this, I was able to enjoy and appreciate the literature more.

3) It took 4 months to finish the book, it is a journey. As in any journey, you cannot remember every thing that happened, for that long, continuously. There are few instances where I don’t even remember reading whole chapters.

4) As in any journey, there are ups and downs; sometimes the book feels like a page turner and other times you’ll need to drag yourself out of the quagmire.

3) Needs a quick revisit(skim through key chapters) to get a grip on the plot and the ending. And a definite multiple rereads sometime in the future.

P.S - Found this great interpretation on finishing the book and interpretation of the ending by the late Aaron Swartz.

Prasanna KumarComment