await your reply 2: nods

In the surprisingly interesting Reader’s Guide at the back of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, Chaon writes:

As a writer, I feel like I’m always in conversation with the books that I’ve read.

Yiyun Li, the author of The Vagrants, feels the same way: “I believe a writer writes to talk to his/her masters and literary heroes.” About William Trevor, she wrote:

I write stories to talk to his stories. And a story can talk to another story in many ways–a line, a character, a few details, or sometimes it is the mood of the story, the pacing and the music of the story…”

I found two of these nods by Chaon as I was reading Await Your Reply. When I found two, I got such a warm feeling inside. Here they are:

On page 81: “She might’ve been a good mother, Miles thought, if their father had lived.” >>>Flannery O’Connor, from “A Good Man is Hard to Find:” She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” [Here’s a very cool link to Flannery O’Connor reading “A Good Man is Hard to Find” at Vanderbilt University in 1959–amazing]

On page 203: “Your jitters are starting to rub off on me. I’ve got the fucking fantods, man.” >>>David Foster Wallace throughout Infinite Jest.

A lovely practice.

~2nd in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

not that I’m counting

One of my friends refers to me as “the scribe” because I like to write stuff down. And one of the things I write down is how many books I read a year. As my tower of unread books grows taller and spawns little towers, it’s a way to prove to myself that I am reading. It’s a way to measure progress.

Every year I tally up. My number was down for 2009–42. But it did include Infinite Jest.

Not that numbers are important. In fact, at the moment, I’m trying to slow my reading, pay more attention, see how they’re doing it.

In any event, here are my numbers for recent years:

2008: 51

2007: 50

2006: 48 (+ lots of random stories)

2005: 74

2004: 50

Two questions occur to me from looking at these numbers, both involving the word cut. One, if I can only read 40-50 books a year, does the book I’m holding in my hands make the cut? Two, what else can I cut out to make more time for reading?

Do you know how many books you read a year?

the sweet in-between

DSC00172Some of you may remember that on my first try with the Kindle, when I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, it did not go well, and I switched to the physical book itself. My second try, using the Kindle to read Infinite Jest while I was traveling, went great. I wondered if it was because I’d already held the real book in my hands.

I think it was more a matter of my getting used to the Kindle. A couple of weeks ago, right before Sheri Reynolds‘ most recent novel, The Sweet In-Between, came out in paperback, I wanted to read it. Right that second. Aha. Kindle. I was reading it in about three minutes.

And I totally loved it–even reading it on the Kindle–and was not ready for it to end when it did.

Now to write a post on it without having the actual book. You can see the first problem in the upper right-hand corner.

The second problem was no underlining. BUT the Kindle has a feature called clippings, and I was able to easily pull up all the passages I had marked. So here we go…


borrowed a friend's book for this picture

The Sweet In-Between is written in the first person and narrated by 17-year-old Kendra, who goes by Kenny and who is in the middle of an identity crisis. Her sort-of step-brother’s girlfriend, Sneaky, describes her as follows:

“I mean you’re like a boy in all the good ways, and you’re kind of like a girl in all the good ways too.”

She describes herself here: “I feel funny, like I might not be who I always thought…”

Kenny is an endearing character, one, as Linda mentioned in the comments to the previous post, you want to fight for.

“Here’s the thing: There are holes that never go away, holes that never fill back up no matter what.”

If you’d like to read a book where the voice of the narrator comes shining through, this is the book for you. Here are a few examples:

“I love cutting grass. You can see exactly where you’ve been and where you need to go next. You can’t really hurry. You just move steady, one step at a time, and with that lawn mower handle vibrating in your hands, you know you’re alive.”

“It’s dark out, the moon still hanging around, a good time of day, before everybody wakes up and ruins it.”

“Even though I don’t have a camera to practice with, I like the idea of framing a thing for the world, picking a moment out of all the other moments, and click–there it is. (Or there it will be.)”

Nothing will ever replace real live books for me, but I’m happy to have the Kindle as a part of my library.

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to be read

DSC00023The books that sit on Lynn Neary’s “shelf of constant reproach” are “the books I know I should have read…but haven’t.” She borrowed this term from Luis Clemons, who chooses which authors to interview for NPR’s Tell Me More, and who refers to the worthy titles that don’t make it as “the shelf of constant reproach.”

Emily, of Evening All Afternoon, would take issue with this view. “…the level of stress and sheepishness about even having a to-be-read stack is a little dismaying to me….should a person feel guilty about the number of books…waiting to be enjoyed? I feel strongly that we shouldn’t….”

Nevertheless I often feel, as piscivorous tweeted yesterday, that “a stack of books is following me about the house.” I have a book shelf full of books I’ve already bought that are waiting To Be Read (see photo). In my head is a list of books I feel I should have already read. Finally, I have books I want to reread. And new books are being published all the time.

Moonrat came up with a list of 100 books that she wanted/needed to read. She labeled it her: Project Fill-in-the-Gaps. Once the book is read, the ink changes from black to red. [list toward the bottom of her sidebar]

How to make sense of all these books? How do I decide what to read next? Infinite Jest had been on my to-be-read shelf for 13 years, but Infinite Summer persuaded me to dust it off and open it up. Recently I began adding how I chose the book I was reading to my Reading List page. I thought this might make me give the selection a little more thought. But other than my monthly writing group selections and review deadlines, it seems to be similar to the way I choose what to write about–at that moment it’s just what gathers enough weight to cause me to reach for it.

And you?

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yellow letters from a shoebox on a rainy pm

IMG_2254So many things left unmentioned:

  • David Foster Wallace’s skilled use of the French language: “Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rolants” (719) and hilarious translations from English to French:  demi-maison (730) and from French to English: see Marathe below.
  • The way Tavis is described: “His smallness resembles the smallness of something that’s farther away from you than it wants to be, plus is receding.” And Stice “shielding his eyes with his hand and assuming a horizon-scan expression whenever Tavis heaves into view, seeming to recede even as he bears down.” (519)
  • That “…the key to the successful administration of a top-level junior tennis academy lies in cultivating a kind of reverse-Buddhism, a state of Total Worry.” (451)
  • Infinite Jestisms: to eliminate someone’s map, to give someone the fantods (also used by MT in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (thanks to Steven!)), “many wonders”
  • Scenes we’ll never forget: Erdedy waiting for the pot (17-27), Orin in the shower with the roaches, the videophone situation (144-151), Poutrincourt on achieving goals (680-681)

H o w e v e r, what I would like to do in this last post of the series is to say a la prochaine to some of the lovable, quirky, and flawed-as-we-all-are characters of Infinite Jest, in their own words, in the words of other characters or in the words of the narrator.


“…our whole system is founded on your individual’s freedom to pursue his own individual desires…Sunsets over the Pacific. Shoes that don’t cut off circulation. Frozen yogurt. A tall lemonade on a squeak-free porch swing.” (423)


“…should he exit and roll like no person’s business…” (752)


“An oiled guru sits in yogic full lotus in Spandex and tank top. He’s maybe forty. He’s in full lotus on top of the towel dispenser just above the shoulder-pull station in the weight room…” (127)


“…at this precise time his telephone and his intercom to the front door’s buzzer sounded at the same time, both loud and tortured and so abrupt they sounded yanked through a very small hole into the great balloon of colored silence he sat in, waiting…” (27)

IMG_2089Kate Gompert:

“I don’t hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn’t want to play anymore.” (72)

“…and then it’s happening, too, the whole horrible time, it’s about to happen and also it’s happening, all at the same time.” (73)

IMG_2088Orin the punter:

“I miss commercials that were louder than the programs.” (599)

And referring to watching entertainment on disks, “But it’s not the same. The choice, see. It ruins it somehow. With television you were subjected to repetition.” (600)

IMG_2092the Moms:

“Avril made it clear that the very last thing she wanted was to have any of her children feel they had to justify or explain to her any sort of abruptly or even bizarrely sudden major decision they might happen to make…” (288)

And from Mario: “The Moms hangs up stuff like shirts and blazers neater and more wrinkle-free than anyone alive.” (768)


“I drink this, sometimes, when I’m not actively working, to help me accept the same painful things it’s now time for me to tell you, son.” (160)


“…cheerfully declining even to try to learn to really read, explaining he’d way rather listen and watch.” (188/189)

“Mario’d fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she’d taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way.” (592)


“He took zero in the way of shit and was a cheery but implacable exponent of the Don’t-Get-Mad-Get-Even school.” (55)



“I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex….” (11)

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

[final in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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The library, and step on it

David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest

IMG_2089On Humor: This book is often laugh-out-loud funny.

Hal: “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.'” (12)

Hal: “I’m an O.E.D. man, Doctor.” (29)

The Narrator on Hal: “His way of answering the phone sounded like ‘Mmmyellow.'” (32)

Hal: “We’re all on each other’s food chain. All of us. It’s an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual.” (112)

Hal: “This induced a spell of involuted marijuana-type thinking that led quickly, again, to Hal’s questioning whether or not he was really all that intelligent.” (136)

Hal: “I’m trying to cut down on patronizing places with ”N’ in their name.” (908)

On Humor and Sadness: In the sense of co-existing in a moment, of humor being an attempt to deal with sadness, a layer over the sadness, and finally melting into sadness.

Hal: “…I have administrative bones to pick with God, Boo. I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I, Boo.” (40)

Still writing beautiful sentences: Again, this is what kept my eyes on the page–page after page after page.

Narrator: “the cold-penny tang of the autumn air” (539)

Narrator: “The sun has the attenuated autumn quality of seeming to be behind several panes of glass.” (623)

On Eschaton (the game): Or on reading IJ.

“Its elegant complexity, combined with a dismissive-reenactment frisson and a complete disassociation from the realities of the present, composes most of its puerile appeal. Plus it’s almost addictively compelling…” (322)

On suicide: Yes, it’s all over the place–the fact of it, the attempt to understand it, and the understanding of it.

Geoffrey Day: “As the two vibrations [exhaust fan and violin] combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.” (649) and “From that day, whether I could articulate it satisfactorily or not…I understood on an intuitive level why people killed themselves.” (651)

Kate Gompert: “Time in the shadow of the wing of the thing too big to see, rising.” (651)

Describing: I am astonished, over and over again, at DFW’s ability to nail a description.

Marathe: “Also the living room evening resembled an anthill which had been stirred with a stick; it was too full of persons, all of the restless and loud.” (730)

Marathe about someone else: “…she laughed in the manner of an automatic weapon.” (748)

Mario about his mother’s desk: “…what looks like a skyline of file folders and books…” (760)

Hal about Keith Freer: “He was still wearing the weird unitard he slept in, which made him look like someone who tore phone books in half at a sideshow.” (908)

On story-telling: Remember the “use less words” from the previous post? Add these:

Marathe: “‘Because it is necessary that I leave soon, a central point must be soon emerging,’ Marathe worked in as gracefully as possible.”

Kate to Marathe: “Is the madly-in-love part coming up?” (779)

IMG_2254I’m realizing as of the end of the 700’s that more and more lines I would like to include might be spoilers so I have left them out.

On living in the moment: A recurrent theme.

Gately: “An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat…Living in the Present between pulses…living completely In The Moment.” (860)

On addiction: Everywhere to every possible thing, and I include “to this book.”

Gately: “Feeling the edge of every second that went by. Taking it a second at a time. Drawing the time in around him real tight.” (859)

Gately: “…everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you somehow believed.” (861)

Gately: “the psychic emergency-brake was off…” (906)

Gately: “…he found himself starting to cry like a babe. It came out of emotional nowheres…” (916)

OMG, I’m at the end again…

[4th in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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infinite autumn

IMG_2087So for those of you who are still reading–and not that there’s anything wrong with that–Infinite Summer has crossed infinite boundaries to become Infinite Autumn…(thanks for the title to Kim in a comment to yesterday’s post). And for those of you who have not yet started, please consider Infinite Autumn: 11 pages a day and you’ll be finished before the click of the clock that signals winter. Infinite Jest is a read for all seasons.

And speaking of titles:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? [Hamlet, V.i]

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it feels weird not to be reading IJ anymore. I sense hesitation in moving forward to a new book. I don’t want to remove IJ from “What I’m reading now” on my Reading List page or from my “Read with me now” box on my sidebar.

Hence my taking 5 posts to process being finished and letting go. As far as an overall design, I have none, I must admit, which feels a little reckless. This week I’m rereading what I have underlined and trying to get “a hold of” it.

I have read IJ only once and some parts more closely than others. I am qualified only to give my impressions of one reading with only a few instances of reference to outside sources and but I am telling you even if I missed a few days, always when I picked it back up, I was back in the story in one second and I think it’s because of the sentences.

Yesterday was an example of lyrical. Today, it’s an example of honest:

IMG_2254…when he realized that the various Substances he didn’t used to be able to go a day without absorbing hadn’t even like occurred to him in almost a week, Gately hadn’t felt so much grateful or joyful as just plain shocked. (p.349)

More tomorrow…

[2nd in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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IMG_2090Well, today, Monday, September 21, 2009, is the official date on which page 981, the last page, of Infinite Jest is to be read. And I have finished. It is the end of Infinite Summer.

I am shocked at how much I loved Infinite Jest. I’d thought it would be impossible to read, and I found it the opposite of that. I had assumed (for what reason I don’t know) that it would have no plot, which is false. The plot threads are intriguing and actually do push all those pages forward. Wallace’s sentences are amazing. His tone, as he exposes all the good and bad of the way we live, is not superior, but right in there with us. His characters are revealed through their flaws and quirks, and they are real and lovable.

For the whole summer, I happily floated along on a little bit of IJ a day. It’s a little weird to be finished. As Wendy Macleod wrote in The Rumpus:

Finishing a book is like ending a love affair; the longer it’s been a part of your life, the harder it is to close the covers and walk away. You regret the parts that you read too quickly. In your eagerness to tick off pages and find out what happened next you didn’t always appreciate the elegance of the prose. You envy the next reader, the one who gets to discover the book for the first time.

How to write about a book with that many pages? Greg Carlisle did it in 500 pages in his book, Elegant Complexity. And this week, in 5 posts rather than 500 pages, I will share with you a few of my favorite things about IJ, starting with this sentence from page 5:

IMG_2254My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC’s vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer.

A sentence as lyrical and lovely as it is true. We have all been in exactly that moment before, watching the bits of dust dance in the sunlight.

[1st in a series of 5 posts on finishing IJ]

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in real book

IMG_2391As many of you know, I’m reading Infinite Jest. As many of you also know, I did not enjoy my first experience with the Kindle.

Last week, the night before I was to leave for a 3-day trip, I stood by my desk, looking from Infinite Jest to Kindle. If I was ever going to use the Kindle, this would be the time. Which sounded eerily similar to my rationale for deciding to read IJ.

With help from the  Infinite Summer website, it took less than five minutes to discover my Kindle “location,” which is the Kindle equivalent of page.

After we got to 10,000 feet and I could turn the Kindle on (yet another reason not to go anywhere without an issue of One Story), I slid the button to the right. The screen lit up at exactly the right spot, and I began to read. No problem. Infinite Jest was just as good on the Kindle as it was in real book.

Interesting, I thought. Is it because I’m older and wiser now?

IMG_2386I suspected that it was because I had actually held the real book in my hand. I had seen the cover. I had turned its pages. Now, with the Kindle, my imagination took over and filled in the gaps.

After I got back home, it took about five minutes to figure out where I was in the book. And it took about ten minutes to locate my highlighted clippings and underline them in the book.

I enjoyed not lugging the book. I would do it again.

My next experiment will be to try another book on the Kindle that I have not started in real book first. That may be a while, though, since I’m only on page 350 of Infinite Jest.

infinite summer

IMG_2267David Foster Wallace‘s 1079 page Infinite Jest has been in residence in my study for 13 years–since 1996. When I first heard about Infinite Summer, I glanced over at the large book on the bottom of my ToBeRead shelf, and I thought nooooo.

Then, after spending about an hour on the website, I got up and pulled the book out and dusted it off. I let it sit on my desk for a day. I was making friends with it.

The Challenge: Join endurance bibliophiles from around the world in reading Infinite Jest over the summer of 2009, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages ÷ 92 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

The next day I came into my study and there was the book right next to my computer and I thought if I’m not going to read it now with all these other people, I’m never going to read it. Then I thought well, I can at least start it and see how I like it.IMG_2088

Infinite Summer, as if summer, the feeling of lazy reading days and the salty ocean breeze, were to go on forever.

I started late, and so far I’ve been behind everyday. But I’m on track to catch up today. And that’s exciting. It’s so true that social networking has given this project a  “we’re all in this together” feeling. You can find Infinite Summer on facebook and twitter, as well as the website.

I started reading a week ago today, so it’s not to late to join the party. C’mon, is this book on your TBR shelf?

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