Thanks everyone who made it out to the Infinite Winter guides’ first quarter round table discussion! Here is the video for those who couldn’t make it.
As many of you are no doubt aware, Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette Book Group, was David Foster Wallace’s editor, who worked with Wallace on his books A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, Consider the Lobster, The Pale King and – most notably – Infinite Jest.
In celebration of Infinite Jest‘s 20th anniversary and the concurrent release this week of a new edition of the novel, Pietsch has offered to contribute a post, in the form of a brief interview, to Infinite Winter, and we’d like to ask you, our Infinite Winter participants, to help shape that interview.
Please write any questions you’d like us to pose to Michael Pietsch in the comments of this post between now and Friday, February 26. We will choose our favorite six of these questions to present to Pietsch as the basis for our interview.
I am sitting at my kitchen table in the modest 1950s era single-story home I share with my wife in the currently-frigid and snowscaped mini-city of Ithaca, NY. Winter is finally taking hold, observing the meteorologically depressing yet linguistically paradoxical delight of a “record-low high” temperature of 4 degrees Fahrenheit descend and encase our home, dropping colder even as the sun rises higher. The swirls of wind outside the windows holds a suspension of fine snow barely visible against the boughs of pines and spruce in my backyard. It is Saturday, the feeling of an Infinite Winter is suddenly palpable, and I have no place else to be, no reason to leave the warmth and casual dress code of my home. No reason to be anywhere but here, at this table, with this book I haven’t read in nearly seven years and that I can’t believe it has taken me nearly seven years to pick up and read again. I have nowhere else to be but inside this world between these covers inside these minds. “I am in here” — but I am also outside and above and alongside, listening to other voices, reading other stories, and discovering all the invisible strings that are tied to these pages between these blue covers. I am reading Infinite Jest for the second time, but I’m still at the beginning of uncovering how it works, how deep it goes, and discovering how much bigger the book becomes the more I explore those strings to the metaverse that surrounds it.
The first time I read Infinite Jest was the first time, and it was all I could do to keep up with the text itself. And even as I’m rereading I’m discovering how much I’d forgotten was in here, how much vivid imagery, joy, pain, humor, and sadness, and beauty. Even in just the first 135 pages, as the book begins jumping from small chunks of one character and setting to another, the mood and tone changes and surprises. Some chunks descend to deep dives of esoterica expanded by endnotes, others explore farther into their own contained expressions. I’ve had to get up and shake off what I’d read multiple times: Kate Gompert’s wrenching description of what real inescapable depression feels like; the set piece descriptions of criminal actions gone horribly wrong, with suspenseful action broken by vivid violent deaths—the agonizing, slow suffocation of Guillaume DuPlessis tied to a chair, or the sickening eye-pop Drano convulsions of C on the blowergrate—all described with enough detail to shock with realism and empathy, yet each framed in a different point of view, a different voice, a different vocabulary.
At the same time, I’m rediscovering the humor and wisdom, the smallest descriptive sentences that seem so profound. “My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it.” “…the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer.” “The sun is a hammer.” “Good-Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms That Utilize Every Centimeter of Available Space With Mind-Boggling Efficiency.” A viewer screen “the color of way out over the Atlantic looking straight down on a cold day.”
And now, this second time, I find myself following the strings into the metaverse even more than before. These blog posts on Infinite Winter that bring so many other voices to the room, or the threads on the Reddit forum. The wonderful conversations happening on the Great Concavity podcast, and the many artistic remixes and recoding of the work, like Corrie Baldauf’s color mapping, Ryan M. Blanck’s LEGO works, Nathan Seppelt’s drawings, or Jenni B. Baker’s found poems. That one novel can inspire some to expression by illustrating the work, and others to express by deleting from the work, yet both in their way end up making the work bigger and deeper.
I also know more about DFW than I did when I last read Infinite Jest, having read David Lipsky’s book (and now the screenplay adaptation of it), as well as more of DFW’s own non-fiction. I read D.T. Max’s New Yorker profile when it appeared, then DFW’s posthumous short stories, and finally devoured The Pale King as soon as it was published. I went to see D.T. Max speak at the college where I work, and read from his DFW biography. And now, as I start every morning with Infinite Jest, I end the day reading my own inscribed copy of Max’s book, absorbing the background of DFW and discovering new strings that stretch once more into the novel. I am afloat in the work and life and meta-contextual ocean of David Foster Wallace more than I ever have been before, and I am letting the current carry me out as far as it can until the tide is ready to leave me on the freezing sand of the shore again.
I am sitting at my kitchen table at home in the currently-frigid and snowscaped mini-city of Ithaca, NY, which the bumper stickers describe as “Ten Square Miles Surrounded by Reality”—the city where David Foster Wallace was born almost exactly 54 years ago. It is Saturday, the feeling of an Infinite Winter is suddenly palpable, and I have no reason to be anywhere but here, at this table, with this book I haven’t read in nearly seven years.
In a recent NPR interview, David Lipsky said “books like David Wallace’s wake you up. And that’s the reason to read them. Because you walk in asleep and then when you walk out, the world is in color.” I am reading Infinite Jest for the second time, but I am not alone. I see the cascade of strings upon strings pulling from the pages of my paperback, flowing off my table, out into the ether, ready to lead me to another expression of a mind that was born here and discovered a world out in reality beyond that hadn’t been seen before and captured and described it and made it into something new for me to discover all over again, full of color and light.
Dave Cameron (@davecameron) is a higher ed web content strategist and avid reader in Ithaca, NY – the birthplace of David Foster Wallace. He writes regularly about trying to be a better human at dave-cameron.com.
I’d forgotten how quickly the vignettes in this book fly by. I thought, vaguely, and if pressed to make a prediction, that one week into this book we’d have seen incapacitated Hal and the medical attache. I had no idea we would have sped past the intros to Erdedy and Orin and Clenette (and her baby) and Don Gately and Mario. All of whom appear later, and all of whom mean something different to me this time.
I’d forgotten how intensely I love the relationship between Hal and Mario. It’s hard to articulate how that kindness, that level of compassion and understanding and connection gets to me, every single time, except to say I’m a big ol’ softie, and that this novel’s humanity is what keeps me coming back. The raw and painful and gross engage and broaden and educate, but the big dewy eyed sweetness of those brothers talking in the dark keeps me hopeful.
Gah. I had really forgotten.
The Mario-Hal interactions are, for my money, the best encapsulation of humanity as I know it…when they talk, the overintellectualizer in all of us holds the metaphorical hand of our own vulnerable beating heart, the unreal level of naked compassion and lack of cynicism of which is just warm, freshly churned butter to this crusty loaf of a book.
And it was Mario that has brought me back in. Because though I wanted to reread Infinite Jest, I’ve been stumbling a bit in the beginning.
I devoured Infinite Jest in 1997. I was single, unemployed, and having a mid-20s crisis.
I drank in every nuance of Infinite Jest in 2009. I had a toddler, was writing a novel while working part-time, and was having a mid-30s crisis.
And now I’m a single parent, working more than full time both outside the home and not, having a rough but exhilarating time of most of my endeavors, and not really in the grip of any existential crisis. Maybe because I’ve been busy, and maybe because I’m not in full-fledged mid-life crisis right this moment, I was having a bit of trouble getting back into Wallace.
It’s been a busy week at work and at home, and it’s been hard to prioritize reading. I thought I’d read the paper version, perhaps finally cracking the untouched 10-year anniversary edition I bought a while back. Then I briefly gravitated toward my heavily annotated, tape-flagged, sun-faded, beloved 1997 first paperback edition.
But I’ve read most of this week’s stretch on my phone’s Kindle app, squeezing a page into each bustling morning, a page as I breathlessly cram a haphazard lunch into my face between meetings, a page as I brush my teeth at night, a page in the dark before I fall asleep. Seriously. One page at a time. It’s like recovery from overscheduling.
Not ideal. I had a much better time when gulping down this book. My current struggle is not, I don’t think, because I’m on my third read. I still love the prose. I’m pleased to find little things I’ve never noticed, to revisit characters I’ve missed, to get pissed about things that still bug me (seriously with the appropriating AAVE to establish a character who is one of the very rare instances of direct address in this text, but then to so quiet her that when she reappears later nobody recognizes her or her pregnancy? Fail). It’s just that life has gotten in the way of 1,000+ page novels, and I don’t know how to accommodate.
But late this week Mario reminded me.
Hal’s frustration at being misunderstood as the novel opens sets the pace for this book. Orin’s heat- and nightmare-walled life sets the claustrophobic stage. Don Gately’s no-nonsense hardcore addiction sets the cold, calm, urban humor of this book. And Mario’s inability to get why people are so closed off tugs at the heart of this very American story.
And you’ve glimpsed bits of that now. I do hope you stay with us to see more.
I know many people can’t find the rhythm until at least page 300. I get that. I hope you don’t give up. Because let me say this: it’s so worth it. If you felt at all compelled by that claustrophobia and frustration and humor and heart…those return. Over and over, and in deliberate rhythms. They return. It gets funnier. It gets more claustrophobic. It gets more frustrating. It gets more confusing. It gets more clear. And then less clear. And so, so, so terrible.
And Mario is there. Just throbbing with insistent questions about real human emotion, as he did this week with his question about his mom’s reaction to his dad’s death.
Of course, we all find in good books different characters and scenes pulling us in remarkable ways. Just as I’ve found with rereading books from when I was younger…I’ve gone from identifying with the bookish young Hal to identifying with the Moms. I’ve gone from absolutely loathing—and I mean really hating—the Erdedy waiting for pot scene, to noticing how universal is his self-loathing borne of thinking that what he wants is exactly what he shouldn’t. That we often turn against ourselves and punish ourselves and really hate ourselves for our desires. Maybe it’s just being raised Catholic, but that seems a rather universal external-insidiously-colonizing-internal unreasonable level of expectation right there.
Who knew that one week in I’d have a new empathy for Erdedy or a renewed adoration for Hal as a brother? Who knew that I would roll my eyes at Hal, annoyed by his dictionary quoting and secret-high addiction?
Not me. But that’s the proof of a great book…to be able to find something new about the text and about yourself, with each read.
Glad to be here reading with all of you. What did you find about yourself or about the text that surprised you this week?
I first read Infinite Jest in 1996. I loved it.
I was 20 and studying for my undergraduate degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. Infinite Jest had such an impact on me that by March 1997 I had created a website celebrating David Foster Wallace, The Howling Fantods, and I reported on everything I could find about his writing.
Fast forward to 2009 and I’d read Infinite Jest four times and claimed (during 2009’s Infinite Summer) that I had stopped counting. But I hadn’t stopped counting. I was just kind of worried that I couldn’t shake this book. That it had too great a hold over me. That I had succumbed to some of the themes that Wallace, through Infinite Jest, was urging readers to… avoid.
I decided to stop re-reading. Cold turkey.
Last year, 2015, I picked Infinite Jest up again. My brother and a close friend were reading it and I wanted to be able to read along and discuss it if they wanted to. But along the way something else happened:
I’d forgotten how funny it was.
I’d forgotten how it relied on me to work – to attend – to unearth its rewards.
I’d forgotten that I grew up while reading it.
I’d forgotten how it changed me.
I’d forgotten how it helped me.
Without warning the Infinite Jest clichés flooded in as I found myself just as immersed as during previous reads:
“Infinite Jest changed the way I think about the world and other human beings.”
“I connect more easily with people and better understand how they think and feel.”
“I can just talk to someone else who has read Infinite Jest and we… connect.”
“I’ve made so many friends – across the globe – since reading this novel.”
“Infinite Jest feels just like the voice in MY head.”
“It was challenging but I just kept at it, every day, one day at a time, and I shared it with others, and I got through it. I got through it.”
No doubt many of you joining Infinite Winter this year will have already stumbled across some variations of these in the pieces already shared here on the blog. If you’re joining us so that you can read again with a crowd I’m sure that some of these clichés have floated through your minds, or at the very least you’ve heard someone else express one or more of them when discussing this novel.
I even suspect some of you out there are groaning because here they are being repeated again.
But please don’t resist them.
Because at their hearts clichés are also truths. And the clichés at the heart of Infinite Jest are beautiful.
And if you let them… they will change you.
Nick Maniatis is the owner of the David Foster Wallace web resource, The Howling Fantods, that has been dedicated to promoting the works of David Foster Wallace since 1997. He lives in Canberra, Australia, and teaches high school English. You can find him on twitter @nick_maniatis.
I met Infinite Jest at City Lights on a trip to San Francisco in 2007. It was purely an economic purchase; the 10th anniversary edition had a cover price $10 and seemed a bargain for so many pages. I was already buying a bigger suitcase to take home all of my thrift store finds, so the heft didn’t phase me at all.
I read it over a period of maybe three months, and when I finished, I immediately turned back to page one and started over again.
For my third and fourth readings, I kept a notebook, writing down words to look up, tracking subsidized time to try and place this world in my own. My notebook filled with exclamation points as the pieces aligned.
For my fifth time in 2014, I wanted to share the experience with others, and, using the original Infinite Summer reading schedule, launched infinitesummeryyc – a local online reading club encouraging other Calgarians to join me. Going through the process of hosting a reading club that required weekly recaps from yrstruly solidified for me the greatest pleasure that comes from reading Infinite Jest – watching the balletic confluence of worlds unite.
Much is made of the themes of Infinite Jest; of family, identity, addiction, and the desperate need to feel understood, to have a place. All of these are the hook that kept me connected to the novel on the first read, even when I didn’t understand exactly what was transpiring.
More has been made of the narrative structure, the new use of language, the voices that DFW effortlessly captured. The pathos, the humor, the heart-stricken grief. The lark of the endnotes that send you careening back and forth. These are the reasons I read the book with the dumbest of grins on my face.
But what has made me an archaeologist of the book, why I am returning for the sixth time, is the depth of the connective tissues – the pointed collisions, the stunningly significant plot points seemingly dropped into the middle of paragraphs with no fan fare. When they are purposefully, boldly cinematic (see Gately, driving Pat’s car, kicking up the cup on the street that is the beginning of the end of the Antitoi Bros) they take my breath away. When the filmography of JOI is revealed to hold so much historical information I am thrilled to be rewarded by the close reading. It is this structural magnificence that I believe is often overlooked, if only because the reveal of how deep and delightful it is takes levels of re-reads (or one seriously intense first read, which would be beyond my ken).
I was able to visit the DFW archives at the University of Texas during SxSW in 2011. They had lined the room with tables and had laid out a small portion of the collection: student newspaper columns, self help books with layers and layers of color coded notes in the margins, letters back and forth from editors, and a handwritten first draft of Infinite Jest. Part of me expected to see a complex system that I always assumed DFW must have kept intact to keep tabs on this spiraling world. I imagined it like a detective’s “theory wall” in a movie – all red string, post it notes, maps with pins in it, and grainy black and white photos. Of course, nothing like that was there, just a HANDWRITTEN draft, where pen follows pen and each piece is laid with the sort of intent that comes from knowing exactly where you are going. I am sure Wallace’s process fell somewhere in the middle, and really, I’m not too eager to peek behind the curtain, because Infinite Jest is the most complete world and world view I have ever come across in a novel. I don’t need to know how he did it. I just am fulfilled because it is.
Don Gately forever.
Johanna Schwartz (@janedoughnut) is the grown up version of her nerdy kid self. She helps cooler people make cool things happen by writing grants and organizing stuff. She tears up every time she watches the Decemberists’ “Calamity Song” video.
Why have I joined this collective effort to read a book I hate? Basically, Copenhagen. Not the cosmopolitan Danish city, the chewing tobacco.
Years ago, I became an instant pariah at a party of Johnnys — graduates of St. John’s College in Santa Fe — when I let slip that I had never read James Joyce’s Ulysses to my short, intimidating friend, Julia.
“But I’ve always wanted to,” I mewled. “I’ve read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist…”
“Ha! You’ve got Ulysses envy,” she barked as the mob pressed in, mocking at the foot of my literary Golgotha.
Never again. I vowed to read the novel as I would run a marathon or climb a mountain, one step at a time. I took Ulysses on the bus to and from my job covering the Colorado legislature, never reading more than 10 pages at a sitting, and soon stopped trying to read my concordance on the down-low. It worked. I read the final 140 pages in a heaving rush, consuming Molly Bloom’s monologue while fat raindrops soaked the pages.
I applied the technique to other, allegedly (or truly) difficult books, including Lowry’s Under the Volcano, The Brothers Karamazov, Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! and it worked every time. Some of those toughies are among my favorites (and some weren’t worth it).
Then along came this do-rag’d hipster wearing gold-rim glasses and sporting an impressive ability to trick self-important intellectuals into thinking Infinite Jest was something other than self-absorbed, lookit-me, Amherstian bamboozlement. The guy was smart, laughing all the way to the cushy lecturing job.
And on Wallace, my Tough Text Technique® wasn’t working. Fucker. I hated him and told people his stupid book was the worst kind of patronizing post-modern pabulum. I sold it. Then bought it again. Then failed. Sold. Bought. Failed. Repeat. Dammit.
Then DFW went and killed himself in 2008 and much to my irritation I learned we had a few problems in common, including a history of drug and alcohol issues, depression, and Copenhagen, the “tobacco” product (is it, really?) you stuff between your lower lip and gum. Wallace never could stop using Cope. Just like my best friend, also now dead, who happened to be my younger brother.
I couldn’t hate Wallace any more; we were bound by nicotine. Sometimes I imagined the three of us driving across US 50 in Nevada (“The Loneliest Highway in America”) in my brother’s 1974 Toyota “Landpuppy,” chewing until our mouths were raw and poisoned and talking, considering lobsters, endlessly talking…
But I still hated IJ.
Miraculously, and not without considerable struggle, I put that shit down forever in 2009. I’m still an addict — if you forcibly stuffed my lip, I’d be quivering at the Conoco tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., aching for my fix — but I don’t do nicotine and never will again.
And if I can pull that off, then surely I can finish IJ, with the help of Infinite Winter. But I’m warning you: the first person who starts talking about Proust gets a tube sock full of woodscrews across the forehead.
Clay Bonnyman Evans is a freelance writer who loves critters, running, surfing and hiking. His checkered college career was interrupted by a six-year stint working as a cowboy around the West, after which he continued his descent on the social ladder working as a journalist for more than 20 years. He’s on Twitter @claybonnyman
Have you ever felt like you were late to a party you didn’t know was happening? That’s how I felt the first time I heard about David Foster Wallace.
I was a few months from starting my second year as a writing and literature professor and planning to teach an Introduction to Literature course for the first time.
Most of the class is poetry, drama, and short fiction, but I wanted to include a novel. I felt a lot of pressure in choosing this novel. How do you decide what single work will be the only book many students read for a while?
I wanted it to hook them. I felt pressure to choose a classic. At the time, I hadn’t read a lot of classics, but I thought I could prepare to teach anything. I just wanted to do right by my students.
So naturally I did what every self-respecting, educated person does before teaching a new class: I polled my Facebook friends.
The feedback was great. Friends recommended everything from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. And just like most of your Facebook friends, I listened to none of it.
But I’ll never forget one friend said, “Infinite Jest, they’ll never forgive you.”
And that was that. I had never heard of David Foster Wallace.
I ordered the book on the spot.
Sure, my friend was kidding, or at least I think he was kidding, but much like you probably were, I was intrigued by the thousand-page potential of this novel, and more pointedly, the idea that my students might never forgive me for assigning it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have opened this book and stared at the first page.
I wasn’t ready. When you’re young, the grand or the infinite seems so daunting.
Instead, I started to learn more about David Foster Wallace. I’d read articles and watch interviews. I loved the idea of international stardom as an author. Only a handful of authors ever achieve this.
I listened to his commencement speech, “This is Water,” at Kenyon College, and you’ll be pleased to know, my students are assigned this in conjunction with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”
I’ve read and shared many of Wallace’s quotes, enough to know this would sicken the late author.
Like many of you, I’m intoxicated with the idea of David Foster Wallace. I’m even simulating understanding him. I’ve even bought a copy of Infinite Jest for a handful of my friends, hoping we could read it together.
But when you’re not ready, you’re not ready. There’s no use faking it.
And I wasn’t ready.
I’m not really ready now, but there’s nothing like committing socially to do what you lack the gumption to do on your own. Maybe this time it’ll take. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I read the novel years ago and assigned it to that class. My students probably would have despised me.
Maybe, but if I don’t read this novel, I will never forgive myself.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the design studio for a moment. For a book as celebrated as Infinite Jest, it took quite some time for its jackets and covers to catch up. Mr. Wallace apparently loathed the jacket for the hardcover edition, telling David Lipsky that it looked like the American Airlines safety booklet. “The cloud system,” he said, “is almost identical.”
Original paperback designer Elizabeth Van Itallie and 10th anniversary designer Keith Hayes retained the cloud imagery and made some strong improvements along the way. With each new design, we see fewer clouds. The hardcover design that Wallace disliked is stuffed with them; by the time we get to Mr. Hayes’ design, there’s but one. The typography too becomes bolder and more meaningful; the torqued, off-the-canvas title text of the current in-print design suggests infinity much more successfully than past editions have. The Hayes design is the queen of the cloud covers.
Book design fans may know there’s a new design forthcoming from Little, Brown to mark the twentieth anniversary of Infinite Jest’s publication. The sky has cleared and we’re in new, amusing-ourselves-to-death territory:
I haven’t been able to dig up anything on what Mr. Wallace thought about the Van Itallie and Hayes designs, and sadly, he’s got nothing to say about Mr. Walsh’s effort. But we do know Mr. Wallace did attempt to art-direct the design of Infinite Jest, and that he had at least two photo suggestions:
1. He wanted to use a specific photograph of Fritz Lang directing the cast of Metropolis. Nick Greene at Mental Floss wonders if it’s this one:
2. Mr. Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch, said this in an interview with The Millions:
“For Infinite Jest he proposed using a photo of a giant modern sculpture made of industrial trash—an interesting idea, but one that our creative director felt was too subtle and detailed to work as a cover image.”
As I begin to read Infinite Jest for the first time, I’m dying to know why Mr. Wallace suggested these photos. I’m looking forward to the images that pop into my head. And I’d love to know what pops into yours.
You never forget your first time: the awkward fumbling of where to put your hands while flipping back and forth from the front to the back, back to the front, trying to concentrate and focus on what’s happening without losing momentum, and also take it all in and retain what’s happening because it’s all so overwhelming but you don’t want to forget any of it. You keep stopping to take notes because you can’t get through it all at once, but you know you can’t stop either. It will go on for weeks, your energy ebbing and flowing, but eventually the effort is worth it and you can finally say you have read all of Infinite Jest and it was wonderful.
When I remember the first time I read Infinite Jest there are two things that come to mind immediately: the unique physical experience of reading the novel, and the value of reading it with a group thanks to the Infinite Summer community of 2009. Now that the prospect of that community experience is being revised with Infinite Winter, I can’t wait to start the journey all over again as I get my first chance to read the novel for the second time.
Making my way through this novel the first time required real work I wasn’t prepared for, both mental and physical, and it needed a routine and a support system to keep me going when the density of the story or the text slowed me down. That’s exactly what the blog posts and comments and community of Infinite Winter will provide; if reading Infinite Jest is like climbing K2, the participants of this community are the sherpas and support team getting you to the summit. You still need to be the one moving yourself up the mountain one step at a time, but you won’t be doing it alone.
In fact, I think it’s the complexity of the book, and the mechanics involved in reading it, that actually make it such a great reading experience.Infinite Jest requires action on the part of the reader to keep up with the hundreds of Notes and Errata footnoted throughout the text. Many of those notes are practically short stories in themselves with their own subnotations (looking at you, footnote #110!), building into a meta-commentary within the primary and secondary text that you interact with as you flip between them. It continuously changed and evolved how I related to the story, the mind of the characters, and the mind of the author himself, and exploded how I participated with the novel as a reader in ways that no other book I’ve read could do. Even when it was a difficult read, it was difficult in a very satisfying way.
In fact, I think David Foster Wallace has all but said that this physical interaction with the book was an intentional part of the reading experience, and it’s a big part of why I personally recommend you get yourself a copy of the paperback (the 10th anniversary edition is still available for about $14) if you haven’t read this before. You can get a Kindle edition, which has the advantage of being searchable, but completely changes the experience.
No matter your format, I strongly suggest also having a few other tools on hand, starting with a dictionary; David Foster Wallace loved obscure words like “anhedonia” and “cycloid” and you really do need to know what they mean to understand a sentence where they’re used.
Next, if you’re using a printed edition, get yourself a small stack of those little yellow sticky notes, and use one of them to mark the page where the “Notes and Errata” section begins. You’re going to be flipping back and forth to that section repeatedly and it’s helpful to know how to find them. Then have two standard bookmarks ready – one to mark your place in the novel as usual, and a second bookmark to mark your place in the annotations. With this mise-en-place complete, you are ready to begin.
I’m returning to my paperback edition for this #InfWin read, and I’m looking forward to encountering all the marginalia and annotations I wrote in my copy of the book the first time. Flipping through it I can see a couple places where I marked out the parts echoing Shakespeare, my scribbled definitions for new vocabulary words, and tons of underlined passages; I wrote just “Whoa” in the margin on pages 488 and 694, and I can’t wait to understand why again.
I’ve got my pencils sharpened, a fresh pile of sticky notes, and my dictionary app is up to date. I’m ready to start reading through the cold months ahead, and I can’t wait to discover what new ways Infinite Jest may change me all over again. I hope it does the same for you. Welcome to Infinite Winter!
Dave Cameron (@davecameron) is a higher ed web content strategist and avid reader in Ithaca, NY – the birthplace of David Foster Wallace. He writes regularly about trying to be a better human at dave-cameron.com.