Read­ing am­bi­tiously in 2016? Kick it o≠ with In­fi­nite Win­ter

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Jenn Fields

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 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 In­finiteWin­ “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, in­finitewin­, 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.

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