David Foster Wallace lives on for an “Infinite Summer”
One giant book, 92 days, thousands of readers — and the world’s most ambitious reading group
Joe Coscarelli, Salon
David Foster Wallace on BookWorm
The terrible and sad impact of David Foster Wallace’s suicide caused us to want to remember him as he first appeared in the KCRW studios, fresh from the publication of his breakthrough novel, Infinite Jest. He was brilliant and charming—and his death is an enormous loss to American literature.
Interview with Wallace on KCRW
I’ve been re-reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this summer, along with the online book club.
I read parts of the novel a few years ago, and over the past few years I’ve became fond of his non-fiction. I’d decided I would read IJ again after listening to several Wallace interviews with Michael Silverblatt.
In Salon, Joe Coscarelli explains why it’s worth reading the tome with a online community. Coscarelli points to the unexpected and quirky topics that are raised when a large group interactively discusses the book:
On the hyperactive discussion forums, everyone from Wallace virgins to connoisseurs can offer interpretations and suggest topics (organized by the reading schedule in order to prevent spoilers). One reader wondered about the book’s setting — a futuristic hybrid of the United States, Canada and Mexico referred to as the Organization of North American Nations or by the acronym ONAN — sparking a conversation about the biblical character Onan and the notoriously wasteful practice of masturbation (i.e., onanism). Elsewhere, the novel’s reference to a “trial-size dove bar” sparked a debate about whether Wallace was referring to the chocolate or the soap. Eventually, a fan — whose source claims to have asked the author personally — announced definitively that it was, in fact, a reference to the ice-cream bar. Puzzling over this kind of pop cultural minutiae is all the more fun when reading along with a few thousand of your closest Internet friends.
Bits of Wallace writing uncover the dread and loneliness of living in a televised, mass media culture:
Of course, “Infinite Jest” also captures what Wallace called “a real American type of sadness” — that of “a white, upper-middle-class, obscenely well-educated” guy who is successful, and yet terribly lonely and adrift. Which makes the idea of bringing so many people together for a communal reading of the book all that more meaningful. To some, the “book club” may seem like an archaic social experience — connotations of housewives and airport novels abound — but many Infinite Summer participants enjoy the, well, infinite possibilities of this Web project.
I also find that Wallace’s style, with footnote within footnotes and topic that loop out of control, fits well— or anticipates— how readers approach reading in a digital culture.