Infinite Summer: 5 things I’ve learned trying to “digest” Infinite Jest

This summer I made a commitment to David Foster Wallace.  I’ve agreed to spend my summer of 2017 devoted to completing Infinite Jest, end notes and all.  Even though I have the support of my aunt and sister who are also spending their summers immersed in this monster of a novel, it has proven to be a considerable challenge.


We’ve been reading since June 1st and we’re now hitting around page 200 and, boy, have I learned a lot:

  1. Pace yourself!  This novel is dense. I’ve read my fair share of “difficult” reads but those were mostly in college with a tremendous amount of support from peers, not to mention a final grade on the line.  Infinite Jest requires an excessive amount of time.  I’ve learned to not be discouraged by the additional time I spend on a page.
  2. You’re not going to understand everything.  Whether it’s in the first 50 pages or the first 500 pages, you’re going to hit a point where things don’t make much sense. I’m not exactly sure where I hit my first, “Wait, what just happened” moment, but it was definitely early on.  At first I steered clear of the internet – determined to finish this without help.  I quickly abandoned that mentality and found a few helpful blogs and articles.  I’ll admit, it felt good to know that I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
  3. Drugs.  Addiction to drugs is a major theme throughout the novel.  And while Foster usually paints it in a darkly humorous way there’s still a lot of truth to these characters’ additions to drugs.
  4. Addiction. Not all addicts are drug addicts.  I found myself amazed at the numerous things people can be addicted to, for example: television.  It’s truly eye-opening to see how intense these addictions can become.
  5. Empathy.  There is a moment in the novel (I won’t reveal when) that makes me completely question empathy and my perspective on it.  Growing up and well into adulthood, I’ve tried to, “put myself in other’s shoes.”  But maybe, just maybe, there are moments in life when we shouldn’t do that.  Maybe there are times that we need to admit to others that we have no fucking clue what they are going through and just listen, offer what advice we can as a complete outsider, let them be emotional – let them be human, and not pity them.

While some of these lessons are for a reader to simply get through a novel, it’s clear that Wallace is teaching us much more than being an active reader.  I’m looking forward to unpacking more on Wallace’s perspective of addiction and drugs.  And I’m certain that he will push my comfort zones and force me to take a closer look at my opinions.  As strange as it may sound, I’m actually excited to have my beliefs challenged.  I’ll learn as much about myself as I do about the characters.


Comment Question: Have you ever read something that was incredibly difficult?  If so, what?

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