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An "Infinite Summer," yes, but the clock's ticking

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 7, 2009 04:01 PM

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Here's how the math looked when Infinite Summer, an online effort to get as many people as possible to read David Foster Wallace's magnum opus, "Infinite Jest," from June 21 to August 21 September 22, got started: 1000 pages divided by 92 days = 75 pages a week. "No sweat," the organizers concluded, optimistically.

Well, June 21 has come and gone and the math is working against you. The sweat quotient has increased markedly. But it's not too late, and, what's more, if you still want to tackle Wallace's daunting text (the very opposite of the stereotypical beach read), you can draw on a surprisingly rich ecosystem that has sprung up around Infinite Summer: bloggers (including non-literary policy types like Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein), Twitterers, Facebook addicts, and Tumblrs alike are all urging one another on through DFW's doorstop of a book, trading thoughts as they go about its characters, structure, and those (in)famous proliferating and involuted footnotes.

Infinite Summer is the brainchild of Matthew Baldwin, a contributing writer to The Morning News and founder of the National Novel Reading Month. For that effort, Baldwin recruited friends (virtual and otherwise) to conquer a masterpiece each November -- "Catch-22" and "Lolita," for example. "Infinite Jest," he concluded, needed not a month but a full season.

Infinitesummer.org serves as home base for the techno-literary experiment, where Baldwin and three co-conspirators have been posting their own theories about the novel plus handy character i.d.'s and chapter summaries.

There are a few dissenters: Scott Eric Kaufman, at The Valve, said the project was "a little morbid," given DFW's suicide. And signal-to-noise is an issue for anyone sifting through all the commentary it has inspired. (Ezra Klein: "I'm a blogger. I like to get to the point. Wallace doesn't." Noted!)

Still, in an interview with the L.A. Times blog Jacket Copy, Baldwin offered a penetrating explanation of how reading the book communally might help him, and others too:

One thing I am already noticing about "Infinite Jest," even 60 pages in, is that it is an intensely claustrophobic novel. Much of the action takes place in small apartments, hospital wards and in the minds of the various protagonists. It's so overwhelming that it would be easy to close the novel with a shudder and never return. I think the knowledge that there are thousands of folks out there reading concurrently goes a long way toward leavening those feelings.
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1 comments so far...
  1. I need a light book for summer reading. I'm reading the Lisle letters, but that can be heavy. It's six volumes of letters by Lord Lisle, cousin to Henry VIII. Something funny would be fine. I dislike trajedy, if I want that I'll just look at life, in and off the news.

    Posted by Ronald Rosenthal July 9, 09 08:51 AM
About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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