Infinite Summer Jest

It’s a little bit funny that someone decided to do a big group read of Infinite Jest this summer because I just read it last summer (after first getting about halfway through it in about 1997 or 1998). I’m now dipping into it again and am surprised to find what a good friend it seems. It’s strangely comforting. I’m sure this is going to sound over the top, but the book is just so fracking brilliant it makes me almost laugh with joy and gives me hope that, yeah, there’s still so much possible good in this world. And that’s despite how sad the book is in so many ways, how sort of fully empty it leaves you when all is said and done, and how sad it is to think that its author is dead, eliminated his own map at such a tragically young age. What more could he have contributed to this world before he died?

So yeah, despite all that, Infinite Jest still makes me smile. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, you should. Let the first couple hundred pages wash over you. Don’t demand that it make too much sense. Every time you read something and think, “Wait. Where did I see that character or reference or image before?” go back and find that place. The book is so self-referential you have to flip back and forth constantly to really begin to understand what he is doing. So give it some time. Really give yourself over to it. You won’t be sorry.

Oh, and there’s still time to catch up with the readers who are doing Infinte Summer. They’re only 10% in, so what’s that? 100 pages? Come on! You know you want to!

Neuromancer at 25

Neuromancer is important because of its astounding predictive power. Gibson’s core idea in the novel is the direct integration of man and computer, with all the possibilities and horrors that such a union entails.

(via PC World) One of the best books of all time. Definitely time for a reread.

Because, you know, we’re due for some good news

And this is definitely good news:

A long, unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace is scheduled for a posthumous release next year.

”The Pale King,” excerpted in The New Yorker magazine edition coming out Monday, is set in an Internal Revenue Service office in Illinois in the 1980s.

Wallace’s longtime publisher, Little, Brown and Company, will release the novel. Little, Brown said in a statement Sunday that the novel runs ”several hundred thousand words and will include notes, outlines, and other material.”

Wallace, best known for the 1,000-page novel ”Infinite Jest,” was a longtime sufferer from depression who committed suicide last fall. He was 46 and had been working on ”The Pale King” for several years.


Great sadness: DFW eliminated his own map!?

I just learned that David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest, died Friday, apparently by his own hand. I don’t even have words. It’s just too sad.

Other people have plenty of words though. A sample:

From Laura Miller at Salon:

However, all great writers — and I have no doubt that he was one — have a preeminent purpose: to tell the truth. David Foster Wallace’s particular vocation was to allow us to see just how fraught and complicated, how difficult yet how necessary, that telling had become — not just for him, but for all of us. What will we do without him?

More at the Howling Fantods, and also here.

I just can’t believe it.

Update: Maybe the best response I’ve seen (from Shakespeare via “anon” commenter #13):

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a
thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it.

Raising the Bar?

Of course I watched TNT’s “new hit drama,” Raising the Bar. I loved it! Fun, funny, public defenders telling judges they are petty tyrants — what’s not to love!?

Ok, so I’m also a fan of the series’ real creator, David Feige, based on his blog and his book, the latter of which I also thoroughly enjoyed and found to be a terrifically realistic account of working as a public defender (granted the many differences between the urban NY setting and my own experience in what is a basically a rural locale). (I wrote about it, but currently the Now Reading plugin upon which I rely for that sort of thing is leading to all 404 errors and I can’t figure out why. I hate blogs, sometimes.)

And, so, ok, it’s not perfect. We have a criminal trial where the highlight for the defense is the closing argument in a case where the State’s witnesses lied. Where is the devastating cross that reveals these lies!? We have the public defender and the prosecutor on the case sitting down for a drink together after work in the middle of trial. Really!? I mean, ok, so I went to lunch w/the prosecutor (and the judge, strangely enough) on a trial once after we’d finished and were waiting for the jury to deliberate. I found that absolutely surreal. But to go out for a drink in the middle of a trial? And the idea that the defenders and prosecutors and judicial clerks regularly seem to socialize? Um, again, really!? What planet is that? Is that really how it is in NYC?

Let’s see… I won’t even touch the fact that the defense attorney and prosecutor appear to be sleeping together at the end of the episode. Whatever. Also problematic is how much the show dwells on the supposed agonizing of the prosecutor whose heart is apparently in the right place but who has a hard time doing the right thing b/c neither the judge nor her boss will let her. Let’s praise good prosecutors a bit more, shall we?

And of course the show throws out red meat in the first episode by focusing on a case where not only does the jury acquit on the main charge (rape) but also there is apparent factual innocence in the form of a confession by someone else to the same crime. That happens like, never, but it should be good to see how the show deals in the future w/the cases where guilt/innocence is not so clear. Will we still be praising the prosecution then?

All of that said, it’s television! What can we expect, really? What I loved particularly, of course, the red meat for me, was the defense attorney telling the judge exactly what he thought of her. Boy do I know that judge! And boy do I know the feelings and thoughts that public defender expressed! And boy have I been there — exactly there — including where the judge says “I’m punishing your client b/c I don’t like you” but then says, “well, I didn’t exactly say that, did I?” And also I’ve been exactly there where the judge demands/requires an apology, whether I mean it or not. Kiss the ring the judge says. My situation was not in the middle of some case or contempt charge so it was a little different. My supervisor didn’t go to the judge on my behalf; instead, the judge complained to my supervisor about me so I’m the one who visited the judge and actually did apologize in a general way, explaining that I was just trying to do my job and I hope the judge understood that, then biting my tongue when the judge didn’t seem to hear a thing I’d said and then told me that the best way I could help my clients was to make sure I did not anger a judge, because, well, judges try not to hold it against a defendant when the judge is mad at the defendant’s attorney, but that’s not always easy so the best thing to do is just not make the judge mad in the first place. See? Got it bucko? My way, or the highway! So, yeah, different, but boy can I relate!

And who among us has not had that experience where basically we do win, and everyone is saying we won, but we feel like we lost? Where we win the motion to set bail pending appeal and then the judge sets bail at some obscene amount he/she knows our client could never ever post? Where we maybe even win our client’s release on some sort of plea or something, but know that he had to take some charge of which he was totally innocent just to placate the “system” — namely, the prosecutor and/or judge? You can’t just focus on the positive of the “win” because the gall of the loss is just too great. The show captured that well in this first episode, I thought, and was entertaining to boot.

It’s not perfect. It’s television. Here’s a pretty good summary from a reviewer who Feige says “gets it”:

Raising the Bar follows a collection of young lawyers who work against each another, as prosecutors and public defenders.

But in Raising the Bar, as in real-life courts, most of their ”work” consists of a minuet to avoid the mutually assured destruction of an actual trial, which nobody on either side has the time or resources to deal with. The prosecutors threaten draconian prison sentences, the defenders bluster about scorched-earth battles over pre-trial motions, and eventually a bargain is struck.”

Trial as mutually assured destruction. I like it. I wish. When you’ve got a second prosecutor on the bench and your opposition has far more resources than you to prepare for trial, it’s more like self-destruction for a defense attorney to go to trial. But hey, it’s obviously not that way everywhere. Still, the above is a pretty accurate description of both our justice system and what’s depicted in the show. (But as for the rest of the review, how can throwing lawyers in jail w/their clients not be dramatic!? How is it not dramatic for the young prosecutor to be sleeping w/the young public defender?) I’ll definitely be watching next Monday and I highly recommend you do the same!

I heart technology

You know you’re living in a wonderful world when you can just open a web browser and read a chronology of the events in Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. (And here I must point out that the old paperback book cover is, um, infinitely superior to the new cheap imitations.) I found this out by reading this review of Evernote, a new online “brain extender” that “allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from anywhere.” Now who wouldn’t like that? Of course, I can see the person who drops everything into evernote and just forgets it, then ends up somewhere w/out internet access and is just useless to himself and the world. That could be a problem. AT&T, please when will you allow me to have an iPhone here?

Imbroglio Library Updates

Several books in the library have been updated, including In the Shadow of the Law, Uglies, and a very brief bit on Defending the Damned (which I’d still like to review more extensively when I get the time).

Now Reading tells me that I’ve read an average of one book/month in the last year, which is actually better than I’d thought, but at the same time not surprising. There really is nothing like a good book to give a busy mind a break, and my mind was plenty busy in 2007. Here’s hoping I can maintain or even increase that average in 2008. Just as important, I hope I can do better at actually commenting on the books as I read them instead of getting to that months later when I’ve forgotten everything I’d like to say about them. For example, when I read Courtroom 302 I had pages and pages of things to say about it—terrific book! But by the time I got around to actually attempting to write some of them down, most had fled my mind. That doesn’t help much if the goal is to keep a record of reading that will be meaningful both to myself and to others down the road. I’ll try to be better this year, really…


Sadly, I just finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I say “sadly” because it was such a great book I just didn’t want it to end. I’m a sucker for sci-fi and fantasy that creates detailed and convincing parallel worlds filled with richly developed characters, and Neverwhere is definitely among the best. It’s superficially the story of an average guy in his early twenties trying to make his way in the world when, because of his innate goodness, he gets sucked into the parallel world of “London below” where he accompanies his new friend through a series of challenges in order to answer the question of who killed her family and possibly to avenge their deaths. It sounds complicated, because it is, but the plot is definitely not the book’s strength. No, Neverwhere has instantly taken its place on my best-books-of-all-time shelf because its characters are so well-developed and because the world through which they move is so creative and fascinating. It’s satisfying in the sense that the “good guys” win, but it also leaves open the possibility for further adventures with these characters. In fact, that open possibility is my only criticism of the book—it ends literally with a door open to the next book, so where’s the sequel!? I want more! Yet, as he did with American Gods, Gaiman seems to be content to have written one helluva great book and created one very believable fictional world, and to just leave it at that. I guess it’s understandable in the sense of “why risk ruining such a great thing?” but still, if he ever changes his mind and decides to follow up with either of these books, I will be among the thousands standing in line for one of the first copies.

So what do you think? Have you read Neverwhere? And if yes, do you have suggestions for further reading? If so, please let me know in the comments…

UPDATE: I just finished reading an excerpt from an interview of Neil Gaiman by Claire E White which provides interesting tidbits of information about Neverwhere. It began life as a tv script, but Gaiman decided to make a novel out of it because the production of the television movie wasn’t going the way liked. He then wrote an English version, then a second version for release in the U.S., and a third “international” version that he says contains the most complete story he wanted to tell. What I find most fascinating is that he claims to have started out with only a few rough ideas of what would happen:

When I began the book I had more than the beginning in my head, but not an awful lot more than the beginning. I knew that he was going to stumble across this girl. I knew that truly no good deed would go unpunished. And that he was going to wind up losing his life, his identity and everything else. His fiancée would dump him and… he would very rapidly stop existing as far as everybody else was concerned. I had Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar in my head, and the marquis. I figured we’d meet Hunter sooner or later. But that was it. That’s what I had to go on when i started the book and when I stared writing the script. Most everything else turned up along the way. These are the things I discovered as I wrote.

That’s good stuff. So often writers here the advice that they should plan ahead, outline a novel, etc. But here Gaiman is saying he just started w/a few characters and the first chapter or two and the rest just popped up along the way. It gives a sloppy, bad-planning, wannabe writer like me a bit of hope….


Since I’m supposedly trying to write a Douglas Coupland-like novel for NaNoWriMo I’ve recently picked up Generation X. I first read this book back in the early 1990s, soon after its original publication. At the time, it was like windexing a heavy film off of my eyes and looking at the world with a clear view for the first time, but, of course, in a hip, ironic, and distanced way. Reading it now, 15 years later, is almost painful. Whereas before the insights into contemporary life were piercingly funny and cool, they now seem depressingly accurate and all too familiar.

Another way to put it: When I read the book at age 20 (approx.) it was funny because it described the lives of others. Reading the book now is not so funny because it describes my own life to a much more disturbing degree.

That’s not to say I’m as cool, hip, detached, ironic, glib, witty, cynical, or poverty jet setted as Dag, Claire, and Andrew. Far from it. It’s just that the world described seems less distant, more immediate, and therefore more scary and depressing.

One sign of how the book slays me: It describes my entire life in a single sentence defining a single word:

Overboarding: Overcompensating for fears about the future by plunging headlong into a job or life-style seemingly unrelated to one’s previous life interests, i.e., Amway sales, aerobics, the Republican party, a career in law, cults, McJobs….

Shot through the heart, and I’m to blame…

Book Review: Amsterdam

Although my last call for reading suggestions appeared to fall on deaf ears ((Thanks Mackenzie! I do realize that if I don’t post w/any regularity or w/any real substance I can’t really expect readers to stick around, but thanks to those who have.)), but in the real (non-blog) world L. suggested Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan as a quick, humorous read. It did not disappoint. It’s a short book that revolves around the relationship between two old friends well past mid-life and the way in which the death of a mutual past lover ends up changing their lives forever. The characters are well-drawn, complex, but above all, self-absorbed, and therein lies humor in the book. The characters are so wrapped up in their own lives that they fail to see their place in a larger context, which, gain, produces disaster in the end.

The book was written in 1996 ((Amazon gives a 1999 publication date but I believe that’s for the paperback. I could be wrong, though. I often am.)) and it’s set in England, but its questions about an individual’s responsibilities to society and friends or loved ones are certainly as relevant to a contemporary American reader as they would have been to a mid-’90s British reader. For example, one of the major conflicts in the book is whether a newspaper editor should publish photos of a prominent politician in which the politician is cross-dressing. Is it ethical or responsible for this newspaper to publish such photos that are going to suggest that this male politician is either gay or at least enjoys dressing as a woman? Is such information relevant to the public? Is it something voters really deserve to know, or is it just something for political opponents to use to assassinate this man’s character? If you’ve followed the Larry Craig “scandal” at all, you know that such questions play a major role in contemporary political and social discussions.Amsterdam‘s examination of them ends up being somewhat conservative, but before reaching the book’s conclusions on the matter McEwan sketches it thoroughly and opens it up for the reader to consider for him/herself. That sort of provocation is an important ingredient for any book, as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a short, engaging read that raises provocative political, social, and moral questions while at the same time maintaining a sort of humorous tone with regard to its characters and subject, Amsterdam: A Novel could be very satisfying for you. [tags]politics, sexuality[/tags]