Some books aren’t for reading

Reading this year is going well.

The latest book was Stephen J. Burn’s Infinite Jest: A Readers Guide.

A slightly unusual choice, perhaps. It is, after all, a book about a book and therefore operates in some sort of generic inter-zone; not quite biography or fiction, not quite non-fiction. I chose it because two years on, Infinite Jest continues to bother me.

I enjoyed parts of it, didn’t care for others and ultimately plodded through the vast journey to the end. Would I say i liked it, more generally? Perhaps. Would i recommend it to people? Probably not. Am I glad to say I have read it and does it usually start a conversation with people? Yes. I suppose it does.

I read Burn’s book to try and understand Foster Wallace’s epic more. Having finished it, I’m not sure I’ve achieved that aim. What I am sure of though is that fully understanding the book is perhaps beyond the realms of a normal reader (or at least beyond me, anyways).

By ‘normal reader’ I mean anyone who has a life, job and commitments which prevent them from erecting a huge pin-board based wall covered in images, cut outs and snippets from the book and linking the whole sorry mess together with a web of red twine.

This novel is dense with symbolism, clues, links and subtle references that help a reader unlock the clues hidden within. However, as Burn notices, without a hint of humour or shock – some of these clues are mentioned within the first 10 pages, and then only resolved near the books end. 800 pages or so later. Burn, having the advantage of studying the novel professionally, presumably can dedicate the time required for this sort of forensic analysis.

I, on the other hand, and I’m assuming most other people like me, will not have such a luxury. It strikes me that perhaps Infinite Jest is largely trying to demonstrate just how clever the author is. It is not fiction for the reader’s enjoyment, but fiction for the ego.

I’ve always been fairly neutral on the “masterpiece or bullshit” debate around DFW’s 900 page epic. Having read the guide though, i’m erring toward one camp now more than the other.

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3 Responses to Some books aren’t for reading

  1. iamamro says:

    Undoubtedly the author is showing off, but my goodness what a clever man he is!

    What’s really the problem is authors with no intelligence or wit showing off (I’m looking at you, Amis Jr.).


    • yes, definitely a very clever man. Have you read much of his non fiction? it’s amazing. genuinely brilliant. This is also brilliant in its way, but also baffling, not very enjoyable.

      Amis Jr i have a soft spot for. London Fields is a masterpiece in my book. Understand why you may not like him though!

      thanks for dropping in, sir.

      • iamamro says:

        It’s a personal thing with him, I’m probably unfair (no I’m not). London Fields was very good, I agree.

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