Winter has officially closed its grip upon us here in the United States, making this the perfect time of year to catch up on reading that really long novel you’ve been meaning to read for so many years. If you’re an avid reader, you undoubtedly have one of those; a literary mega-tome that you keep hearing you should read, yet you just haven’t gotten around to it for one reason or another. Maybe it’s something classic by Tolstoy, or Proust; perhaps a more contemporary voice like Knausgaard.
For me, that “big book on my shelf I keep meaning to finally read” for years was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. But that changed in 2009 when I finally made my way through the entire 1,000-plus pages thanks to a wonderful online reading group called Infinite Summer, which supported a community of readers making our way through the book all at the same time. Thanks to their combination of social media, community forums, and guest blog posts guiding readers through the book week by week, a novel that I may have left unfinished a third of the way through suddenly became a lot easier for me not only to finish, but to understand and become engaged with all the way to the end.
Now that we’re in book’s 20th anniversary year, I was thrilled to discover that a new group of talented and dedicated readers who appreciated Infinite Summer as much as I did are reviving the community for another go, this time as Infinite Winter.
I’m in for a second go at this, and I hope you will join us.
The plan is simple: read Infinite Jest with a few hundred of your closest friends with a goal of 75 pages per week from January 31 – May 2, 2016.
Of course, it’s not really quite that simple, because Infinite Jest is not a simple novel. But as I discovered the first time through, it’s the complexity of the book, and the mechanics involved in reading it, that actually make it such a great reading experience.
Reading Infinite Jest requires action on the part of the reader to keep up with the hundreds of notes and errata added throughout the text. Many of those notes are practically short stories in themselves with their own sub-notations (looking at you, endnote #110!), building into a meta-commentary within the primary and secondary text that you interact with as you flip between them. It continuously changed and evolved how I related to the story, the minds of the characters, and the mind of the author himself, and redefined how I participated with the novel as a reader in ways that no other book I’ve read could do. Even when it was a difficult read, it was difficult in a very satisfying way.
So if you’ve always wanted to read Infinite Jest but haven’t yet, or if you want an excuse to read it again, or even if you’re just looking for a challenging reading experience, I can’t think of a better way than to take part in the Infinite Winter reading, especially since it’s a zero commitment, participate-how-you-want kind of community that is all about supporting the shared experience. All you need is a copy of the book
Personally, I recommend getting a copy of the paperback—the 10th anniversary edition is still available for about $14. (A newer 20th anniversary edition will be released closer to the original publication date in February, but that’s a month into this reading and you don’t want to fall behind.) You can also get the Kindle edition if e-books are your jam, and that could make the back and forth across footnotes a little easier.
I’m returning to my paperback edition for the Infinite Winter read because I’m looking forward to encountering all the marginalia and annotations I wrote in the book the first time, little notes I sent from myself in the past to make the next time around more personal than the last.
Once you’ve got your book ready, be sure to join the community at InfiniteWinter.org by reading blog posts, commenting, and sharing your thoughts as we read. I’ve even been asked to submit a guest blog post or two along the way, and I’m excited to be able to add my voice to the larger community this time around. The conversation will also be on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtags #InfWin and, when possible, #InfiniteJest.
Reading Infinite Jest back in 2009 changed how I think about reading, and about writing. It opened me up to what literature can be and do, and I can’t wait to return to this novel and see how it may change me all over again. I hope it will do the same for you.