Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Supposedly Fun Thing that's Actually Really Fun

I am a bit frustrated at work these past few days, dealing with some people who are, let's just say, difficult. I would love to have a big rant about this, but I am aware that public rants about professional issues can sometimes be a little bit harmful to one's career development, so I will keep the details to myself.

Instead, I'll tell you about a little side project I have going on, along with supposedly a couple thousand people around the world. Infinite Summer is a three-month long project in which people read and discuss the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's a three-month-long project because the book is more than 1,000 pages long, including many many endnotes, some of which refer to other endnotes or have endnotes of their own.

I first heard of DFW when I met Nate; he (Wallace) is his (Nate's) favorite author. I'm pretty sure it was on one of the very first times we went out that he told me about IJ and its notes, the reading of which is essential to understanding the novel. I remember specifically that he talked about one particular endnote, an eight-page filmography of one of the book's characters. He said it seems kind of excessive but turns out to be really important. Intriguing!

Then last September David Foster Wallace killed himself in his home in California. Like lots of fans, Nate was very sad to hear of his death, and set about collecting as many non-published works as the internet could provide (he already owned all the published works.) It's unfortunate that a tragic death can create a whole new wave of fans for a writer or artist, but it is so. I read a few of his "easier" non-fiction pieces, including A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (about a luxury cruise) and Consider the Lobster (about Maine's annual Lobster Fest.) With a writing style prone to endlessly contorted sentences, detailed reference from everything from pop culture to linguistics to biochemistry, reading his works is both challenging and frustrating, but for these same reasons is also very rewarding.

But so anyway, being away from boyfriend and family and friends, living in a quasi-nunnery in France with no money and no TV, as it turns out is a situation that's very conducive to reading a complex and massive novel like Infinite Jest. I'm currently on around page 800, but when the Infinite Summer project started up on June 21, I doubled back to start again from the beginning, reading a first and second time simultaneously to keep up with my own schedule but also participate in the scheduled and spoiler-limited Infinite Summer forums. This means I am using four bookmarks (two for text, two for endnotes) and it means that I will have plenty of reading material for the rest of the summer, including this weekend, when I'm leading a group on a weekend excursion. And I'm not going to go into detail on why, but let's just say at the end of each long day I'll be glad to retreat to my room and read in solitude.