On Starting Infinite Jest

I think Infinite Jest is one of The Big Books that every book lover wants to tackle one day, and guess what, friends? I’ve started it! I’m about a hundred pages in, and I’ve found myself annotating the book like crazy, in hopes that it’ll make the reading experience easier for Kimberly one day.

infinite jestWhat makes Infinite Jest so intimidating? For one thing, it clocks in at 1,079 pages, and 96 of those pages are tiny, densely packed footnotes. David Foster Wallace’s book also has a weird timeline, which, once you figure it out and get the hang of it, is pretty hilarious.

DFW was also a huge lover of the English language — he delights in both writing long sentences and making up new words. I quickly found myself looking up words that don’t exist outside of the Infinite Jest universe.

So far, I’ve been really enjoying the slow process of reading the book. I’m trying to read at least 10 pages a day, but when I have time, I find myself reading much larger chunks at a time. I have been pleasantly surprised that DFW’s writing style is actually very clear and coherent. Although the book is long and makes you work a little, it’s nothing like reading one of Faulkner’s dense, stream-of-consciousness style paragraphs.

I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve found so far in my reading. From DFW specific glossaries to timelines and summaries, I’ve been briefly reading through each of these sites after I finish a section of the book. This way, I feel fulfilled that I have an unbiased initial reading but that I’m not missing anything important. So far, these websites have all been spoiler free for me, but I can’t guarantee that! I’ll be sure to come back and update this list of resources as I go as a reference for all of us. Have you read Infinite Jest before? Do you have any tips or resources for me to add?


Infinite Jest, a growing list of resources for first-time readers:

  • Infinite Jest: on Wallace Wiki has a page by page annotation for vocabulary words. The nice thing is they include notes for the endnotes as they appear in the book, so that you don’t have to flip to a separate page for the endnote annotations.
  • Infinite Jest: a scene by scene guide
  • Definitive Jest is a vocabulary blog centered around Infinite Jest. This is pretty fun to read for the comments — there are some real fanatics out there who will debate the etymology of words. I love it!
  • Infinite Jest Index
  • Mark Reads Infinite Jest: I just discovered Mark Reads, which is a website where Mark reads his way through different series and books and writes extensively about it along the way. So far (as of 2011 — so who knows if he’ll continue this project! I certainly hope so), he has only written about the first 68 or so pages of the book. I found reading some of his thoughts while I got started with the book helpful, because it made me realize I was asking some of the same questions as him. It helped me feel comfortable that I’m on the right track even though I’m a little out of comfort zone.
  • How to Read Infinite Jest
  • Shoshi also has a post about starting Infinite Jest that helps clarify some things you may want to know when you first start.

8 thoughts on “On Starting Infinite Jest

    • Thank you, Resh. I bet after you finish reading 1Q84, this book won’t seem so big to you anymore! My only complaint is I haven’t been able to carry this book with me on the bus in the mornings, since it’s a little too big to read while standing up.

  1. I only came across this recently but knew nothing about it, it fact I put it back because it didn’t grab me but I will have a proper look at it when I next head to the bookshop.

    • I must admit that the premise of the book didn’t really sound appealing to me either — drugs and tennis camp? However, I’m quickly becoming engrossed in the book. I don’t think you actually need to be interested in the subject matter to enjoy the book (does that make any sense?)

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