After Wallace’s death last fall, I pulled my copy of the Jest off the shelf. Its bookmarks (yes, plural; you need two to read this book) were still right where I’d left them; I’d quit a few years back, less than a fifth of the way through. But the tail-end of 2008 turned out to be the right time for me to tackle the thing again, and when I finished it early this year, all I really knew was that I’d never had a literary experience so meaningful. (This from someone who’s been reading-studying-enjoying Finnegans Wake for the last twelve years—and will at very long last finish the book in the next twelve months or so.)
Slate.com has podcasted an hourlong book club discussion of Infinite Jest, during which one of the critics mentions that the experience of reading and finishing the book feels like “getting hit by a bus.” This is only barely an exaggeration. I’ve been a literature fiend since about age fifteen, and I’ve never read anything that affected my emotions or my thinking-about-the-world even half as much as the Jest. It’s the sort of book that sometimes makes you just stop, looking up, looking around, looking out on every seemingly-familiar thing in your own personal universe, realizing that you’re not going to see things the same way anymore. And as you realize this, you feel awed, you feel grateful, and if you’re me, you feel this unceasing, terrible sadness that Wallace’s final decision went the way that it did.
At any rate, fellow lit-geeks, you should read Infinite Jest, and you should do it this summer, starting Sunday. 75 pages a week, plus endnotes. By September’s end, you’ll have a different head. And you’ll thank me.