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It's Time for an "Infinite Summer"

It's Time for an

By Robert Isenberg

If you've never heard of "Infinite Summer," it may not be exactly what you're expecting.

"Infinite Summer" does not refer to endless warm months followed by an absence of school.

Infinite Summer is a season-long attempt to read Infinite Jest, the 1,000-page super-novel by David Foster Wallace. It was dreamed up by writer Matthew Baldwin in 2009, as a way to help people appreciate this mammoth of a story—and not have them freak out because it's so unbelievably huge and long. (The paperback's shipping weight is 2.8 lbs.).

There are a lot of reasons you might not want to read Infinite Jest. It's a tough volume to lug around, and it can barely fit into a average-size book bag. Also, the print is small and the prose is dense. Finally, and most upsettingly, David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008 (which is partly what inspired Baldwin's Infinite Summer book club idea). Since lots of writers are depressed and take their own lives, it revives the age-old question: Is their work still awesome enough to read?

As far as this Mastermind is concerned, yes. A thousand times yes. Because Infinite Jest is an absolute masterwork that is likely to change your life. Even if you just read the first 700 pages and leave the rest for next summer. Even if you flip through it at random or read every other page. It's fun, it's hilarious, and, most of all...

...Infinite Jest may just be the Nerd Bible.

Big words? Maybe. But here are some reasons why it's a good contender:

  1. The book is kind of a science fiction—in the near-future, when years are named after corporate sponsors (The Year of the Whopper, etc.)
  2. The story is mind-bendingly weird. It takes place in a halfway house (creepy, disturbing, goofy) and an ultra-elite tennis academy. And even if you convincingly argue that tennis players are yuppies, not nerds, Wallace's description of the art of tennis is pretty much geektastic.
  3. Infinite Jest is HYSTERICALLY FUNNY. Sometimes weird, cerebral funny. Sometimes laugh-out-loud-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened funny. Sometimes so stupidly slapsticky funny that you can't believe Wallace sank so low (for a MacArthur Fellow, he sure wrote in a TON of fart jokes).
  4. The characters are mostly young, whip-smart, philosophic, and slightly-to-totally maladjusted. And really, Masterminds, are there cooler people to read about?
  5. Assassins in wheelchairs!
  6. There is an entire chunk of the book dedicated to a strategy game called "Eschaton," which is basically Axis & Allies, Risk, Model U.N. and World of Warcraft rolled into one gigantic game, played on a blacktop.
  7. Wallace writes in long, wily, run-on sentences, which suck you in with the first word and lead you along, until you realize you've read an entire page. It's like a verbal roller coaster, with all kinds of weird factoids—real and imagined—peppered throughout. Basically if you like playful language, you're gonna LOVE Infinite Jest.
  8. It's surreal as all get-out. A pair of conjoined twins have to play tennis as a doubles team. A guy nukes his own head in a microwave. Stuff like that.
  9. Endnotes. So many endnotes. Like an entirely separate book, as dense and rich and tasty as a black forest cake.
  10. If you get your kicks from dysfunctional family angst, the Incandenza brothers make Wes Anderson characters look normal.
  11. Transvestite secret agents!

Infinite Jest hit bookstores in 1996—back when bookstores existed—and it became an international bestseller. Of course that means this "sci fi" is already a little dated. Like, the characters use landlines to call each other. They talk about "entertainment cartridges," which are supposed to be like futuristic DVDs, but they don't sound nearly as advanced as streaming video. Like all sci fi stories that are a little off, those wonky predictions just make the book more fun.

Convinced? Think you might be up to the challenge? It's 75 pages a week. Finish by September. Go!

What are your favorite super-long books?

Tags: sci fi, novels, books-and-comics, summer books

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