Doug Bruns

Infinite Jest, Longfellow Books

In Literature, Reading, The Examined Life, Writers on April 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I am a swimmer. Every morning, weather permitting, I get on my bike, peddle across the peninsula, and swim at the Portland  Y.  I always assumed I’d end up in a pool, having torn, twisted and generally f”-ed up everything a guy can f-up: shoulders, hip, back, hands. (The knees are in good shape, surprise.) The pool is the refuge of the aged-maimed athlete. My swim is good. I can’t hurt myself. It’s also good for my head. It can be a meditation or a lesson in tedium, both of which are beneficial and have intrinsic value. Today was different. I wanted it over. I wanted to return home, to my chair,  and finish a book, specifically, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’ve been working on this book for two and half months. It’s a three-pound book, three pounds and two ounces precisely. One thousand twenty-seven pages, including footnotes. It’s a monster and I had only twenty pages left. The sprint to the finish. Get the swim over. Finish it. But more. I love this book. Two and half months living with it, studying it, reading the footnotes and the on-line commentary. It was in my blood, under my fingernails,  and with only an hour or so left with it, like it was a lover going off to war, I wanted its company–its company until the last. Period. In fact, finishing it was the most remote of my motives. Make it last. That’s the ticket.

Tonight: I am ten pages from the end as I write this. I don’t want to finish it. It’s like sex and holding off until the very end ’cause that’s when it’s best. But really, it’s more like losing a friend, and knowing DFW is no longer with us, well, not yet closing the book is not yet accepting that salient sad fact–so the friend is still with us-me. In a bit, an hour or so, I will complete it, close it and then it will be over. (I will write about it, a review or more properly, the experience, in the next week or two. Check Mostly Fiction dot com where I write about reading books.)

So, my head is spinning with all things Infinite Jest. But this isn’t about the book. Rather, I want to discourse on reading. More specifically, reading in the nature and manner of dead-trees reading. I read Infinite Jest in the dead-wood, sit-it-in-my-lap version, not on a Kindle, an iPad or any other device. I’m not a Luddite. To the contrary. I have a Kindle. It is in a drawer,  uncharged. I used to read on it. Now, however, I have seen the light–and that light is shining from a window that is

Saturn Devouring His Son

Saturn Devouring His Son

local. When I buy a book on my Kindle I am taking money out of Chris and Stewart’s pockets and giving it to Amazon. Chris and Stewart? They’re the guys who own my local bookstore, Longfellow Books. Longfellow is the dead-center of Portland, figuratively, literally and spiritually. Every dollar I send to Amazon is a dollar my community looses, a dollar less for the heart-dead-center of my town. If that happens frequently enough, my community goes away, replaced by the insipid one-size-fits-all wash-and-wear culture we seem so unwittingly fond of. (How does that happen?)

This so-called culture is a theme and subject of Infinite Jest. (There are ever so many themes to IJ.) Culture has been sold off. Corporate America bought it and ate it for lunch between two pieces of Wonderbread. It has an appetite that knows no satiation. See this picture? It’s Saturn Devouring His son by Goya: Corporate America consuming the individual–that’s how I read it. It is the apex of irony (should irony be a bell curve) that a country founded, built, and realized on/of individualism–a political and historical anomaly–is and has been rushing hellbent to a state of homogenization. Reading a physical book, procured at your local establishment of reading pleasure, shifts the universe homeward, back to you. Go local.  The less inviting option is to be devoured like Saturn’s son.

Read. It transports. And so much more. It makes one think.

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