Infinite Jesting at Skylight Books September 22

David Foster Wallace on failure:


His Infinite Jest , of course, was no failure, but for those who have tried, but failed, to read this behemoth of a book, who can blame them?  It is like a foreign language.  When it comes to big fat books in general, I break people up in three groups: 1) people who read the book1; 2) people who did not read the book2; and 3) people who pretend to have read the book.3 Infinite Jest warrants a fourth and fifth category: 4)  people who glazed over the footnotes like they were too young to realize that footnotes help!4 not hurt!5 you; and 5) people who took the title to a weird place and read the footnotes, but not really the actual text it annotated.6

Over the summer, Skylight Books7 encouraged and supported a concerted city-wide effort to read Infinite Jest.8 What category these people fall into may or may not be revealed on September 22 at 8pm, when Skylight hosts Infinite Summer’s End David Foster Wallace Celebration to fete those who finished the book (or said they did) and to fondly remember the sadly short life of DFW.   Friends and admirers will be in attendance; cake and cookies will be served; and there will be discounts for books clocking in at over 800 pages.9 Because the film version of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men10 comes out the following week, directed by John Krasinski,11 there may be some movie tie-ins as well.

UPDATE:  Just received confirmation from Skylight that Mr. Krasinski indeed will make an appearance to promote the film.  He’ll read from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,12 talk about the movie, and sign movie posters.  Cookies for everyone!

Infinite Summer’s End David Foster Wallace Celebration
September 22nd at 8pm
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont
Los Feliz

Footnotes follow after the jump…

1 I know of only 3 people who have actually read the entire book.
2 I know considerably more people who claimed to have read the book, but I don’t believe them.  Their Cliff’s Notes rundown of the characters is suspicious – like people who can only explain the story of Moby Dick by analogizing to the characters’ counterparts on The X-Files.a They also mention it in passing, without more detail or excitement.  Look, if you finish Infinite Jest, it’s not like you just read the Stop sign on your way home.  It is an accomplishment about which you brag to everyone with a smile of self-satisfaction.
3 I freely admit that I pretend to have read War and Peace, partly out of shame from not having read it and partly out of my eternal hope that the more often I say it, the faster it will come true.  I love Russian literature – I just read The Master and Margarita, and wow, I’ve been reading so much crappy fictionb that I forgot what good books sound like – but this is one that I just haven’t done.
4 One of the most best footnotes I ever read was from a judge’s order [links to PDF] granting a group of law school professors and lawyers permission to file an amicus brief in support of Scooter Libby back in 2007 when he was being prosecuted for obstruction of justice and perjury (U.S. v. I. Lewis Libby).  The order itself was merely 5 lines long:
…Because the views expressed by the Amici in their brief may assist the Court in addressing the issue raised therein, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion for Leave to File is GRANTED.1
But that footnote was not:
1 It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics’ willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in the Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.
5 This, of course, is a generalization.  Footnotes should not hurt.  Unfortunately, some people like to footnote things not for the sake of disrupting the linearity of text while still maintaining its cohesion, but to show off their ability to refer to things Gilmore Girls-style.
6 I met a slack-jawed academic, incomplete without elbow pads, at a bad party with bad alcohol who insisted that the parallel narrative of Infinite Jest’s footnotes positively is the paradigm of irony in post-modern literature and thus, were what DFW truly intended the reader to digest.  Accordingly, he read the book as if the dominant text was the footnotes.  Some people like to create problems for themselves, and he was one of them.c
7 RIP Lucy the Bookstore Cat, who captured so many hearts by patiently pining over a lonely row of cocktail shrimp after an author reading one evening.  A new Bookstore Cat, Franny, has since taken up residence at Skylight.
8 This project is part of a broader collaboration with similarly adventurous readers called Infinite Summer.  It’s like Oprah’s book club, except it’s just one book, and the book does not end with a rape, murder, female suicide (literal or metaphorical), and/or marriage.
9 (Perhaps tis the season to to re-start the whole War and Peace project.  I will call it The Fall of War and Peace dot org.)
10 I, too, have not decided how I feel about this.
11 John Krasinski’s filmography on the Internet Movie Database may be accessed hereSee also fn. 10, supra.
12 You can hear DFW read from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men here and here.
a Dana Scully nicknamed her father Ahab (not a very flattering nickname, Scully); he nicknamed her Starbuck.  When she inherited a Pomeranian from a psychic who could see people’s deaths, including his own (creepy!), she called it Queequeg.  Queequeg is eaten by a giant crocodile a few very short episodes later.
b This includes you, short story section of The New Yorker.
c Another example would be the first contestant axed from this season’s Top Chef. During the elimination challenge, she chose – chose – to serve seitan.  Why, oh why, make it that much more difficult on yourself?

12 thoughts on “Infinite Jesting at Skylight Books September 22”

  1. This has to be one of the most ambitious blogs I’ve ever read. Well done! And I’m trying to read War & Peace too…next year, hopefully. Did just read a 900+ page book, Shantaram. No footnotes, though.

  2. That’s brilliant. I remember reading a few chapters of my friend’s copy of Infinite Jest about 12 years ago, and liking it very much. I always meant to finish it, or at least continue reading it, but never did. I wish I could go.

  3. I devoured Infinite Jest while I was staying at Fort Mason in 1999, and I’m the kind of jackass that read the book with two bookmarks, one for the book proper and one for the footnotes. I think I’ve tried to read it again on several occasions and failed miserably. You’ve just got to be in the right frame of mind, I guess.

    Nice meta-footnotes in this post. If a post can be a thing of literary beauty, you’ve hit that nail on the head.

  4. I am duly impressed. I have never read Infinite Jest (and, honestly, probably never will,) because I just don’t have the patience for it. This post, on the other hand? Love it.

  5. I read IJ for most of my senior year in high school. I stayed up really late the night before graduation so I could finish it while I was still in high school (care to guess how popular I was?).

    I saw DFW at Skylight when he was promoting Brief Interviews. In line for the booksigning, I got to talking to two students who were also UCLA students like I was, and they were reading IJ for an English class (I remember this well, because I worked in the bookstore, and saw the booklist for that class…there were only 3 books assigned–Infinite Jest, Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon, and DeLillo’s Underworld. All 3 brilliant books, but I think impossible to read those in a 10-week quarter). Somehow, they started wondering why 13 was considered to be an unlucky number. I said they should ask Wallace, that he might know. Sure enough, they did, and while Wallace didn’t know, he suggested that De Lillo’s Ratner’s Star dealt with math and numbers, and he said it might be talked about in there, and even if it wasn’t, it was a great novel. DFW was humble, very kind, and of course, extremely intelligent. I treasure my signed copy of Brief Interviews, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t bring my tattered copy of IJ (with my embarrassing notes written in the margins) for him to sign.

  6. Very creative post! I attempted to read IJ this summer, doubt I will finish reading it by next week, but will probably try to attend for cake and I am a fan of John.

  7. Thanks for the nice words, guys! Lynn, I haven’t read Shantaram – it’s also one of those books that looks at me sadly from its post on the book shelf. Maybe I’ll do the Fall of War and Peace followed by the Shantaram Spring.

    Great story, Evan. I forgot to mention that DFW did a number of readings at Skylight.

  8. Shantaram is a surprisingly quick read – I highly, highly recommend it. Another one is Crimson Petal and the White. Long, but VERY enjoyable. I think I read that one in a week – couldn’t put it down. Have fun!

  9. “Infinite Jest” has been sitting on my shelf for some time, but I have not even cracked it open. Damn you, blue ray. Damn you, movies and reruns that I keep watching over and over on cable. Damn you, Internet and blogs!

  10. please write a book queequeg. you would make us all very happy readers, especially if it were a very very long book (period. unamended declarative statement. no footnote, no qualifiers, no nothing, please thank you.)

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