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.