#6: Finish Infinite Jest

The cover of infinite jestI tend to go through pleasure reading pretty quickly, but I’m not used to books which weigh as much as a healthy baby. Case in point: if Infinite Jest were in fact a healthy baby, by the time I finished reading, it would be able to play peek-a-boo and drink from a sippy cup. Seven long months. At almost 1,100 pages of tiny, end note-strewn text, it has enough physical and emotional bulk to justify my reading time, but it’s still been on my shelf for roughly forever. I read other books, too; I moved to New England; I started grad school; it has infinite in the name. For every week I couldn’t put it down, there was a week when the only progress I made was a couple of pages during one night’s dinner. Even then I’d gush about it to my bewildered friends—”you won’t believe how they tell time,” “I can’t believe he/she/it has first-person segments now!”—but there was always a new revelation to digest and, just as important,  wonder why I was so effected.

By six months I was in up to my neck, and there was still a novella’s worth of content left. I was humbled. I just needed to finish it. After paring down what remained a couple of times, decided that this would be an adventure. I’d just sit down and finish Infinite Jest. Since the story takes place in Boston—and makes frequent mention of the green line—I decided to up the ante and read the last hundred pages while riding the T. I have a monthly pass, so I don’t get charged for individual rides. I’d just start in the morning and ride branches of the green line until I was finished.

Infinite Jest is about family, addiction, and addiction—that is to say, it can get raw and alarming pretty fast. I knew that. Somehow I didn’t connect the punch-in-the-gut hallucinatory nature of the end of the book with a small yellow humming box, filled with people, lurching quickly underground. I also didn’t realize that instead of 100 pages left, I had about 180. I made it to page 120 before deciding that it had been adventurous enough already.  It was just too much, in too well-chosen an environment.  It felt like my head was filled with silver pom-poms.  My ears were buzzing, and I became somehow convinced that if I kept reading, I’d give myself chronic motion sickness and no longer be able to read on the T (a hypothesis which seemed to make good sense at the time).

It would have been a pretty intense couple of chapters even if I’d been reading them in my room, which I know, because I read the last few in my room . I’d worried that I’d have to wait until the next weekend to have that kind of time on my hands, but luckily we had a “snow day”—in reality just a rain-with-a-couple-of-snowflakes-day. The end of the novel took place in Boston in the middle of a blizzard; I finished it, in Boston, waiting for a snowstorm that never arrived. Although the adventure didn’t go quite as planned, I don’t know when I would have buckled down and gotten through if not for that goal, and I’m really glad I did.