Finite jesting

In his preface to David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest, editor Dave Eggers warns that the novel will take a month to read. It surprises me not at all that Mr. Eggers reads faster than I do, nor that his vocabulary is considerably larger than mine, as my reading was delightfully interrupted by diving for my dictionary several times every third or fourth paragraph. Given that a Wallace paragraph might extend for ten or twenty pages, my vocabulary may be slightly larger than that of Every Reader to whom the preface is addressed, as a reassurance, as if to say, don’t worry, you too can tuck Infinite Jest into your beach bag for a little light summer reading and not feel stupid reading it! Still, with that sort of warning, maybe the Seattle Public Library system could allow special dispensation beyond their two-week checkout limit? Right up front, without requiring a renewal? Particularly for those of us accustomed to semester-long checkouts? When it is my turn to borrow this book again, I shall begin on page 368, which means I am about a third of the way through this nearly thousand-page tome of our era. It is a book to be read with two bookmarks, one in the usual place, and one in the notes section at the back of the book. When I first started reading, I wished the designer and publisher had chosen to situate the notes as footnotes beneath the text, until I found that some of the notes extend for multiple pages as well. Not to be missed, though. Some of the best stuff is in the notes. I am grateful for their inclusion.

My introduction to Wallace’s work came from hearing D.T. Max on National Public Radio last year, reading from his unfinished novel, whose dry voice seemed to perfectly accord with the dry wit of the author. Had I laughed so hard in recent memory? Have I laughed so hard since? But then, as the daughter of a former Internal Revenue Service agent, perhaps my sense of humor is keenly honed to that particular pitch. Growing up with W-2s and W-4s and 1040s as nightly dinner table conversation probably forever warps one’s sense of humor. A jest that seems to me to tell the joy of living while fully aware of life’s seamy underside, without resorting to the sardonic sneer confused by so many of Wallace’s contemporaries as ironic humor. I breathlessly await its posthumous release from Little, Brown, perhaps later this year, as promised? In the meantime, my full attention and engagement and work of reading shall return to Infinite Jest, once it is my turn to check it out again, its breadth and depth here summarized in haiku:

Infinite Jest tells
tales in spewing monologue
telling our culture

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