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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Distracted by Samuel Johnson

Yes, well perhaps I did promise to read, or anyway to start, David Foster Wallace’s elephantine Infinite Jest and report back my findings. And I sincerely intended to do that too, which is to say until I was tempted, sore tempted, to look into Peter Martin’s mediocre biography of one of Britain’s least mediocre of men - Samuel Johnson, specifically speaking. Already I have passed through this man’s penurious childhood, his rather incongruous marriage, his sojourns in London, and have now begun to read how and why he compiled, with the aid of five sometimes assistants, his famous English language dictionary. Impossible not to sympathize with this man, who endured so many mental and sublunary obstacles, and yet who at the end of the day had produced so much. Learning of his bodily peculiarities I, too, have recently begun to exhibit certain convulsive tics and involuntary movements of all sorts, a real hindrance to getting into my usual reading posture, which entails a 40-watt lamp, a leather covered couch, and about two inches of spirituous liqueur, all which are to be enjoyed between the hours of one and four o’clock a.m.
More shortly.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Infinite Jest by David Wallace

Having lately invested in a paperback edition of David Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a 1,037-page text in small print (a length, I’ve repeatedly been told, is not publishable), I seek suggestions on how to approach the thing. Dave Eggers has said it required him a month to read it, but at my age I expect it will need much longer. My fear, of course, is that it will turn out to be a pretentious production, a display of cuteness designed to prove how informed the author was, how reckless and sophisticated, and how the possession of genius empowered him to ignore the value of being understandable.
My great hope, on the other hand, is that the book is as wonderful as so many critics have claimed, and that this author’s genius is not merely putative, but real. In any event I will be giving the novel my best attention for as long as I find it useful to bear with it, and will report back at intervals.
I should also say that I am dismayed by the lack of attention that has been given to this writer’s suicide, far less notice indeed than what has been given to Paris Hilton’s hairdo. The decay of the West – I’ll be reporting on that, too.

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