Or, an update on my infinite summer progress to date. After a belated beginning I’m back on track, at pp. 223/endnote 77. This is a fairly exciting milestone in the book, for me, since it’s a) past where I believe I stopped the first time, b) at the point where we finally unearth some fairly important information, and, c) also along the guidelines laid out here, past page 200, at which point things apparently start to flow more together[1. Unless, of course, DFW is, himself, a disciple of anticonfluentialism.]. However, what I’ve been telling people is simply this: even as a collection of semi-related short stories the first 200 pages is a pleasure. Once it starts all coming together it’s going to be exciting.[2. I have to say that I appreciate that Wallace has started to reward our attention to the endnotes, obviously such a unique and potentially-frustrating property of IJ. The first big catch that I made was on the page facing the one that I'm currently stopped at, pp. 222, where a reference is made to "Jim's own Cage III: Free Show"." Anyone who really slogged through the sudden speed bump that was endnote 24 was rewarded (for the first time, at least).]
I’ve mentioned that I’m reading IJ to a few people, with reactions ranging from “That book?” to “What book?”. Among my computer-scientist set there’s the common complaint that the sheer amount of technical reading that we have to do — in researching related work, reviewing papers and just general keeping up with our own fields — precludes pleasure reading, either because it leaves the scientist with no time to read or with no inclination.
I can’t say that much about the time issue[3. Although my own foray into IJ led my wife and I to postpone Season 5 of The Wire. Well, that and the toll that that show takes on you if you watch it day after day.], but at least for me technical reading[4. Which I actually tend to enjoy, from a research perspective if not a aesthetic one.] tends to whet my appetite for literature, or at least well-written prose in the form of excellent magazines like The New Yorker. Usually the latter are more manageable within the confines of my schedule, with bits pre-broken up for easy mental digestion, and so I have to say that merging IJ and my research activities is a bit of an experiment.
Again, so far so good. One noticeable change to my reading patterns brought on at least partially by the nature of IJ and partly by being, well, busy is that I tend to read in shorter sections — 15, 20 pages before bed, five pages snatched here and there in the morning or as a break from work, etc. This sort of “tempo reading”[5. To borrow an appropriate analogue from bike and foot racing.] is I think quite appropriate for IJ, given the heightened mental capacity needed to really appreciate it. (That it tends to break down into semi-bite-sized pieces is quite an assist.) It’s not that you can’t follow the plot after more than 20 pages, but the initial pleasure of sitting down with the book and really getting it — catching the references, getting the more obscure bits of humor, being willing to pause to run to the O.E.D.[6. I should just point out here, with respect to David Eggers in many ways quite excellent forward the edition I possess: the bit about DFW not sending you running to the dictionary several times per page is simply false. In the interest of preserving my own sanity I have tended to eschew many of the pharmacological references, but have been trying to be good about looking up words that seem significant in context like ephebic and the even more interesting murated.] — tends to wane (at least for me), a good signal that it’s time to put it down. And pick up a research paper perhaps?