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A Supposedly Fun Thing I Plan to Do This Summer

I felt pretty affected by David Foster Wallace's death. Surprisingly so. I'd never been a big fan of his books. Never touched "Infinite Jest." Found his nonfiction circuitous and self-indulgent. (Consider the Lobster, however, is quite brilliant.) But still. For reasons I still can't quite explain, I was terribly saddened by news of his suicide.

As of today, I'm trying again. I'm joining the folks over at Infinite Summer for their book group. The rules are simple. Get your hands on a copy of Infinite Jest. Read 75 pages a week starting June 21st. Participate in the online discussions and so forth (or don't!). Finish the book around September 22nd (in theory). Sound like fun? Well, you can do it too.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 3, 2009; 3:09 PM ET
Categories:  Books  
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Comments

"for reasons i still cant quite explain, i was terribly saddened by news of his suicide."

then it is good that you will read his books.
he can still be a presence in your life.

Posted by: jkaren | June 3, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Tell me again how this is supposedly fun?

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | June 3, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

You know what would be fun - if you could change your tagline to something other than "Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It". Or does WaPo have an editorial policy against fun?

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | June 3, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm really surprised you love Consider the Lobster but not A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Getting Away From Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All, which are all very similar in tone.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to reading Infinite Jest again. It was about time anyway. Just remember that the beginning is the hardest part. You have no idea what's going on, you've got to get used to his odd style, and you find yourself coming up with a endnote strategy on the fly. Having read other DFW will help with the second in that list, and knowing (and therefore planning ahead) can help with the third. I go with a two bookmark approach. I have no advice for dealing with the first problem in my list.

Posted by: someBrad | June 3, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Endnote strategy -- I highly recommend a post-it note/flag that acts as a tab.

Also, remember that there's great pleasure to be had in figuring out the chronology and the order of the years under subsidized time (which comes first: Year of the Whopper or Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster?).

Posted by: dailykos1 | June 3, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I loved Infinite Jest, and it was the first DFW thing I read. Huge huge portions of it were very difficult, but the parts that I liked (a lot of the stuff about addiction) are so brilliant that it's worth it. Good luck.

I have two pieces of advice.
1. Get two bookmarks so that you can keep track of your place in both the text and the footnotes.
2. Find the edited versions of the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing. The essays, as they appeared in Harpers were clearly highly edited, and were much shorter than the versions that appeared in the book. So, if you find the book essays too precious, find them in Harpers. Especially the one about tennis. that one is genius.

Posted by: elbow3 | June 3, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Ezra did you not like the essays in the book Consider the Lobster? Authority and American Usage, for example, is brilliant, but beyond that it is--I guess the word is wise.

Posted by: Castorp1 | June 3, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I made it a few hundred pages into Infinite Jest a few months back, and then our adoption came through, and the World's Cutest Kid has been ruling my life ever since. For the time being, I'm sticking with books that I can read in the 20 minutes between going to bed and falling asleep, without losing the thread.

That said, I second elbow3's advice about the two bookmarks, one for the text and one for the footnotes.

Posted by: rt42 | June 3, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

My only thought is that it will be hard to confine oneself to 75 pages per week after getting through the initial difficulties. About halfway through I got to the point where I wouldn't put the book down unless absolutely forced to do so.

Posted by: aok1 | June 3, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

So you never liked his books (other than "Consider the Lobster") but you want to participate in a posthumous "group read" of Infinite Jest? Weird.

Posted by: lowellfield | June 3, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

That sounds like a lot of fun, a lot of people already gave sound advice about how to read Infinite Jest (slug through the first 75 or hundred pages, get two bookmarks, etc). So, I just wanted to talk about DFW in my life.

I read Infinite Jest the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. It was the first really huge, smart book I read. It was one of the first novels I read that was not sci-fi. Parsing through that work helped set me up for reading Kafka, Borges, Beckett, and those guys set me up for reading philosophy (the degree that DFW had).

The weekend he died half a dozen friends texted me about his death. I was preparing my lecture for my monday class of "The Animal and the Ethical." We were going to cover something else that day, I forget. I decided to simply boot that reading, and I brought in copies of the essay "Consider the Lobster" and we read it outloud in class. The students really loved that essay, and made me decided to teach it in the next term of that class.

I've never really been one to be sad when people I didn't personally know died. Rock stars, movie stars, philosophers, all kinda sad but not really emotional. Something was different with DFW. But then again, something always was.

Posted by: thescuspeaks | June 3, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I had the same reaction! I had only read Consider the Lobster and an account of traveling ona cruise ship in harper's, but it really bothered me when he died.

I think it was knowing that you could be extremely successful and have a sterling reputation and still manage to be miserable.

Posted by: StephenBank | June 3, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I was like aok1, except that my point of no return started after about page 50. Yes, those first 50 pages were a bit of a bear, but My God Man! was it ever amazing from there on out. Honestly, Ezra, I loved that book so much that I wish it had been 400 or 500 pages longer. I just didn't want it to end. Hell, when I did finish it, I actually just turned back to page 1 and started reading it again. But then, sadly, some rationality kicked in and I decided that it wasn't the only good book out there in the world I could read, and I should probably give those others a try and come back to Infinite Jest again some other time. This summer won't work for me (little kids, like rt42), but someday, if there's any justice in the world, I'll have my chance. Good luck! Just think, after you finish it, maybe you'll pick up on some of DFW's style and start writing sentences that begin: "And so but then the legislative branch has its incentive structure to deal with..."

Posted by: JonathanTE | June 4, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

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