A literary endurance contest

June 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

infinite-jestSome people run marathons, some people participate in dance contests, some people walk from Thunder Bay to Manhattan. In each case, the endeavour requires bountiful reserves of stamina and perseverance. Now The Morning News – the folks responsible for the annual Tournament of Books – have come up with a peculiarly literary test of endurance. They’re challenging one and all to commit to reading David Foster Wallace’s mammoth 1996 novel Infinite Jest over the summer of 2009, and to report on the experience online.

Called Infinite Summer, the project kicks off on June 21 and runs until September 22. That’s 92 days to make it through approximately 1,000 pages (plus copious endnotes), which works out to 75 pages per week. “No sweat,” say the challenge organizers. That’s what you think, says yr. humble correspondent.

Because, of course, we’re not talking about just any 1,000 pages (plus endnotes). We’re talking about 1,000 pages of David Foster Wallace’s famously complex, digressive, serpentine prose. Reading Wallace is not the job of an afternoon, nor can it be accomplished in a state of distraction or inattention (trying to read even his shorter pieces during a commute on the subway is likely to trigger some sort of mental collapse). Wallace is a notoriously difficult writer, who makes serious demands on his readers. As Wyatt Mason noted about the short story collection Oblivion: “Wallace, after all, whether or not he coats it in aesthetic caramel, is demanding that readers play his game: my house, my rules. Don’t like it? You don’t have to play.” Not for nothing does the final note on the Infinite Summer list of things to do prior to the kick-off date read, “Finish or abandon all books, hobbies, and/or relationships before June 21st.”

Still, if you’re ambitious, if you’ve always meant to get around to reading Infinite Jest but haven’t found the time or the motivation, or if you’ve tried and failed to make it through (ahem), this may be just the challenge you’ve been looking for.


2 Responses to “A literary endurance contest”
  1. My first thought was, of course I will.

    Now I am starting to wonder about the opportunity cost by making a list of all the books I won’t read, should I opt for Infinite Jest. Still in the works, but for the purposes of a calculation it’s not one-to-one. Some formulas are needed to adjust for complexity:

    1 page of average lit. fiction = 1/4 page of DFW
    1 page Raymond Carver = 1/6 page of DFW (not in substance mind)
    1 page of a zombie thriller = 1/15 of DFW


  2. August says:

    I thought about doing this, as it’s been sitting untouched on my shelf for three years, but seeing as I’m behind on my reading already and haven’t touched my current ‘long read’ book in quite some time, it might be better not to add to my bookish shame.