Breaking Up with Infinite Jest

Reading Infinite Jest for the first time was like the start of any new relationship.

Someone I trusted had put in a good word for it, and I decided to give it a go (a new book is always a bit like a blind date). I spent some time getting to know it, and for awhile, I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. There were some good times during the first few hundred pages – some moments of humor and sincerity – but some frustrating and confusing ones too. I didn’t know if it was the book for me, and I thought about breaking up with it several times. Was it really worth my time?

But, like any really good book, Infinite Jest won me over. I found myself eager to spend more time with it. I found myself thinking about its characters and plots between meetings at work and on the subway ride home. It was exciting. I felt all the feelings. We had a good thing going, this book and me.

And then we broke up. It had no more pages for me, and I was devastated. I’d sunk so much time in this book, these characters, this author. Not only was the book no more, but the author was no more. It was over. All over.

Even though we parted on good terms, I was reluctant when it came knocking at my door again earlier this year.  I didn’t know if the rapport was still there — if our time together would still be as good as I remembered. It was the same book, but I was a different person.

The last few months have been good – different than before, no doubt – but good. The excitement and thrilling uncertainty of the first read were gone, but in their place arose a calm space. In this space, and with more time together, I noticed new things I didn’t pick up on in the initial whirlwind of the first read. I appreciated the small things – the details you only notice after you’ve spent a long time with some thing. Our connection grew deeper, more intricate.

The latest break up feels less like a severance and more like a mutual separation. Sometimes a book and a reader need space to keep the relationship strong.  I know we’ll be in touch again.


Thanks to all who read along and followed along during Infinite Winter. If you’re attending the David Foster Wallace Conference this year, be sure to find me and say hi. I’ll be the introvert at the back of the room.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking Up with Infinite Jest”

  1. My long-term relationship with Infinite Jest is so intense it’s thinking of taking a restraining order out on me.

  2. I LOVED IJ on my first read. Fifteen years later I still admire it above all others, but my experience reading it this time evoked much different feelings. Truthfully, it made me feel really lonely this time around; I was really absorbing it this time, rather than simply reading it. And it is, at its core, a lonely book, I think. I will certainly read portions of it again in the future. But will I do a full re-read? No.

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