Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remember When You Spilled Coke All Over Your Blouse?

By Kevin Guilfoile

A few weeks ago, my friend Matthew Baldwin called. He wanted to know if I had ever read the novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

It was a question loaded with guilt and shame for me. Infinite Jest came out when I was still in my twenties, when I considered myself at the edge of all things literary. I remember the hype that preceded the publication of IJ, my anticipation as the release date neared. I remember going to the bookstore to buy it. I remember how excited I was when I spotted the cover. I recall taking it off the shelf, opening to a random page.

I remember thinking, "This looks hard."

I didn't buy it that day, obviously. Over the years I became a fan of David Foster Wallace, mostly through his essays and non-fiction. I've recommended Everything and More, his book on the history of the concept of infinity. I was saddened last year when I heard that he had died. But I never read his most famous novel and when Infinite Jest comes up in conversation, I am always mildly embarrassed.

But Matthew had a cure for all that, which he called Infinite Summer. His plan was to put together a small crew of four people including himself who would read Infinite Jest between June and September and comment each week as they went along. He would also solicit essays from people who love the novel, who hate the novel, people who knew David Foster Wallace, people who were experts on the book. And, of course, he would invite anyone who was game to read along with us.

Matthew was offering me a way out of my shame. I didn't hesitate to say yes.

And it looks like we'll have company. In just one week the Facebook group for Infinite Summer has notched over 1,300 members and the project already has more than a thousand followers on Twitter. There is a renewed and rigorous discussion over at Metafilter. There are corporate and media sponsors. It's going to be a whole lot of fun.

So if you've ever wanted to tackle Infinite Jest but just couldn't quite find the motivation, please join us starting June 21. There will be no better time but this summer.

In the meantime, though, I wonder if any of you have a book that got away. A novel that you've always meant to read and have always felt a little bad that you never got around to it. A book that taunts you from your bookshelf.

Admitting it is the first step toward reading it.

Follow Kevin on Twitter.


abbourgoin said...

I am a huge fan of F Scott Fitzgerald and have read all of his books except for one...I am embarassed to say this because it is not a hard read like INFINITE JEST but, since admission is the first step to rehabilitation, here goes. I have yet to read Fitzgerald's first book THIS SIDE OF PARADISE. I have read about 50 pages each time I start but for some reason I never finish. Someday, maybe even this June, I will finish it.

Marcus Sakey said...

You're in for a treat, Kevin. I love that book. I actually read it for the third time when he died last year.

If I can suggest, try not to get too caught up in puzzling it out like a riddle. Having spent a lot of time doing just that, I've come to believe that's the wrong way to go about it. Wallace pretty blatantly contradicts almost every assertion he makes, leaves threads unknotted, and flat-out plays with your heart. But it's all for a good cause, and for my money, it's one of the most electrifying reading experiences you'll ever have.


steve z. said...

The first would be The Brothers Karamazov. I was on a big Dostoevsky kick when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I read many of his works but not that that one... Then, about fifteen years ago, I bought a copy. I still haven't picked it up off the bookshelf. What am I afraid of? The length? The big ideas that are found in so many great 19th century novels and certainly must be there in this one? Not sure...

The other one would be Take a Murder, Darling, a pulp novel ("A brand new Shell Scott caper!" as the cover says) by Richard Prather. A friend gave it to me several years ago and mentions Prather sometimes, so I should read it. It's probably not the length (160 pages) or big ideas, so I should just pick it up and crack it open, because even though I thanked him for it, I still haven't read it and thus feel a little guilty.

Scout said...

Moby Dick. A writer's writer's book, right? Yet somehow still unopened.

Diane said...

I have yet to read On the Origin of Species. I'm a grad student in evolutionary biology. Yeah, I should get to it one of these days.

Gave up on Infinite Jest somewhere around the 25% point, though that was years ago. Maybe I'll tackle it again someday.