I am attempting to read David Foster Wallace’s very large novel and write about the experience as I go. That is all.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Some background notes (potentially skippable)

My name is Tim Footman and I am 44 years old. I was born and brought up in England but I’ve spent quite a bit of the past decade in Asia. Sometimes I’ve been a writer and sometimes I’ve been an editor and quite often I’ve been a bit of both. I’ve written seven books and either edited or contributed to about the same number. All are non-fiction, mostly in the realms of pop music/pop culture. I’ve also worked in magazines, newspapers and I’ve done a bit of broadcasting. A little judicious Googling will bring more details, if you’re at all interested. I’ve been blogging for about seven years now; my main blog is called Cultural Snow.

My favourite modern novelists – the qualification being that they’ve published at least one novel in the past 10 years and I’ve read at least half of their total published output – include Martin Amis, Nicholson Baker, Jonathan Coe, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Safran Foer, Michel Houellebecq, Kazuo Ishiguro, Toby Litt, David Lodge, Armistead Maupin, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith and Sarah Waters. Actually, looking at that list, some of them don’t really qualify as favourites. Sometimes it’s more of a case that I read and enjoyed one book and then ploughed through subsequent volumes hoping to recapture the magic. And let’s not talk about the ones that I’ve bought in similar circumstances and not finished.
Or the lip-print on a half-filled cup of coffee that you poured and didn't drink;
But at least you thought you wanted it, that’s so much more than I can say for me...
Or something like that. If Elvis Costello wrote novels, I think I’d be responding in a similar way to his more recent works. Still staying with the list, I’m not sure what it betrays, beyond an unfortunate preference for male authors; and and odd but less reprehensible tendency to favour authors the initial letters of whose surnames come in the first half of the alphabet; with the exception of the two women. Again, I’m not sure if any of this means anything, but it may help to lay out my predilections and prejudices before we begin.

You will notice that David Foster Wallace is not on that list. As I explained in the previous post, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by David Foster Wallace. I have no idea what Infinite Jest is about; I just know that the title is a reference to Hamlet’s Yorick speech, which explains the picture at the top of the screen. Once I discern a theme, the picture may change. Or it may not. And the title is a gentle nod to Keats. If that matters.

I should state from the beginning that I’ve downloaded Infinite Jest to my Kindle. This may or may not affect my reading experience, but it’s a purely practical decision, as much of my reading takes place away from home and Infinite Jest, as I’ve mentioned already, is quite a big book. The last big book I bought before I got my Kindle was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and it’s still glaring at me by the side of my bed, the bookmark sticking out disapprovingly, well before the halfway mark.

I rather think Mr Wallace would have disapproved of the whole Kindle thing. He liked writing in books, pen on paper; here are his thoughts on the opening page of a Don DeLillo novel:

This blog, I guess, is the equivalent of all that red ink. But more legible. If not so coherent.

One thing that I’ll avoid by reading the book in electronic form – apart from crippling back pain – is the sense that I’m in any way showing off to casual passers-by what I’m reading. I know that Infinite Jest is something of a cult novel. I’m sure there are plenty more blogs about it (although I’m avoiding reading them, at least for the time being). I’m sure that it’s the sort of book that, if you sat reading it in a coffee shop in London or New York or on a park bench in Paris or Barcelona, people would occasionally react, make eye contact, maybe even strike up a conversation. That said, as I start this adventure I’m in a part of the world where people don’t seem to read very much at all, at least not in public. And this blog, I suppose, takes the place of an analogue book cover; this is what I’m reading people; make your assumptions about me; come over and say hello. (This is as good a place as any to mention a vivid mental image I retain from a concert I attended a few years ago in London’s Hyde Park, featuring the quirky, sensitive, rather literary Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian. During one of the less quirky and sensitive support acts, a young woman sat on the grass, her back defiantly to the stage, furiously reading a Sarah Waters novel. Whether it was a conscious pose or not, it was delightful.)

Oh dear. I suppose I’d better get on with reading the book now.


  1. An annoying, practical note here.

    I haven't read Infinite Jest, but based on what I've read of DFW's other stuff, I'd imagine it's chock full of footnotes and footnotes within footnotes. Those might prove to be a bit of a nuisance for the Kindle. The only book I've read on Kindle that had footnotes was Geoff Dyer's Zona. Scrolling to a link every time he started or ended a footnote soon proved pretty annoying (much like this comment, I'd imagine).

    Good luck with the project, anyway!

  2. Thanks for the warning, Kevin. Maybe I need to get a hard copy after all. I'll see what we come up against...

  3. I read Infinite Jest on paper the first time and on an iPad the second time. There isn't a tremendous difference. In fact, the ebook version can be more convenient because you can jump straight from the text to the endnotes (and yes, to the endnotes for the endnotes) and back again with less hassle.

    That's assuming the ebook notes are properly formatted. I'm reading DT Max's biography of Wallace at the moment and some of the endnotes are incorrectly linked, which means they jump me back to a random point in the text. It's quite 'meta', I suppose, but very annoying.


What do you think of it so far?