Reading ambitiously in 2016? Kick it o≠ with Infinite Winter
Mark Flanagan is starting a book club for “Infinite Jest,” David Foster Wallace’s 1,000plus page novel that turns 20 in 2016. Kathryn
There’s noway to knowwhich corporate sponsor of the year the late author David FosterWallace would have given to 2016.
In his postmodern behemoth “Infinite Jest,” some of the years of “subsidized time” include the Year of the Whopper and the Year of the TucksMedicated Pad.
But for anyone who made a resolution to read ambitiously in 2016, this might be the Year of Glad— glad you will finally read this brick of a book that tackles themes from entertainment to tennis to drug addiction and the Quebec separatist movement. At the end of January, a local bibliophile will launch an online book club dedicated to tackling the tome over 13 weeks, together, called InfiniteWinter.
It’s a reboot of an online book club for “Infinite Jest” that drew people into the 1,000-plus page book during the summer of 2009, Infinite Summer. Mark Flanagan of Lafayette joined that book club. “It was a huge phenomenon, and I don’t think I would have gotten through ‘Infinite Jest’ without Infinite Summer.”
Flanagan is a writer, book reviewer at RunSpotRun.com and compulsive reader. He had a convenient reason to start Infinite Winter in 2016— it’s the 20th anniversary of “Infinite Jest,” which was released to critical acclaim in February of 1996. Publisher Little, Brown will mark the anniversary with a new edition featuring a new cover, which honors the Infinite-inspired art that has sprung up in the ensuing years, according to a story at literary arts and culture site The Millions.
For Infinite Winter, Flanagan also looked to artists when he
Scott Osler, The Denver Post
sought out guides for the book club. (One of the six guides will write a post a day everyweek at InfiniteWinter.org. “We really have an all-star cast, plus me,” Flanagan said. He’ll also have guest bloggers.) Nathan Seppelt sketches scenes from the book and posts one a day at his Instagram, Drawing Infinite Jest. Ryan Blanck crafts scenes from Legos. Corrie Baldauf’s project explores color in “Infinite Jest.” Jenni Baker’s Erasing Infinite project pulls poems out of each page of the book by erasing most, but not all, of the page’s words. And Dave Laird runs a podcast about the David Foster Wallace, The Gre at Concavity.
We sat down for a Q&A with Flanagan ahead of Infinite Winter to find out what’s in store.
Q: Before Infinite Summer, were you one of those people who had a copy of “Infinite Jest” and were just waiting for the right opportunity, or excuse, to read it?
A: I owned a copy of “Infinite Jest,” and I thought I had purchased that copy I had sitting around the house. But now my wife says that she had a copy of “Infinite Jest” and had brought it to the relationship, so I’m not sure.
Q: What is it about this book that somany of us have a copy but haven’t read it?
A: That’s a really good question. It has a well-deserved reputation as a great book— many people say, as a life-changing book. And I think the reason that so many of us have a copy that we haven’t read is that it is so challenging. Which is why you get things like Infinite Summer, where someone gets the idea that … if you could just all read it together in a giant book club, we’d all read it.
It worked for a lot of us. Some people bailed, but a whole lot of people read it.
Q: How does Infinite Winter work?
A: The idea is thatwe’re going to start on Jan. 31, and we’re going to go through 13 weeks at 75 pages aweek. It’s a reading schedule that will keep a reader on track. That does not account for the endnotes, which are considerable. There are 100 pages of endnotes in small type in the back of the book. (He flips through a copy.) Okay here’s 324 … it’s about a five-page endnote. So it’s a little misleading when you say 75 pages a week, because sometimes there are a fewmore pages of small type.
But there’s a reading schedule, there’s nothing to do to join, you’re a member when you say you are. We don’t have forums per se, but we’re using social media ... we have the site, infinitewinter.org, on which people will be able to comment. ... the hope is that we’ll have good engagement and conversation in the comments.
Q: More than 1,000 pages, endnotes, endnotes with footnotes ... it’s a big read, isn’t it?
A: Honestly, the challenge of “Infinite Jest” is not about its size. The writing is amazing, but it’s dense. Wallace’s sentences are full of complexities, and sentences that go on and on, and concepts that become rat holes and veer off in different directions ... it’s more about the density of it than the length.
Q: Wallace’s extensive vocabulary is on full display in “Infinite Jest.” Do you have a favorite word from the book?
A: I think my favorite word I learned from David Foster Wallace is “defenestrate.” I believe it means to throw something through the window. It’s a transitive verb, so, you become so frustrated with this book that you defenestrate it.
Q: Why “Infinite Jest”? There are plenty of big books out there. Why not “War and Peace”?
A: It’s a really good point. Why not “Moby Dick”?
Q: Is that your next book club?
A: Maybe. I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to call that one.
Q: You’ve heard from people who are excited to read it again, explore all of the intricacies again. Are you glad to give it a second go?
A: For me, it’s more than figuring stuff out, it’s about diving back down inside of it again. It’s an amazing story, it’s a good thing to get lost in ... People always talk about how challenging it is, but nobody would stick with it if it were just challenging.
It’s really entertaining, which is really fascinating, because one of the key components of “Infinite Jest” is that one of the char- acters creates this thing called “the Entertainment,” and it’s a program that is so addictive that people cannot stop watching it, and then they die of dehydration because they couldn’t tear themselves away from it. That’s “the Entertainment.” And that’s about howgood “Infinite Jest” is. This is one of those big books that you can really get lost in for a long time.