A Supposedly Fun Blog

July 14, 2009

What we talk about when we talk about IJ

Filed under: Uncategorized — annielowrey @ 6:32 pm

By Annie Lowrey

So, I’m back with a much sunnier post than my last.

First, foremost, it’s been delightful reading this book in tandem with a lot of other readers from sundry backgrounds, on this blog and others. Normally I adore the cloistered and exclusive relationship the reader has with a book. (It’s like best friends.) But IJ has proven itself a more social creature. The advice — to read passages aloud, create a timeline, get to page 300 etc., to realize that 2009 may well be the year of the adult undergarment — has been especially useful.

To turn that point in, it’s been interesting to consider what we post about when we post on our blog. Thus far the posts have been, for the most part, miniaturist and intensely focused on aesthetics. We’ve appreciated individual turns, or little rhetorical tics, or other minutiae. And we’ve discussed the book’s style — Woods, realism, hysterical realism, the fractured text etc.

It’s not a big mystery why. First, the style is the most overwhelming and most obvious thing about the book. It begs to be analyzed and discussed. Second, before you have any idea what’s going on, it’s the only thing you can talk about, really.

And I think the fact that character and plot development have been so scant also explains, in part, why the posts have been negative and cagey. DFW’s style can be hard to acclimate to, even if you’re really liking the book at large and are still game to get through it. We should all be on page 300 now — and I think the discussion will broaden a bit from here on out.

It reminds me — I had a professor in college who would only talk about books during re-reading — everyone needed to get through and then we’d discuss, piece by piece, on the second go-around. I think there’s some wisdom there, at least in an academic setting. It’s much more interesting to argue about a book when you can consider all its elements — philosophy, plot, narrative arc, allusion, style, aesthetics, whatever.

But, of course, reading isn’t just about getting through a book in order to make clever observations on it and formulate a clever opinion about it. It’s also about the act reading, and all the things that entails. And IJ insists upon careful attention in the act of reading — the pinging back and forth to the footnotes, the heft of the text, the typeface and everything. It’s been fascinating to note the process of reading IJ in a community of readers — particularly outside an academic setting.

Another thing from college — it was always verboten to discuss things that you liked and disliked. Those were naughty words, unsupportable words, not words which had to do with intellect and argument. Not so on a blog, where I get to prattle on about things I like and dislike all I want.

And, on that note, I’ll admit that I did eventually get through the yrstruly section and that it does improve on the second-go around. Particularly when read aloud.


  1. Congrats. Now I feel boorish for being one of the sections adamant supporters.

    Comment by Zach — July 14, 2009 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

  2. Glad to hear you made it through. Nice post.

    Comment by Charles — July 14, 2009 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

  3. […] is I guess the best I can do. It claims that IJ is really 17 short stories until page 250. Finally, this point over at A Supposedly Fun Blog morphs this advice into “get to page 300, etc.” Hopefully […]

    Pingback by IJ Notes | Geoffrey Werner Challen — July 15, 2009 @ 2:10 am | Reply

  4. Penultimate paragraph is wrong. See Putnam on the fact/value distinction. Of course we can reason about why a book is good or not.

    Comment by B — July 15, 2009 @ 10:10 am | Reply

  5. There’s a big distinction between liking something and thinking it good — I was talking about the former, not the latter. Of course, English departments aren’t filled with empiricists; and value judgments come into things.

    But never once did I sit in section or write a 20-pager on whether I liked something — because it tickled me, reminded me of an uncle, whatever — there wasn’t a lot of room for that.

    Furthermore, I don’t really see how one could disprove my recollection of college with the writings of Putnam…though I’d like to see it attempted.

    Comment by annielowrey — July 15, 2009 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  6. I think at this point – less than a third of the way in, the bigger picture themes are not quite clear yet. Like The Cure’s first record, this book/band could still end up going a lot of different ways. I like the yrstruly stuff, (and I like “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”) even though I don’t know how it fit’s in with the overall theme and arc of the novel. So at this points it is not surprising that most comments are micro focused on style and craft rather than theme’s and deeper meanings.

    Comment by john i — July 15, 2009 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  7. […] like I sense most of the people here were to varying degrees – by the yrstruly passage, the barely existent plot, and the more or less useless endnotes, which for efficiency’s sake I started reading in ten […]

    Pingback by “You Will Acquire Many Exotic New Facts” « A Supposedly Fun Blog — July 17, 2009 @ 3:36 am | Reply

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