By Dayo Olopade
Greetings, all! I am extremely excited about the prospect of ranting and raving about this deeply frustrating, yet rewarding book. I’ve long believed that reading and writing are extremely antisocial behaviors and that all journalists are a shade defective because of that fact–the life of David Foster Wallace is perhaps a case in point. And so I relish the opportunity to both read and write in a communal fashion.
I also want to confess my own head start on Infinite Summer. On a recent trip to Nigeria, I downed about 500 pages of the “paper brick” before returning to the states and losing not my motivation but my time.
Part of that problem comes from the unbelievable neediness of this book. The sense that Wallace himself, not to mention the compelling cast of characters and precepts that are arrayed before the reader, is tugging at your sleeve, insisting that you stay and fight. Further, the book does not go down like short stories or essays or the tremendous nonfiction journalism that is my favorite part of Wallace’s legacy. It’s broken up into 70-page marathons of engaging prose or short scenes that end abruptly, or footnotes that must be read with care and yet a thumb in the rest of the book and perhaps thrice before the reality sinks in. In other words, it’s really, really hard to start and stop. The extra weight of this being an “important book” likewise compels the reader, as many have already discussed here, to stay and fight. You’re in it or you’re out.
When I was in this book it was good (I even devised a very helpful system for keeping up with the dread footnotes, on which more later). For months, I’ve been out–and kudos to the gang here for sucking me back in (though there was talk of sangria, don’t play).
So I’m here, and will clear the space to do this properly. Because time is paramount, as Dave Eggers’ introduction to the most recent edition makes clear:
The book is 1,067 pages long and there is not one lazy sentence. The book is drum-tight and relentlessly smart and, though it does not wear its heart on its sleeve, it’s deeply felt and incredibly moving. That it was written in three years by a writer under 35 is very painful to think about. So let’s not think about that. The point is that it’s for all these reasons—acclaimed, daunting, not-lazy, drum-tight, very funny (we didn’t mention that yet but yes) — that you picked up this book. Now the question is this: Will you actually read it?
Yes, fine. In. I’ll get into my complaints and my embarassing gushing in short order–but there’s no backtracking because hey, I just said that I would read it with these fine friends and the internet hates liars.