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.

This Week in Review – 11/13/2015

This Week in Review

We thought we’d keep it nice and simple this week, so without further adieu, this week in review:


This week we posted:

  1. Whatever Happened to Booth Tarkington?
  2. A Pairing: Leonardo Da Vinci + Ross Gay
  3. The Pulitzer Project: The Magnificent Ambersons
  4. Manhattan Beach, California

This weekend, I am going on a class field trip to the Neue, a friend’s spacewarming at her new office, and watching Alabama Football. I hope you stomp in some leaves and drink some apple cider. It finally feels like Autumn in New York!

This Week in Review – 11/6/2015

This Week in Review

hot and hot shrimp and grits

women of the hour lena dunham

  • As I’m reading The Magnificent Ambersons, I’ve been absolutely befuddled as to how Booth Tarkington could win two Pulitzers and then basically disappear from history. The Atlantic does a great piece on this.

One finds no mention of Tarkington in The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes, let alone in the diaries and letters of his fellow Princetonian Edmund Wilson. Another alumnus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, had Tarkington in mind when he expressed his fear of lapsing into a condition that would render him uninterested in anything but “colored people, children, and dogs.”

  • And finally, a few of my favorite new songs to tide you over this weekend:


This week, we posted:

  1. A Pairing: Francis Bacon + Sharon Olds
  2. Books I Read in October
  3. Book Review: The Time Garden, Daria Song
  4. The Magnificent Ambersons – Vocabulary

I hope you have a marvelously warm and cozy weekend!

The Magnificent Ambersons – Vocabulary

the magnificent ambersons

I’m finally reading The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, the 1919 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. I’m about four chapters in so far and am finding it hilarious, sharp, and a pretty easy read. The best part of reading on a Kindle is the built-in dictionary. I thought I’d share the vocabulary words I’ve learned so far:

porte cochere

  • Porte-cochère: porte co·chère (noun) – a covered entrance large enough for vehicles to pass through, typically opening into a courtyard

It was a house of arches and turrets and girdling stone porches: it had the first porte-cochère seen in that town.

  • Argot: ar·got (noun) – the jargon or slang of a particular group or class.
  • Badinage: bad·i·nage (noun) – humorous or witty conversation

This was stock and stencil: the accustomed argot of street badinage of the period; and in such matters Georgie was an expert.

This Week in Review – 10/23/2015

This Week in Review



“When I first uncrated these birds, in my frenzy I said ‘I want so many of them that every time I go out the door, I’ll run into one,’” O’Connor wrote in her essay “The King of Birds.” It was not long before she got her wish. Andalusia, then a working dairy farm crowded by cattle and farmhands, was soon dotted by dozens of peacocks.


This week, we posted:

This weekend, I’ll be re-reading The Magicians, watching a lot of television and working on a paper for class. Wherever you are, I hope you have lots of candy, warm socks, and a comfortable couch!

This Week in Review – 10/02/2015

This Week in Review

"Les Belles Danses" (The beautiful dances) by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, one of the three fountain sculptures installed at the Water Theatre Grove in Versailles outside Paris, France,  Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Designed by Andre Le Notre between 1671 and 1674, this grove is located in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. Following an international competition aimed at garden designers for the restoration of the Water Theatre grove, the landscape designer Louis Benech and the artist Jean-Michel Othoniel were chosen for their contemporary art project. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

“Les Belles Danses” (The beautiful dances) by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel

“In the United States we throw away around 40% of what we produce; and globally, 28% of the land under cultivation grows food that ends up in landfills.”

cool beans!



This week, we posted:

  1. Book Review: Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
  2. Book Review: Room, Emma Donoghue
  3. A Pairing: Edward Hopper + Dorianne Laux
  4. Books I Read in September

What did you discover this week? I hope those of you on the East Coast stay warm and dry this weekend!

This Week in Review – 09/11/2015

This Week in Review

Today is an inauspicious day in America, and so I thought I would share a serious list today about current events: politics, the refugee crisis, and other important things that I am trying to learn more about in the process of becoming a better global citizen.


The Medal “honors those who have widened the public’s engagement with literature and ‘deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience’.”

I don’t know what to make of the term “immigrant fiction.” Writers have always tended to write about the worlds they come from. And it just so happens that many writers originate from different parts of the world than the ones they end up living in, either by choice or by necessity or by circumstance, and therefore, write about those experiences. If certain books are to be termed immigrant fiction, what do we call the rest? Native fiction? Puritan fiction? This distinction doesn’t agree with me. Given the history of the United States, all American fiction could be classified as immigrant fiction. Hawthorne writes about immigrants. So does Willa Cather. From the beginnings of literature, poets and writers have based their narratives on crossing borders, on wandering, on exile, on encounters beyond the familiar. The stranger is an archetype in epic poetry, in novels. The tension between alienation and assimilation has always been a basic theme.


Wherever you are today, I hope you are surrounded by friends, puppies, or pizza! I will be in the library reading for school, so please eat a slice of pizza for me!