HOW TO READ INFINITE JEST, IN SIX EASY STEPS
(inspired in part by this post)
Step 1: Ignore this book for many, many years. Cultivate a slightly superior attitude towards hardcore DFW fans, based on their pretentiousness and bandannas. (Note: this attitude can also be reused when dealing with Joyce, Proust, and Murakami.) Convince yourself that this is probably an overly-intellectual and deeply formalist novel that exists only so people can claim to have read it when they try to impress you with their erudition.
Step 2: Eventually, after a friend has made you read This Is Water and you actually liked it, make noises about reading some of his essays, or possibly The Broom of the System. Look them up in the library when you think of it; notice that they’re all on hold, and forget about it again for six months to a year.
Step 3: Get recommended Infinite Jest three times in one week, and note that another friend has publicly declared that they will read it for the first time. Cave. Agree to read it with said friend. Declare a Finish-By date. Start reading three weeks later than you said you would.
Step 4: Get to Footnote 24 and have a crisis of faith. Email/text/call everyone you’ve ever met who has read this book and demand to know whether you actually have to read all of the footnotes. Be told repeatedly that yes, in fact, you do. Read Footnote 24 all the way through and, about halfway, suddenly find yourself enjoying it, even though you are still half-convinced that there is no way this can actually be genuinely necessary. Complain to your friends that no one ever told you this was a sci-fi novel; be assured that they did, in fact, but you were too busy cultivating the aforementioned attitude.
Step 5: Fall head over heels in love with Infinite Jest. Be amazed at how funny, how conversational, how engaging, how absolutely accessible a book it is whilst still being an intense emotional rollercoaster of 900+ pages (not including the weird footnotes). Have two bookmarks but keep forgetting to put the one for the footnotes back in where it should go; be very frustrated about this for about a week. Talk about how much you’re enjoying it with anyone who will listen. Forswear the attitude.
Step 6: Finish Infinite Jest. Get to the last page and lose your shit. Email/text/call/hunt down on the street everyone you’ve ever met who has read this book and demand to know what the hell has happened, and if you’re right about Tooty. Debate the relative merits of Hal vs. Gately, and the creepiness factors of the assassins des fauteuils rollents, Charles Tavis, and Steeply. Write a how-to about the experience. Formulate strategies for converting the unconverted.
Optional: buy an Enfield Academy t-shirt.
Well done. The Rumpus also recommends this read in a similar way. Meanwhile, others that desire to join the ranks of the initiated could do worse than using InfiniteSummer.org as a resource/companion, this IJ-design tumblr to celebrate your fandom, and this guide to walk you through the rest of the DFW oeuvre.There’s no way of knowing what his legacy is but I know he changed prose. And prose gets changed not that often in a century. Hemingway changed prose, so did Salinger and Nabokov. David changed it too. He did an amazing thing. One the things that writing and speech can do is express what we’re thinking one thought at a time. But we think a thousand things at a time, and David found a way to get all that across in a way that’s incredibly true and incredibly entertaining at the same time. He found that junction. I would have liked to have read many more things by him, because he was the one voice I absolutely trusted to make sense of the outside world for me. Anyone that picks up his work for the next 50 years will have their antenna polished and sharpened, and they’ll be receiving many more channels than they were aware of. And that’s great. I think that will probably be his legacy, but what I think we’ll miss is that he won’t be sending out those signals himself. In a sense, he taught you to look at the world the way he did, and then stopped seeing the world that way at all.