The Infinite Jest Summer Challenge

When I devel­op the cur­ricu­lum for Stan­ford’s Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies pro­gram, I often like to cre­ate cours­es around big, hard books that stu­dents have long intend­ed to read, but have nev­er quite pulled off: James Joyce’s Uly­sess, Pla­to’s Repub­lic, Tol­stoy’s Anna Karen­i­na, you get the pic­ture. For many stu­dents, it takes a course, or some­thing equiv­a­lent, to pro­vide the struc­ture and encour­age­ment to get through a tru­ly major work.  A more mod­ern exam­ple is Infi­nite Jest, David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s 1100 page sprawl­ing nov­el, which TIME Mag­a­zine includ­ed on its list of all-time 100 nov­els. To help you work through the nov­el, a web site called Infi­nite Sum­mer has invit­ed read­ers to tack­le the nov­el with oth­er read­ers start­ing on June 21. Here’s the basic invi­ta­tion:

You’ve been mean­ing to do it for over a decade. Now join endurance bib­lio­philes from around the web as we tack­le and com­ment upon David Fos­ter Wal­lace’s mas­ter­work, June 21st to Sep­tem­ber 22nd. A thou­sand pages1 ÷ 93 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat. 

Return to this site on June 1st for full details. In the mean­while, buy or bor­row a copy of the nov­el, fol­low us on Twit­ter (#inf­sum), join the Face­book group, and clear your lit­er­ary sched­ule for the fore­see­able future.

If I can wrap up Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov (my cur­rent read) by then, I’ll give it a go. In the mean­time, you should def­i­nite­ly give this some thought. Also, as a quick aside, you may know that David Fos­ter Wal­lace trag­i­cal­ly com­mit­ted sui­cide last year. To learn more about DFW, his writ­ing career, and spi­ral into depres­sion, give this piece in The New York­er a read.

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  • Dewey says:

    I read it in three weeks about three months ago. I’m already in the mood to tack­le it again. An amaz­ing book and a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge.

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