I attempted to put one of those thermometer-type meters on the blog to show my progress with “Infinite Jest”. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t quite work. So here’s just a quick update: page 249. There are still new characters being added and keeping the story straight (and constantly flipping to the end notes) can be a challenge, but so far I’m enjoying it.
There’s been a lively discussion on Goodreads.com about if and when readers “abandon” books, and they’ve put together this infographic on the most frequently abandoned books, for both modern and classics. I don’t normally intentionally give up on a book, but I’ve definitely been known to stall out now and again. (My copy of Salman Rushdie’s third-person autobiography “Joseph Conrad” remains half-read, for example.) But I have no plans to abandon Dave Wallace, mostly because I’m so curious how (or if) he’s going to bring all of this together…
So it turns out that when you say publicly (on a blog, for example) that you’re going to do something, people often read your statement, remember it, and then actually ask you if you’ve done the thing you said you were going to do.
And so it was that over a lovely dinner late last week, a friend asked me about my progress with Infinite Jest, reminding me, “…you said on your blog that you were going to read it during your sabbatical”. Yes, yes I did. And now I have…started it, at least. Again. Luckily I have good company and lots of resources from the incredible folks over at Infinite Summer, who undertook the task of reading, discussing and dissecting Infinite Jest back in 2010.
For people like me who love to read, the question of what to read is a constant challenge. There are few things that excite me more than walking out of a library or bookstore with an armful of books. The only thing that tempers that excitement is the realization, walking around said library or bookstore, that I will never be able to read everything.
As a result, I tend to cast a wide net, attempting to sample a little of this or that. One might say that I’m a bit promiscuous in my reading.
For example, in addition to Infinite Jest, the following books are currently sitting on my dining room table, courtesy of a recent trip to my local library: a small book about the Battle of Waterloo (“June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe”, in case you’re interested); the 800-page novel “Paris” by Edward Rutherfurd; and Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short”, about the stock market crash. And that doesn’t even begin to address the pile of books on or near my nightstand. Or the e-books queued up on my Nook.
But for now, for the foreseeable future, it’s me and David Foster Wallace. I’m putting those other tempting books aside and giving my full attention to the sprawling genius of this 981-page (not including end notes) creation. Time for some literary monogamy.
I’ve been very conscious, as I continue my planning, of not overloading my schedule, and not trying to take on too much. Given my personality, there’s never been a chance that I’d lay on a beach for 3 months. It’s much more likely that I’ll overcommit, and try to do a thousand things, and then curse myself at the end of August for not accomplishing everything on my list. It happens, and we’ve got the New York Times article to prove it.
To guard against this, I’ve tried to separate my goals and activities into two buckets, which I call the Checklist and the Springboard.
The Checklist is pretty self-explanatory. It’s stuff I want to do that can be planned, executed, and completed. There are friends I want to be sure to see, and places I want to hang out and explore for a few days. I want to kayak on Spot Pond and swim regularly at Walden Pond and do some fly-fishing. I want to bike around Cape Anne and go to Cape Cod and find the best ice cream in New England. I want to finally read Infinite Jest and go to the movies in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Write ‘em down, check ‘em off.
The Springboard is a bit more complicated. There are fewer items on the list, for starters. The challenge for each is to define what kind of involvement would satisfy me. Would it be enough to expose myself to something new? Or aim for a thumbs up/thumbs down decision as to whether it’s something I’d like to pursue more? Should I try to set some level of mastery or progress as a goal?
The reality is that the items on the Springboard list are life-long pursuits, and I’m hoping my sabbatical time will allow me to deepen my skills and my appreciation of these interests. Research shows that attitude, enthusiasm and intent are key to keeping the mind nimble and continuing to develop the brain at any age. It’s important to have goals, but exposure, practice, and enjoyment matter, too.
My Springboard activities are going to use my brain in new ways, and I don’t think the learning will be easy. Instead of getting hung up on a specific outcome, I would rather focus on the wonder of my brain’s ability to change and absorb new knowledge. I want to pay attention to when and how things “click” (assuming they will, at some point!), and how I feel throughout the process. I want to be sure to remind myself that learning is the goal.