Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Re-reading Infinite Jest, part 2 of 863

So I’m now just shy of 300 pages into my re-read of Infinite Jest, which is just over 25% of the way through according to the Kindle, although I think it’s closer to 1/3 done when you consider the last hundred-some pages are all endnotes.  Here are more random observations as I continue:

  • I think reading it on the Kindle does make it seem to go faster than print.  I don’t know the exact numbers or metrics, but it seemed like one print page of the hardcover contained something like 1200 words, where a normal trade paperback contained something like 250-300 words, meaning each page of IJ seemed four times longer.  With the Kindle, each screen has the same number or words, more or less, as any other book I read, be it Vonnegut or George Carlin or Tolstoy.  This makes it seem like the pages are going by faster, although it obviously takes several page turns to get through a single virtual “page”.
  • The endnotes don’t seem to be as much of a pain in the ass as they were back in 1996.  Part of that may be that they lend themselves to hypertext much more, and the Kindle’s links are more convenient than flipping between two bookmarks.  Or it could be that if (and once again, numbers are bogus) there were two endnotes per printed page, and there were six page turns per printed page, it would seem like there were three times fewer endnotes per “page”.
  • It’s so interesting that Wallace created this near-future world that happens in what others have determined to be 2009.  I’ve always disliked when near-future books predict worlds of jetpacks and robot butlers in the year 1991, like pretty much every Philip K. Dick book or 60s pulp Scifi novel.  DFW managed to create a world that largely felt like 1996, except for tiny changes in things like video conferencing and politics and TV media formats.  And that’s pretty much what has happened.  Granted, teleconferencing is just starting to take off because of Facetime, and the DVD and later BluRay were the displacing technologies of video entertainment, but his Boston of the late -00s is pretty close to the Boston of 1996, which I enjoy.
  • There is, however, the issue that this near-future now takes place in the past.  When it was supposed to be 13 years in the future, there was much more license for suspension of disbelief.  Now that it’s three years after the events should have taken place and the futuristic film cartridge system has not been invented, you need to not think about stuff like that.
  • I notice that in some ways Wallace can out-Leyner Mark Leyner.  I never fully understood the relationship between the two, and thought DFW eclipsed Leyner in greatness and popularity, but it also seems that Wallace admired or looked up to Leyner’s work prior to his own fame explosion.  I’ve always thought Leyner had no real peers in his absurdism and almost sketch comedy approach to writing, and always thought DFW was less ha-ha funny and more NPR/Franzen funny or whatever.  But then I see some carefully-placed reference or innuendo in part of IJ that would seem even too absurd for Leyner’s humor.
  • It amazes me how IJ pads itself with pretty much every inside joke or urban legend that Wallace heard over the course of a decade, but manages to pull it off so all of this stuff is an integral part of the story.  At points, it’s almost like he was looking for some excuse to kill pages, like he was getting paid by the word, and said “aha!  I’ll recycle the Jamaican Toothbrush Bandit story, and make it part of Gately’s back story – that should eat up a good 5000 words.”  But of course, it always works.
  • I have the unfortunate issue that whenever I read about Orin, in my mind I envision CJ, the punter who was on Real World: Cancun.

That’s all for now. I’m keeping track of my page count over on goodreads, if you want up-to-the-minute (or -day) tallies.


2 responses to “Re-reading Infinite Jest, part 2 of 863”

  1. M. Pazzol Avatar
    M. Pazzol

    I was in DFW's class at ISU in 2009. I have some horribly inappropriate stories I'll have to tell you that I don't really feeling comfortable disseminating to the entirety of the world. Such a strange and marvellous man.

    1. jkonrath Avatar

      Yes please x1000. I knew you were at ISU back then, didn't know you were actually in his class. Mega jealous – the closest I got to this was taking a film studies class with a guy who writes sports history books, which is orders of magnitude less than this.