Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Re-reading Infinite Jest, part 1 of ?

Okay, I gave in and started re-reading Infinite Jest the other night.

I’m 8% finished as of last night, which is roughly like running the first two miles of a marathon.  It’s enough that I’m getting some momentum, but so little that I feel like it could take me a while.  I dug through my 1996 paper journal last week and found that it took me something like 20 days to read it last time.  Of course, I did not have a TV, was single, had no social life, and this was before Facebook, Twitter, and a million other things were invented.  In fact, I think I was still dialing in at 14.4K back then, and my computer was a Linux machine that wasn’t running X, just a naked command line prompt on a 12″ monochrome monitor.  The closest thing I had to a tablet computer was made by Mead, spiral-bound and college ruled.

My first strategic move on this attempt was to eschew the print edition.  The only print copy of the book I own is a hardcover first edition, signed by the author with the “smiley face” next to his name, which might or might not be more rare or indicative that he was in a good mood when he read in Seattle.  The print copy killed my wrists last time around, and this was long before I’d developed all of my wrist, back, neck, and other chiropractic RSI issues.  When I read in bed, I tend to hold the book with three fingers and my thumb on the cover, and my pinky under the book, as a sort of stand.  This means when a book weighs any tangible amount, it strains my small fingers, and if that book is a thousand pages long, it starts to feel like they’ve been slammed in a car door.

So I went with the kindle ebook.  This solves another problem, the “how many bookmarks do I use?” issue.  Unless you memorize page numbers in some Rain Man-esque fashion, you’re going to use at least one bookmark on a read of the paper edition.  Most people agree you should use two, with one marking where you are in the body of the book, the other marking where you are in the endnotes.  Some people also advise you to keep a bookmark on the page describing the Subsidized Time timeline.  Nobody ever told me about that, but there weren’t web pages about how to read IJ in 1996.  That said, there also wasn’t a wikipedia page I could reference instead of using a third bookmark.

In the kindle edition, endnotes are hyperlinked.  And thankfully, there’s a “return to text” backlink after each endnote, so you can quickly get back to the text.  The only issue with this is that the kindle software will return you with the line containing the endnote reference at the top of the screen.  So, for example, if you’ve got 30 lines per screen (arbitrary – I didn’t count) and on line 16, there’s endnote 44, you can click that, read it, click “back”, and that line will now be at the top of the screen, not on line 16.  That means you lose some context and might need to back up a page, depending on how you read.

I started reading on my iPad, and then switched to my actual Kindle.  The advantage to the real Kindle is that it’s paper-white on the e-ink display, and it doesn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and a bunch of games on it.  But I ended up going back to using the actual iPad.  Why?  Because it’s a bigger screen, and because clicking on endnotes is much easier.  I have the keyboard Kindle, which requires you to navigate around with the little stub of a joystick to get to an endnote and click on it.  Then you have to wait a second for the screen to refresh, and then you have to repeat the procedure.  It’s much faster and less of a hassle to do it on the iPad.

Another huge advantage to reading on the Kindle is that I can click a word and the definition pops up.  I’m finding that Mr. Wallace has a much more, um, big vocabulary than me.  I don’t know if looking up definitions like this is teaching me new words, but I’m much more likely to click on a word rather than dig out a copy of Webster’s.

I’m finding that this time around, it’s been much easier for me to get in the swing of things, but I don’t know if this is because I already know the general plot of the thing.  When I read it in 1996, I didn’t know a single other person trying to read it, and there was no wikipedia to help me.  I am avoiding any secondary reading during this pass, though.  I’m not looking at any of the blogs or fan sites, and I haven’t bought Elegant Complexity or any of the other reading guides.  No sherpas, no supplemental oxygen on this climb up Everest.

My impression so far is that the book is reminding me so much of 1996 and the events around then.  I had a horrible time of it back then, something I’ve alluded to on here, but something that was incredibly painful to read about when I dug around my paper journals back then.  I was about a year into my stay in Seattle, a year removed from my college life.  I hadn’t seriously dated anyone since the end of 1993, and was certain I never would.  I had some kind of stomach disorder going on and was certain it was gall bladder cancer or unchecked appendicitis (it wasn’t), and I seriously didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with writing.  I now look back at Rumored as my favorite book I’ve written, but back then, I spent all of my energy trying to convince myself I needed to stop working on it entirely.  All of this influenced my perception of the book, and now as I navigate his prose, it brings back a lot of those memories, which is both good and bad.

I don’t have any other great insight at this point, but I felt that if I kept mentioning the reading project on here, I’d stick with it.  So, there you go.