This is the last of a four-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.
Infinite Summer: Did Infinite Jest change your life?
Avery Edison: It’s definitely got me reading books again, which is marvelous. I hadn’t realized how much the internet had affected my ability to just sit down and read a book, and — looking back — the first half of IJ was all that tougher because I was re-training my attention span in addition to trying to process Wallace’s prose. I’ve read four or five books in the two weeks since I finished Infinite Jest (yep — I finished early. Was very proud.) and I can’t even conceive of that kind of achievement pre-Infinite Summer.
Aside from that, I’ve found myself with an interest in tennis for the first time in my life. I’m normally the sort to avoid the sport if it ever shows up on my TV, but this past week I spent half an hour watching volleys on YouTube, and reading DFW’s NYTimes article on Roger Federer.
I’ve also managed to quit drinking caffeine (well, Coca-Cola) after coming to the realization that I was utterly addicted to the stuff (“when it gets to the stage when you need it…”) I’ve tried to quit a few times before, on an almost annual basis, and never managed it. But as I’ve lowered my levels every day and still gone through withdrawal I’ve found myself thinking “one day at a time” and pushing through.
Eden M. Kennedy: I agree with Avery on the first and last counts; it had been forever since I’d tackled a Big Book and it took an almost physical act of will to get my mind working at a speed that surpassed what it takes to skim Esquire magazine. (I am now halfway through DFW’s Consider the Lobster, which is blessedly smooth terrain after IJ.) And my respect and appreciation for my friends in AA has increased a thousandfold. I’m still an indifferent tennis spectator, despite my son’s newfound love of rallying from the service line, but I really loved watching Oudin in this year’s U.S. Open.
The book itself changed my life in the way that any great book does. I’ll certainly never forget it, and I’m certain little connections between the book and my life will continue to click together over time. For example, last week I found out my dental hygienist is three years sober; I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking her about her experience in AA if I hadn’t read IJ.
Kevin Guilfoile: I finished IJ on a Friday (After how many months? I don’t even remember.) and on Saturday I read an entire other novel in an afternoon.
Did it change my life? When you first say that it sounds hyperbolic, but of course great books have changed my life again and again. I became a novelist because there were great novels I read and admired. To Kill a Mockingbird changed my life. So did The Martian Chronicles. A Confederacy of Dunces. The Brothers Karamazov. Doctor No. The Moviegoer. The Stars My Destination. Lonesome Dove. Rosemary’s Baby. Frankenstein. In Cold Blood. London Fields. The Shining. L.A. Confidential. Too many others to list. I said before that it’s impossible for me to casually rattle off my favorite books because the list changes depending on when you ask me and what I’m working on and thinking about and currently inspired by. But I’m sure Infinite Jest will always be in the rotation now when I attempt an answer. Just being in that company means, yeah, it affected me profoundly.
Matthew Baldwin: Funny story. Back in April I was in a bar, sharing beers with a buddy of mine, and I mentioned this crazy idea I had of an Internet-wide reading of Infinite Jest. My friend got very quiet for a moment, like he was debating whether to confess something. And when he finally spoke, he did so hesitantly. “That book,” he said. “I mean, Infinite Jest? That book, it kind of changed my life man.”
I didn’t roll my eyes, or laugh in a way that wasn’t happy. But only because I suppressed the urge. I mean, come on. It’s a book.
And now, thinking back on that moment a half a year later, I inwardly cringe at my reaction to his sincerity. I think I owe that guy a beer. Honestly, I think I owe the entire Internet a beer.