When a book is all consuming
You may have noticed a decrease in the frequency of my posting lately. Yet, I haven’t been reading any less than usual. In fact, I’m currently up to date on my Good Reads goal, having read over 35 books so far this year. The truth is that I’ve been taken hold by book that refusing to let me go and is impacting all my other reading.
In February of this year, a group of us started doing a buddy read of Wallace’s Infinite Jest (you can read more about that endeavor, here). For the past two months we’ve been reading about 60 pages a week and we hope to finish the book in May. I just crossed the halfway point a few days ago.
Infinite Jest has consumed me and the experience has bled into all my other reading. I’ve hated it at times and loved it at other times. I must confess at the beginning, I contemplated giving up because who has the time (when you work full time, are parent to a young child, and have hundreds of other books to read) to spend every minute of your reading life thinking about, and wrapped up in, one book?
Yet throughout this entire experience, I have been in awe of the genius of David Foster Wallace and his ability to create a reading experience unlike any other I have ever experienced. At the mid-way point I can easily say that I love this book with a burning passion because it has challenged me in ways no other book has done.
When reading other books I find myself wanting to whip out the highlighters and sticky tabs and over analyze every word and sentence fragment. I find myself asking ,’what does the author mean when they use the color blue to describe something in a book?’ Then I invariably feel disappointed because the majority of books aren’t like Infinite Jest where every word and phrase takes on meaning relevant to uncovering the overall plot. Most authors use color descriptors (numbers, names, etc) to simply describe something without embedded meaning. When I started IJ I felt resentful of the fact that Wallace was trying to make me work so hard to get through his book. Now I feel resentful and bored by other books when they fail to make me work hard.
I have found other reading so inadequate lately (I typically read multiple books at once) that I’ve taken to reading YA, graphic novels or commercial fiction — books that are not typically the types of books we review here (thus the reason why I have posted fewer book reviews) — simply because I read those sorts of books without expectations for intellectual analysis.
Infinite Jest has also taken over my non-reading life –probably more so for me because I happen to live in the area where the book takes place. I have found myself noticing things around me in my environment that remind me of Infinite Jest and the hundreds of characters. I find myself thinking about DFW every time I see a dumpster or wastebasket, my neighbor’s dog playing with a tennis ball, men in wheelchairs, or whenever I contemplate the myriad of ways in which people pursue happiness.
The genius of this book is my obsession with it parallels the book’s theme of entertainment obsession (more on this if I feel up to the task of attempting a review of this book). I only hope I don’t turn into a giant eyeball (reference here for my fellow IJ buddy readers).
Our reading group will be finishing Infinite Jest in May. I look forward to that time with a mixture of dread and hope. So if you have noticed that things have slowed down here, blame David Foster Wallace.