To avoid spoilers, the guides will comment on each week’s reading in the week that follows. We’ll use this first week to introduce ourselves and hope you’ll do the same in the comments.
My start as a book critic was more mercenary than literary. In 1999, I was brought on as the columns editor at a friend’s online music magazine. This was during the heyday of the online magazine – everybody had one, and if you didn’t then what exactly were you doing with your life?
It quickly became apparent that the music writers were the frequent recipients of all manner of schwag for their efforts – CDs, concert tickets, t-shirts – they were raking it in. And what did we get? Zip. Diddly. Bupkis. That is, until a fellow writer suggested we start a book review section because, you know, free books! So we did, and before long publishers from Algonquin to Zondervan were dropping books on our doorsteps.
I’ve never been overly literary in my reading choices, tending naturally towards humor, magical realism, and cyberpunk. It took me eight years to get around to Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, it wasn’t until 2012 that I read White Noise or Cloud Atlas, and 2014’s The Goldfinch was my first Donna Tartt book. I find what I need to read eventually; sometimes it just takes a little push in the right direction.
I’m sorry to say that it was David Foster Wallace’s death in 2008 and the media maelstrom that surrounded it that awakened me to the need to read Infinite Jest. What’s more, everything I’d heard about the book suggested that it might be an undertaking warranting some sort of fellowship – someone with whom I could share the experience, whose strength I could lean on in difficult times (eschaton, anyone?), and with whom I could hope to cross the 1,079-page finish line.
I tried coercing my friend Shawn into reading Infinite Jest with me, but we were both doing NaNoWriMo that fall, and it didn’t come off. Months passed while Shawn and I steadfastly continued not reading Infinite Jest together, until one day in June 2009 he emailed me a link to Infinite Summer, a massive online group reading of Infinite Jest. With the link, Shawn asked a simple question: “Are you in?” I don’t recall my exact response, but gmail might.
Infinite Summer was transformative for me in the way that few reading experiences are. Three months submerged in Wallace’s labyrinthine narrative surrounded by a panoply of characters as real to me as the infinite community of online readers with whom I engaged in myriad micro-conversations – connecting dots, unraveling threads.
After Infinite Summer, I continued reading Wallace – his fiction and his essays. But though I found the same virtuosic writing, nothing compared to the experience of Infinite Jest, the mesmerizing depths at which Wallace held me rapt beneath the surface of his many-layered story and the camaraderie that arose in our communal reading.
I was patient. I waited six years. But on a snowy hike in December, a friend (another Shawn) mentioned to me that he had just started reading Infinite Jest. And I just knew it was time.
As I read I’m starting to hear my voice once again escape my lips, as passages too mind-blowing or just difficult to parse need to be spoken aloud. On the bus, I’m giggling to myself, attracting looks from fellow commuters as I scribble in the margins with my blue pen. I’m looking around for someone to share this stuff with.
And here you are.