Friday, August 21, 2009

Does quite a bit more than it says on the tin

Autumn's always been my favourite season even though, as I just remarked to a friend, in Ireland it's the difference between rain-with-boots-and-socks and rain-with-sandals. This year, autumn's giving me extra cause for "oh thank GOD"ness because it means the end of a very particular type of Infinite Summer.

Since June 21st, Dave and I have been reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (cult status in the US; "who???" status over here) alongside an online reading group. This isn't the post where I talk about the content of the book, not least because of the thousand (s?) of people reading it, I am (al)most certainly nowhere near the most coherent 10% in terms of discussing meta-anything, and it strikes me that to properly discuss Infinite Jest you'd need to meta yourself onto a whole new planet, Janet.

But reading the same book all summer is a bit like running laps. After a while, the muscles start to pump round by themselves and you get some time to ponder the activity within the wider context of your life.

An aside (me? never....): For me, the stated reason for running is to get some damn exercise already and offset the nightly helping of small-boy-supper I manage to consume in the name of "checking it's OK for them". But the side-effects, which are to an extent unintentional but are in fact equally huge benefits, include stuff like: I get 30 minutes, three times a week, to let my brain spin off on its own wee axis and see what's brewing in there (today's special: mixed metaphors, apparently). I convert my usual nervy energy into something a bit more useful, a bit like cow pats for fuel. Because we live on the edge of some gorgeous views, I get my nature fix without needing to make it a thing of its own - which is, after all, how I most like nature to be.

ANYway. Enough of a tangent, much? Here are the things that, in 780+ pages of reading, I'm realising I'm enjoying almost as much as the actual book itself, which, let's face it, has been bloody hard work at times.

Let's start with the two in the paragraph above, shall we?

1) I sometimes think I live my entire life as a tangent, and this book is so full of them it makes me feel like the die-straightest arrow ever to set point in a quiver. I've never minded the distractible-ness of myself, or my inability to function in a straight line; but it's still always nice to have company. Even though, of course, the book is fictional and the author had a plan, or at least found a way to make it make enough sense to keep going. Hmm. Let's hope I have one of those too.

2) I've never meant to do this, but I sometimes surprise people by not living up to their first impressions. So from time to time someone will announce that they'd thought I was going to be really quiet and shy (because I'm small and unprepossessing, I suppose). Or - given my background in literature & now publishing - that I will have wildly erudite reading habits, when it turns out that reading foreign literature to degree level left me with some pretty open-jawed gaps in the English canon. All of which to say that I don't read "hard stuff" as much as I could or should. I haven't commuted on public transport for 6+ years, so there's been no tube-reading; and by the time the kids are zonked, it's the least I can do to pick up anything, let alone a work of genius.
But being committed to reading IJ, if only in my head, actually*, means that I'm treating it almost like homework and achieving my allotted page count regardless of how much it makes my head spin to read such dense thinking at the end of the day or in 2-minute bursts, which is barely time enough for the average DFW sentence. And reading "real" books, after 4 years of pregnancy/tiny kids, is adding unfuring one more petal within my budding sense (sorry) of regaining parts of myself now the kids are old enough to be themselves.

The other, unexpected but really cool, thing, that I'm enjoying from this whole experience is reading the book alongside Dave. It's one thing to recommend a book to one's husband/wife/whatever and insist they love it, then have lengthy "wasn't that ace?" discussions thereafter. It's quite another, really, to take on the same heinously long-winded book-at-bedtime, simultaneously. It's a bit like co-parenting but with four-paragraph-long descriptions of bodily fluids in the place of real ones.

Anyway, 200 pages to go and if I'm going to finish the damn thing by deadline like the nerd I still am, I'd better sod off and read it rather than faff around here pontificating about it.

* (I'm still a bit nervous of being kicked out of online forums for laughing inappropriately or telling a long and involved story at the wrong moment - moi? Surely not)

1 comment:

FranklyDave said...

Hmm - have you seen there's a new plan to start Gravity's Rainbow -

Having started it several times, I think you might be on your own for this one.