Friday, June 24, 2011

Infinite wordiness

Last year, I wrote a post here about a list I had seen of thirteen books that everyone says he/she has read but hasn't. One of the books on that list was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. At that time, I admitted my literary ignorance of the book and maintained that I would probably never read it. I didn't even know who David Foster Wallace was. That was the depth of my ignorance.

After writing that, I felt bad. Who was I to dismiss a book and an author that I didn't even really know anything about? So, I decided to learn about Wallace and his work.

I looked him up on Wikipedia and was appalled to learn that he had killed himself in 2008. He had suffered from severe depression for many years and had only been able to function with the help of medication.

I discovered some of his essays and found them to be well-written and interesting and to express sentiments with which I could agree. To make a long story short, I decided to put Infinite Jest on my "to be read" list.

Well, now, Wallace's editor has finished with Wallace's last work, an unfinished novel called The Pale King and it has been published to glowing reviews - just as Infinite Jest was. Last week, while on the road on vacation, I heard the editor reading an excerpt from the book and it was beautiful, really more poetry than prose. I decided to move Infinite Jest up on my list and this week I started reading it.

It is a daunting reading challenge, over 1000 pages of small font type, sentences that run on to paragraph-length and paragraphs that sometimes go on for a page or more. Moreover, it has some eccentric punctuation which is really a pet peeve of mine. (And what exactly did e e cummings have against capital letters anyway?)

I'm only a few chapters into the book so far. Some of the writing that I've encountered is luminous and some is just irritating, but, my goodness, it is wordy! Don't publishers use editors anymore, or were they so intimidated by Wallace's genius that they were afraid to suggest cutting anything? Oh, well, I will slog on and in the end, I will no longer be ignorant of David Foster Wallace and his work and I will have been able to check off another of those books that everyone says they have read, and I actually WILL have!


  1. I would have quit! No punctuation ... ack! You go girl!

  2. Well, I didn't mean to imply that it doesn't have punctuation, Snap. It does, but it's just not always conventional. It's just a minor irritation.