¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 In this deep concern for the books they read, and in the ways they put those books to use in their everyday lives, the readers who participated in Oprah’s Book Club are not so far removed from David Foster Wallace’s readers, many of whom feel a connection to the work that extends far beyond aesthetics or cultural critique to a form of personal insight not found in many postmodernists. Infinite Jest in particular has drawn readers in not just due to the intricate puzzles posed by its narrative structure, or its trenchant insight into the state of contemporary culture, but also due to its willingness to treat some of the most painful aspects of contemporary life — loneliness, isolation, depression, addiction — with respect and concern.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 6 When it became evident after his death that Wallace had spent much of his own life battling depression, and that this depression had led to his suicide, many of his readers felt the loss in ways that were so powerful as perhaps to be surprising. Wallace had explored throughout his work the connection between “angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me” (McCaffery 136), and contemporary fears of loneliness, of being trapped in a self that is unable to form genuine connections with another. For an author who had helped so many readers understand and overcome their own pain, via the imaginative identifications he had fostered within them, to be lost to the very pain that he had helped them through, was an irony of a most acute sort.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Many of these readers tried to soothe that hurt by returning to the fiction, to the Wallace who was still working through his own pain, and who was helping them do so as well. They not only returned to the texts, but they reached out to share them with one another as well, as a means of forging connections in the face of this loss. Evidence of this desire to work through a shared sense of grief by talking about the fiction can be seen in many articles, memorials, blog posts, and the like dating from the months after his death, but perhaps no example has been more fruitful than Infinite Summer.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Seattle blogger Matthew Baldwin launched Infinite Summer on June 1, 2009, a project he’d conceived earlier that spring as a means of supporting his own plan to read Infinite Jest, which he’d owned for some years but had never managed to finish.1 ago, when I first envisioned this crazy event” (Mountaineering).] By setting a disciplined reading schedule (75 pages per week between June 21 and September 22), by recruiting friends and fellow bloggers to read along with him, and by creating a public forum within which their collective reading process would be shared, both with one another and with anyone else who happened upon the blog, Baldwin hoped that he and other determined readers would be able to make it through what presents as an overwhelming reading task. Baldwin announced the project on infinitesummer.org on June 1, immediately inviting participation: “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 over the summer of 2009″ (The List). He introduced himself and his fellow guides two days later: “Four writers who have never before read Infinite Jest will do so for the duration of Infinite Summer. And each will be posting here weekly, not only to report on their thoughts and progress, but also to promote and facilitate discussion” (The Guides).
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- As he told reporter James Cowan, he’d read the first 120 pages on a flight six years before, and then didn’t pick the book up again: ” “˜Once I wasn’t on an eight-hour plane flight with nothing to do but devote myself to the book, it just seemed like a monumental thing to go through,’ said Baldwin, a freelance writer who lives outside Seattle, Washington. “˜I didn’t revisit it, but at the back of my mind, I always wanted to read it, because I enjoyed what I had read.’ “ Moreover, as he noted in his first “guide” post, “In addition to Infinite Jest, here is a list of other David Foster Wallace works that I have somehow failed to read: all of them. Or at least that was the case two month [sic ↩