Friday, July 10, 2009

Infinite July -- and Beyond

Along with a good many others from the rest of North America, I've signed on to the craze known as "Infinite Summer," a reading program started late in June where you read ten pages a day of David Foster Wallace's 1996 monolith: a mind-bending, multi-story, extraordinarily brainy and extensively footnoted tale of tennis, drugs and God knows what all, set sometime in the not too distant future, which is more or less now.

I've always felt guilty about this book, since after reading Sven Birkerts essay on it in the Atlantic I literally called the publisher and begged for a copy. I started it with the great enthusiasm, taking notes, underlining passages, carrying it around and, somewhere around page 400, taking what turned out to be an infinite vacation from it. As the great reviews piled up, I stared at my copy in ignominius shame, especially when I looked on the opening page, where DWF's signature stared at me with a hopeful, happy face, a face I felt I was someone disappointing.

So this summer I'm hoping to pay an old debt to this book, and I've even dragged along my daughter Kate as a teammate. It's like literary whitewater rafting.

So far, I'm remembering what I liked about the book before, but I'm remembering too why it was easy to bail, because it's one of those very big, intense, demanding novels that not only requires your full and unblinking attention but also taxes your memory and, over a few hours of reading, can exhaust your patience.

So all I can say at this stage is that the key with this, as with so many bigs of similar ambition, is to pace yourself, not wear yourself out, and remember there's always tomorrow.

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