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Infinite Jest

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I feel the same. I read the book probably about... 9? years ago, and since I've been rereading books I've been moving around with me to see if I want to keep them, maybe it's time. The only problem is that I live in a college town and wandering a college town with Infinite Jest might solicit conversations with undergrads that I don't want, especially since that freelance life leads to me spending a lot of time in coffee shops. I'll probably suck it up and get the ebook, but I don't know how endnotes work with that.

I didn't find the ebook implementation to be too bad, as Nappi says.  An alternative would be to just put the dead tree version in a different dust jacket to ward off undergraduate banter...

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Hitting rough spots makes it so hard to persevere to the good times again. Just realized I haven't read it in weeks because of getting stuck.

 

I think it's really cool how to characters are at times written very much like humans and makes you think of people's lives but at the same time the premises behind the characters are insane and silly. But also at times, the absurdity is really annoying and makes it feel pointless to read pages and pages of details on some character's outrageous quirks. Like right now I'm on the part where:

 

I think Randy? One guy at the halfway house likes to walk back to the house and torture cats or something? And DFW goes into lots of detail about him developing this habit.

 

It's just really silly and whatever commentary/meaning I'm supposed to get out of it seems also silly just because of how unrealistic it is. But at other times the silliness and detail is amusing, so, I guess I'll have to take both sides of it :-)

 

--

 

Did anyone else notice that he uses DEFCON wrong during some part about Eschaton? He uses 5 as most severe instead of 1. Not sure if it's a mistake or purposeful for some reason? Also, did Pemulis's explanation of the calculus in the endnotes actually make sense?

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Hooooooooooooooly shit. Finished this over the weekend. Considering a re-read sometime soon so I can piece more of it together. Hopefully over a shorter period of time, as this read took me the better part of this year.

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:tup::tup:

 

You should re-read the first chapter now, if you haven't already. :)

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Man, this book has been on my mental shelf for as long as I've known about it. Basically ever since I read the first essay I came across by David Foster Wallace (I think it was the tennis and maths one, but I've now read so many I've lost track) I've wanted to read this book. Yet I've also been so utterly unwilling to actually start it, knowing how long and involved it will be. I think I keep telling myself that there'll be a better time, when I'm less stressed/distracted/whatever, but as with most cases of that excuse, it's probably never actually going to be the perfect time.

 

I'm actually right now reading a few of the essays in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again that I hadn't come across yet... and it's definitely bringing the Infinite Jest itch back. Maybe I should finally bite the bullet.

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I hate hate hate the mythos around this book as being hard. All it asks of you is to pay some attention and be willing to be puzzled for a while, knowing it will eventually pay off and tell you everything you need to know.

 

Compared to actually inscrutable books like Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses, Infinite Jest is a fountain of clarity, and funny and moving to boot.

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7 hours ago, osmosisch said:

I hate hate hate the mythos around this book as being hard. All it asks of you is to pay some attention and be willing to be puzzled for a while, knowing it will eventually pay off and tell you everything you need to know.

 

Would you say it's the... Dark Souls of books? :barf:

 

Seriously though, it's not a hard book, it's just huge, and likely to take you a while so some things may not be clearly remembered. The thing I had the hardest time with was keeping the years of Subsidized Time straight in my head.

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Yeah, the thing that's hard about it is that it throws a lot of characters at you pretty quickly combined with the fact that the chronology is all over the place. Once you've got that under control, which I'd say happens after the first 200 pages or so, it's pretty easy going.

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On 12/21/2016 at 10:47 PM, J.C. said:

 

Would you say it's the... Dark Souls of books? :barf:.

I actually think that comparison does hold on many, many levels, though I'd say IJ is a much better and effective work of art for me at least.

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Yeah, after typing that I realized there are a lot of parallels for how they are talked about vs the actual experiences. Unlike most "Dark Souls of" comments, this one may actually work!

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On 12/21/2016 at 7:45 AM, osmosisch said:

 All it asks of you is to pay some attention and be willing to be puzzled for a while, knowing it will eventually pay off and tell you everything you need to know.

 

Uh. What? Where the hell does it eventually pay off and tell you everything you need to know? During my MFA one of my advisers talked about how they stopped reading DFW entirely after finishing Infinite Jest.

 

But you're right about the other parts. It's not a difficult book at all. It's also very fun and funny. My recommendation is always for people to read the first 50 pages, and if they're really enjoying it, then they should finish it. If they aren't loving it though, and just want to find out what is happening and why, that they should put it down and walk away very fast.

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13 hours ago, Dragonfliet said:

 

Uh. What? Where the hell does it eventually pay off and tell you everything you need to know?

The characters and their arcs start to flesh out a lot after the first 100 or so pages. You get a feeling for what's more and less important. The whole Year of the X thing is eventually explained to some degree. The nature of the toxic waste area and so forth. How to handle the footnotes. There's a hump at the beginning after which you realise you can just kind of relax into the book and enjoy the ride. Which is not to say you stop paying attention, but that you've learned to trust that the book's going somewhere and has meaning and structure.

 

I'm sure there's people who are put off by this, or other aspects of the book, and I feel its status has become unhealthily elevated.

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4 hours ago, osmosisch said:

The characters and their arcs start to flesh out a lot after the first 100 or so pages. You get a feeling for what's more and less important. The whole Year of the X thing is eventually explained to some degree. The nature of the toxic waste area and so forth. How to handle the footnotes. There's a hump at the beginning after which you realise you can just kind of relax into the book and enjoy the ride. Which is not to say you stop paying attention, but that you've learned to trust that the book's going somewhere and has meaning and structure.

 

I'm sure there's people who are put off by this, or other aspects of the book, and I feel its status has become unhealthily elevated.

Except that then the book complicates things, piles on tons of plot points, and specifically refuses to give any sort of conclusion or payoff. I mean, it's literally the point, and a kind of re-creation that the father (can't remember his name right now) is doing with his movies. Honestly? I would say that the book never really progresses from the first 50 pages. It just gives you more stuff. More characters, more details about most of them, more plot points, more observations about the world, but never in a way in which things actually add up. They are stacked on top of each other, and then the pile is given a little shove, and then the book ends abruptly. I think this is also its point, and part of how it works overall, but I would argue very fiercely about this being payoff or telling me everything I need to know. 

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On 1/9/2017 at 10:55 AM, Dragonfliet said:

Except that then the book complicates things, piles on tons of plot points, and specifically refuses to give any sort of conclusion or payoff. I mean, it's literally the point, and a kind of re-creation that the father (can't remember his name right now) is doing with his movies. Honestly? I would say that the book never really progresses from the first 50 pages. It just gives you more stuff. More characters, more details about most of them, more plot points, more observations about the world, but never in a way in which things actually add up. They are stacked on top of each other, and then the pile is given a little shove, and then the book ends abruptly. I think this is also its point, and part of how it works overall, but I would argue very fiercely about this being payoff or telling me everything I need to know. 

That was basically my reaction too. Wallace had a fertile brain that sprouted ideas like kudzu, but like kudzu they tended to overwhelm the story (not to mention the footnotes). I understand Wallace's editor had to fight tooth an nail to convince him to whittle the sucker down to even semi-manageable form. That editor deserves a Purple Heart. If it were me, I'd have excised the whole Quebecois bit and made it a separate book; it wasn't essential to the main story and was a massive distraction.

 

In general I feel IJ was the po-mo version of Ulysses - a long, complicated work that many more people claim to have read than actually did read.

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After seeing people elsewhere be so positive about Infinite Jest, I was really worried that I was going to be alone on this. But Infinite Jest, so far, is a interestingly written, but utterly bizarre reading experience for me.

 

I've given up on reading the end notes because I've found them to be largely uninteresting and do nothing but break up whatever flow the book has. There are some moments where I am utterly rivetted (like the section with the person talking about their addiction and how they attempt to hide it, or Hal clipping his toe nails as he talks to his brother) mixed in with pages and pages of writing where I know I am reading the words but no information is going in. I enter a sort of meditative state and the next thing I know I've gone through 3 pages but I have no idea what I have read. I usually go through books pretty quickly, but there is an emotional investment that comes with reading this book, much like picking up a JRPG, where you know you have to go at the author's pace and that pace is positively glacial.

 

I don't hate the book, I just don't really know what I am doing with the book either. Glad someone mentioned the timeline, I had completely ignored that and just assumed it was not continuous but had no care for why.

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A lot of end notes are trivial but I would consider many of them critical. What I ended up doing when the going back and forth got tedious, was read to the end of the chapter (or any good stopping point if I was passing a lot of them) and then jump to the end notes and read through them in bulk.

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Honestly, I really liked Infinite Jest, but it's a book that I don't really recommend to people. It doesn't break new ground, and it doesn't really do anything masterfully (it does things very well, but it's also a bloated, saggy mess in a lot of ways). It follows along the lines of Ulysses, and Gravity's Rainbow, but without the stronger unifying themes, and groundbreaking aspect of them. And yet it's somehow longer. It's weird saying this, as I really, truly like the book a lot, but it's not for everyone. You're not wrong about the endnotes, twmac, there are a LOT of boring, uninteresting, and useless ones. After a bit, they start to become more and more important, but that's after a bit.

 

The advice I literally give to everyone about the book is what I said above: read the first 50 pages. If you're having a fun time, then keep reading. It is a delightful book in so many ways (his whole scenario on videocalls is amazing, for instance). If, however, you're not having a great time, but are willing to slog through this to see where it goes: STOP. The book never goes anywhere. That's actually kind of the point. It's a thoughtful meditation on modern life, but it's also a giant prank on the reader. You will never figure out why things are happening, and you will never get plots resolved, and you won't feel like you spent your time well. Again, if in those first 50 pages you're having a lot of fun: it'll still be a lot of fun. But yeah. You might just want to bail. 

 

I had this book on my comprehensive exams for my PhD, and though I re-read a lot of very long books (Anna Karenina, Moby Dick, House of Leaves, Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, Don Quixote), I skipped re-reading Infinite Jest, even though it has been a decade since I read it. I started reading it, and quickly realized it would be a waste of my time that could be better spent thinking about Anna Karenina (or gushing about it to poor folks who haven't had the delight of reading it), or decoding Ulysses. It just isn't worth it. I went over notes I had taken, and read a few essays about it, but it didn't have the depth or the power of these other books. It's long because it values length, not because it spends its time productively.

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Thanks for the tip, the thing is, I live in Thailand and English language books are difficult to come across so Infinite Jest will get finished once I've finished the Ginger Baker Biography and 'Chronicles of a Liquid Society' by Umberto Eco.

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I beat Infinite Jest, it was one of the best written door stops I've ever read. Some crushingly effective chapters (even paragraphs) sandwiched in between phenomenally written, well-observed tedium. Pretty sure Wallace hated Brett Easton Ellis but their ability to fill pages full well written nothing is very similar. Maybe Easton is a bit more nihilistic.

 

Glad I read it, but I don't think I'd ever recommend it to a living soul. Unless I find someone that likes a book that is both very bad and possibly brilliant in all of its moments. The errata bits were what almost broke me, so dumb and stupid and pretentious.

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