Eden M. Kennedy is the co-author of “Let’s Panic About Babies!” (St. Martin’s, 2011), a parody of pregnancy and childrearing guides. She lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband and son, and she is nearly finished writing her first novel.
In the spring of 2009, not quite a year after David Foster Wallace died, my friend Matthew e-mailed me with an unexpected question. He asked me if I’d ever read Infinite Jest, and if not, would I like to help “guide” people through the book over the summer by posting about my experience of reading it on a simple web site he had built, called Infinite Summer. The goal would be to read 100 pages a week and then write one post a week about the experience.
I had never met Matthew in real life, and I haven’t still, though we have been internet-friends since somewhere around 2002, when both of us were blogging before it was widely possible to leave comments on, or make money from, personal web sites. Not having any idea what I was about to say yes to, I said, Yes! Of course! Not only because I’d wanted to read Infinite Jest for years, but because how impressive would that be, to read a difficult book and impress a very, very small corner of the internet while I did it!
I’d once been a tackler of big, fat books — toughies like Moby Dick, and War and Peace (abridged edition). What was Infinite Jest if not the next big mountain to climb? I didn’t care if I wasn’t in shape for it; I was sure Infinite Summer was just what I needed to revive brain cells made dormant by motherhood, living in California, and answering phones for a living. More importantly, Infinite Summer would earn me some credibility — if not in the eyes of the paralegals I made coffee for, then maybe among the people who read my tired little blog; maybe even for myself.
But you know what happens when you do something mainly for the ego boost: usually just the opposite. I can’t bear to go back and look at my posts from that summer, and you probably shouldn’t either. I was in way over my head. I was a blogger and part-time receptionist who hadn’t read more than the side of an oatmeal box in seven years. One of my posts seriously asked people to tell me how they made time to read every day. Then I fell asleep and dreamed about David Foster Wallace tearing my college diploma in half.
The only thing that kept me from dropping out halfway through July — besides my friend Matthew’s faith in me and the public shame that would surely have been heaped upon me if I quit — was the group of people who joined me that Infinite Summer. Even after a long day when I didn’t want to turn on a tiny light and crack open a thousand-page book while my husband slept beside me, I sucked it up and ploughed through with everyone else. I was doing this alone, but in beds and chairs and train compartments and airplane seats all over the world, hundreds of other people had made the same commitment and were ploughing through as well. And some of them must have been as dumb as me, right? (Probably not.)
Have you read Infinite Jest? I don’t know if you’d find the experience as entertaining and humbling as I did, or if as soon as you were done you’d want to go back to the beginning and start reading it all over again, like I did. But if you haven’t read it and you’ve got three months to see what kind of stuff you’re made of, you really should join Poor Yoricks’ Summer and give it a cry. Try! I mean give it a try.