An "Infinite Summer," yes, but the clock's ticking
Here's how the math looked when Infinite Summer, an online effort to get as many people as possible to read David Foster Wallace's magnum opus, "Infinite Jest," from June 21 to
August 21 September 22, got started: 1000 pages divided by 92 days = 75 pages a week. "No sweat," the organizers concluded, optimistically.
Well, June 21 has come and gone and the math is working against you. The sweat quotient has increased markedly. But it's not too late, and, what's more, if you still want to tackle Wallace's daunting text (the very opposite of the stereotypical beach read), you can draw on a surprisingly rich ecosystem that has sprung up around Infinite Summer: bloggers (including non-literary policy types like Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein), Twitterers, Facebook addicts, and Tumblrs alike are all urging one another on through DFW's doorstop of a book, trading thoughts as they go about its characters, structure, and those (in)famous proliferating and involuted footnotes.
Infinite Summer is the brainchild of Matthew Baldwin, a contributing writer to The Morning News and founder of the National Novel Reading Month. For that effort, Baldwin recruited friends (virtual and otherwise) to conquer a masterpiece each November -- "Catch-22" and "Lolita," for example. "Infinite Jest," he concluded, needed not a month but a full season.
Infinitesummer.org serves as home base for the techno-literary experiment, where Baldwin and three co-conspirators have been posting their own theories about the novel plus handy character i.d.'s and chapter summaries.
There are a few dissenters: Scott Eric Kaufman, at The Valve, said the project was "a little morbid," given DFW's suicide. And signal-to-noise is an issue for anyone sifting through all the commentary it has inspired. (Ezra Klein: "I'm a blogger. I like to get to the point. Wallace doesn't." Noted!)
Still, in an interview with the L.A. Times blog Jacket Copy, Baldwin offered a penetrating explanation of how reading the book communally might help him, and others too:
One thing I am already noticing about "Infinite Jest," even 60 pages in, is that it is an intensely claustrophobic novel. Much of the action takes place in small apartments, hospital wards and in the minds of the various protagonists. It's so overwhelming that it would be easy to close the novel with a shudder and never return. I think the knowledge that there are thousands of folks out there reading concurrently goes a long way toward leavening those feelings.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.
I need a light book for summer reading. I'm reading the Lisle letters, but that can be heavy. It's six volumes of letters by Lord Lisle, cousin to Henry VIII. Something funny would be fine. I dislike trajedy, if I want that I'll just look at life, in and off the news.