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
1818 N. Vermont
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.