Ezra Klein over at A Supposedly Fun Blog had this to say of this week’s milestone:
But my enjoyment of the book is not outpacing my growing frustration with it. I ignore most of the footnotes. If you want to know why I ignore most of the footnotes, check out footnote 216. Yeah, fuck you too, David.
I guess what I would ask is what happens when you run across a word whose precise definition you don’t know (in any book). Do you just skip over it or figure that the context will iron it out? I know I often skip and figure. Good readers (and I’m not claiming to be one — see the comment just prior) will stop and look up the word. When you see an unfamiliar word (e.g. “Coatlicue”) that has an end note saying “No clue” (e.g. note 216), you are being told pretty clearly to go look the word up. I guess the note could say “Hey, you might want to look this up” rather than the more whimsical “No clue,” but then a reader like Ezra would be pissed that Wallace didn’t just include the word’s definition in the note (but he’d be pissed if Wallace did include it because it’d be too much extra information that he (= Klein) doesn’t care about because he’s got TPS reports to file or whatever). The note isn’t a fuck you. It’s an invitation to go outside the boundaries of the text to bring some deeper understanding back into the text. It’s a chance to learn something.
I’m not going to get in as big a funk over this as I did over Avery’s post of a couple of weeks ago. Klein doesn’t have time to commit himself to reading the book, and that’s understandable. I don’t really have the time, frankly (I’m missing lots of Cubs baseball games to read and write about the book). I do wish that naysayers like Klein (who has been disposed to dislike the book from the beginning) and Avery would own some agency (ie, that they have other priorities they rate higher than reading IJ) rather than couching their difficulty with the book in terms of some sort of agency on Wallace’s part (ie, he’s wasting their time and antagonizing them). It’s a little silly. It’s like going to the gym and being frustrated that you have to lift the weights to see any benefit. Sometimes you have to do more than just show up to reap any reward.