[To be said in a Frodo upon Mt. Doom type gasp:] It is…. DONE! It is… ACCOMPLISHED!!
So yeah. I finished it, finally, two nights ago in a two-hour binge session, when I had only ninety pages to go. I definitely feel like I could have finished this a lot quicker if I’d had more time, i.e. wasn’t in full-blown travel-mode. But this is definitely not the kind of book that you can pull out of your bag to read while standing in line at the bank, or riding the bus along bumpy car-sickness inducing read. No, you definitely to allot very specific 1-3 hour periods for special “Infinite Jest” time.
Honestly, the best thing I can say about this book is that as soon as I finished it, the first thing I wanted to do was to reopen the pages at the beginning and start all over again. Even now, I’m already anxious for next summer, when I plan to re-read it. The second-highest compliment I can give it is when I’d finally reached page 800, and my little Horse bookmark (a gift from Jennifer!!) began to get undeniably closer to the 6 of diamonds (my footnote bookmark!), and the realization that the IJ experience would soon be over began to irrefutably sink in– my initial reaction was to feel sad and slightly panicky, as opposed to relieved. “That’s a sign of a good book, isn’t it?” my sister’s friend said when I shared this anxiety with her, “the fact that you’ll be sad when it’s all over.” I agree, I agree, I agree.
So yeah, I love, love, love, LOVED this book. Consider it officially placed on my Favorite Books ever list. This book made me feel like I became a better reader, just by reading it. This book made me feel like I became a better person. I feel like I understand more about the nature of addiction, human desire and loneliness than I did before reading it. In my experience, Infinite Jest is one of those rare books that changes you — changes the way you read — changes the way you think about the world. I’ll definitely never think about addiction the same way again, not after that climatic description of two characters’ epic Demerol binge, culminating in sitting in pools of urine colored by spilled peanut butter M&Ms.
I would love to one day see the HBO series adaptation of this book (for now I guess this is good enough–I squealed with nerdy excited glee when I saw that story the other day!), but that being said I still don’t want the ending to be changed. It’s fascinating how IJ plays with the notion of a reader’s expectation and sense of satisfaction following a narrative’ completion: basically, from like the book’s third page, DFW tells us what the climatic end scene of the book is going to be. So we KNOW what it is, we KNOW that it happens–but then DFW never gives it to us. Basically, he never writes it down. It’s sort of similar to if Bloom and Stephen never meet in Ulysses. Frustrating? A little. Right when I was on page 975 was around when I realized “whoa, there’s like no way he’s actually going to get to everything in time.” But you know what? I’m glad he doesn’t give in and give it to us, which leads me to the other thing I really appreciated about this book: DFW’s treatment of the reader. He assumes we are smart, he assumes that we can fill in the blanks ourselves, that we don’t need everything spelled out for us, that we can appreciate the book’s challenging, avant-garde nature while still being delightfully, riotously entertained. The structure of the book ended up reminding me a lot of Rayuela, an endless hopscotch loop between beginning and end, infinitely skipping back and forth. And I am totally, totally ok with that.
I think one of the things I most liked about this book (as I mentioned earlier) was the way it made me feel as a reader. I spent a lot of time yesterday morning reading DFW interviews and blog posts online, and boy oh boy, did I have info leaking out of my ears. Wittgenstein, mathematics, Hamlet & mothers. I could go on and on. I love this quote from this one DFW interview, in which he says he doesn’t like books that approach the reader with an attitude like ” ‘Hey, here’s this really hard impossible smart thing. Fuck you. See if you can read it.’ I know books like that and they piss me off.” I guess that’s just one compliment among many that I have for this book: it was hard, but FUN. I always looked forward to reading it, and I felt sad when it was over. DFW had this other quote in this other interview I can’t find right now, in which he basically said that the reason he felt that reading was a different medium from television and the Internet is that after 4 hours spent watching TV, he always felt slightly sad and empty, but after 4 hours spent reading, he always felt fuller, better. It’s like that George Orwell quote about reading a really good book: we read so that we feel like we can come into contact with different minds and perspectives, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll connect with someone or something that feels like US, and then we’ll feel all the better for it.
Not to sound super cheesy, but I truly believe that the world is a better place for having books like this in it.
..in the year of the chewable Ambien tab…