It’s over 100 degrees where I live right now.
A week ago, I moved to Austin, TX. Before that, I lived in Portland, OR, for five years. In both places, I was/am reading Infinite Jest.
I started reading Infinite Jest with a group of terribly clever people last June. When we were conceptualizing the endeavor, we called it Infinite Summer. Later we discovered that somebody had beaten us to the punch.
After that, the term “Infinite Jesters” was thrown around once or twice. I may or may not have a Google+ circle with that name.
Infinite Jest is an immensely absorbing, maddening book. I had read all of David Foster Wallace’s short fiction and essays beforehand, but they didn’t prepare me for this. It was a relief to sit down every two weeks and hash things out. We sat in a large living room, hunched over our massive paperbacks, and talked. We talked about timelines, footnotes, Hamlet references, the fact that the term “post-modernism” doesn’t really mean anything besides “after modernism”, and whether or not the math and drug use were portrayed accurately. It was the first time since I’d finished school that I got to talk about a book with a bunch of people who wanted to talk about the same book.
I like most kinds of books, but I have a strange, prickly love for long books. Some have suggested that my devotion to long books might be something akin to Stockholm syndrome. I’m not sure that’s it. My problem is that I read too quickly. Slimmer volumes, if I have the time, can be devoured in a day. It’s rare for me to find a book that can hold me for a few weeks. A book that can take me in for months at a time is something remarkable.
The trouble with reading books, though, especially long books, is the loneliness. I read Gravity’s Rainbow on my own two summers ago when I thought that I might like to write my undergraduate thesis about it. I wouldn’t repeat the experience. Solitary reading has its own distinct pleasure, but, when it’s done, melancholy sets in. The book is gone, and there’s nobody around to talk about it with.
Few of us lead lives where we can stand around a water cooler and successfully start a conversation with, “So, have you read the latest Pynchon novel?
The first Portland thing that I’ve started missing in Texas is my book club.
There are many reasons why people so often bond over shared media consumption. It’s not just that it gives you something to talk about besides yourselves. It’s because you have an experience in common.
Everyone’s first exposure to Kathleen Hanna, or Chris Ware, or Satoshi Kon is, of course, individualized and unique. But that moment of discovery and joy and temporary relief of some vague existential loneliness is essentially the same. You know, suddenly, that there are other people out there like you, and they they like this stuff too. It just takes a while to find them.
I miss having a group of people to theorize with, to analyze with, to tear out my hair and rend my garments in frustration with.
I finished Infinite Jest last night, but I’ve convinced myself that I won’t be truly done until I reread the first (and chronologically last) chapter. I’m drawing it out. Not just because it was one of the very last David Foster Wallace books I had left to read. But because this infinite summer will be finitely over, and it will probably be a long time before I can next drink beer and rant about footnote structure with a bunch of people who know exactly, exactly what I’m talking about.