Am I the only one who still can’t get into this book? Reading it is an odd experience… I’ll hit something that really makes sense to me, or touches me or amazes me, and then I’m back into the detailed descriptions of various drugs’ names and I’m lost again.
I can’t help feeling like the jest is on me. Is this actually deep and brilliant and insightful and I’m simply missing it, or am I supposed to pretend that I get it?
At the moment, I feel about this book like I feel about scrubbing the kitchen floor… I know I should, and I’ll be happy when I do, but I don’t want to.
Needless to say with that attitude, I am still behind. I am going to start reading it at lunch every day to make sure that I get caught up at some point, but the “mud” of what feels to me to be utterly unnecessary is dragging me down.
Am I in this mud alone?
I can kind of feel your pain. You know what helps for me, sometimes, at times like this? If I get mired deep in a section of a book and I’m just not understanding it, or even worse, not caring about it — say it’s a rambling disquisition on drug names, or like maybe a 14-page footnote on the politics of Quebec separatism — I’ll just stop reading for a day, and instead of reading what I’ll do is research, deeply, whatever it is that’s giving me difficulties. I’ll Wikipedia the bejeezus out of Quebec history, and follow every obscure-ass reference down whatever rabbit hole it leads. For instance, I’ll start at the fictional Fils de Montcalm and learn that this refers to the historical Louis Joseph Montcalm Gozon de Saint Veran (I’d kill for a name like that, incidentally), and I’ll read this dude’s bio and see if it rings any bells in the book I’m reading. Sometimes this is totally fruitless, and other times it leads to brain-splitting insights that upend certain notions I’ve held about the book or its ideas or characters. Regardless, I find that the process of research, of making previously unmade connections between fiction and reality, is so rewarding that in a day or two I’m all fired up and ready to jump back in the book again. And better yet, I’ll be a better-education person than when I started. Although naturally, what rattles my readerly sabers may not rattle yours…
Good to hear from you, Heather. I was starting to get lonely here. 🙂 I don’t really know what to say about the slog. It may be just as Infinitedetox says, that it’s just a matter of what rattles your particular saber. I’m finding this read to be engrossing and rewarding. Maybe if you do a little reading ahead (e.g. find a section somebody has raved about and read that), you’ll find it sufficiently motivating to get you through the current part of your slog.
Paper grading has put be behind (I’m at page 248 right now), but I’m happy to be back in. There are passages here and there that slow me down, but that’s the same in any novel–and some novels are composed of little else. The good passages are enough to get me through the ones that don’t speak to me directly.
Plus, a lot of the seemingly throw-off stuff comes back around. I’m starting to see more and more of that sort of thing.
In 1997 I bought I.J for 3 very close friends, who I thought would simply love this book (as I did). They really didn’t geddit and certainly didn’t finish it. It just isn’t for everyone – in fact, it probably is only interesting to a minority of people.
In ’97, I felt quite alone reading this book. Literary friends enjoyed that I enjoyed the book, but it was not for them. The thing I love about Infinite Summer is that I am surrounded by people of well, a similar temperament and disposition in relation to an experience.
Okay, I’m slogging, too, at times. And going off to deeply research the book is not gonna do it for me, because, frankly, I’m a slow reader with other things going on in my life besides this book. So my strategy is to take some of the immensely detailed but not-very-interesting parts as set dressing. In other words, when you’re watching a movie, let’s say, you see someone’s apartment for the first time and maybe they have walls full of bookshelves. Do you worry about what all the book titles are? No. You think, okay, this is a bookish character. Maybe there’s a close-up of the character looking for a certain title, finding it and pulling it off the shelf, and you’ll certainly hang on to that in your memory. But in general, a lot of what you see in that apartment is just to make the character seem like a real person.
In the same way, I think DFW has created an immensely detailed world — and some very obsessive people who inhabit it. To get a sense for that world, and to get a feel for the minds inside it, DFW pans his authorly camera around, catching more details than, let’s be frank, many of us have the stomach for. So it’s your choice: do you take in every bit of it, Keyser Soze-style, squirreling it away in your memory, terrified of missing some important clue? Or do you let some of it become the background noise of the book, focusing on whatever really catches your eye?
My thoughts on how to read books like this are more like Joel’s than infinitedetox’s. I think in commercial fiction, there’s an expectation about what’s important, both in the sense that there are things you expect the author to tell you, and that if the author tells you something, it must be important.
Infinite Jest and other literary novels can violate your expectations in both directions. I’m not sure how many characters were even in the room in the first scene of the novel, let alone details like what their names and roles are. This seems like basic information most authors would want to clearly give you, and yet Wallace deliberately makes it hard to figure out.
My response to this is to not put too much effort into figuring things out. I figure that if it’s really important, Wallace will make it obvious. If it’s not obvious, it must not be important, even if normal reader expectations are that it should be important.
Likewise, various lists of things (drugs, Himself’s movies, the sequence of years of Subsidized Time) are very dense information that isn’t important, and it can be necessary to shrug it off in order to stay focused on the book as a whole. The only tricky thing here is that things can be more important than they first appear, but I still hold to the idea that if it’s really important, it will be obvious.
I’m not recommending skimming or skipping stuff, but I think part of my reading style is to not spend too much time trying to figure stuff out and trying to retain every detail. Being overly concerned with understanding what’s going on seems like an invitation to get bogged down in the reading.
I’m reading Infinite Jest for the first time and loving it, so it’s possible I’m not in a position to give advice to people who are struggling. But my approach to the book is allowing me to enjoy it, so maybe it will work for other readers as well.
Maybe I’m loving the AA portion too much, but:
They can’t kick you out, so keep it coming. 🙂
It’s both for me, depending upon my mood. Sometimes, when I’m reading, I enjoy tracking down every lead, looking up every ten-dollar word, tracking down every literary or cultural allusion, reading like some sort of detective trying to solve a case. Other times, I resist the temptation to go down every rabbit hole and just read, piecing together whatever I can from context and intuition.
It’s become clear to me that this is a book, assuming I finish it, that will be on my list of books to re-read at some point in the future. I’m sure I’m missing plenty of things, even though I’m happy with what I’m finding.