It took months of determination and self-discipline, but at long last, I can finally say that I’ve done it: I have finished all of the first six pages of Infinite Jest. And, man, was it rewarding.
I’ll admit I was nervous at first. A book like this is just so thick and intimidating that it can be tough to convince yourself you’ll have the time and energy to finish approximately one-half of 1 percent of it, but you can only hear about how groundbreaking it is so many times before getting the urge to dive in yourself and then almost immediately stop after convincing yourself you've read enough to have a pretty decent idea of what it's about.
It’s about tennis, right? I definitely remember reading some stuff about tennis, and I watched a bunch of old Pete Sampras highlights to make up for the parts I didn’t quite get to.
At the end of a big project like this, one of the more common questions you get from people—especially after mentioning that you read Infinite Jest three times in one conversation, all unprompted—is “was it worth it? And can you please let me know what you would like to order? I have other customers.”
Not to brag, but in retrospect, I was actually fairly well-prepared to tackle a project like this. I became kind of a legend in my college’s English department after finishing the back cover of Ulysses in just one sitting, and I once listened to an audiobook of David Copperfield for 17 minutes straight in one earbud. The other earbud was playing Shaggy, which I felt served as an excellent complement to the original text, to the point where I soon felt compelled to listen to Shaggy in both earbuds.
In other words, this wasn’t the first difficult text that I started, stopped, started again, stopped again, took a brief sabbatical from to follow Shaggy on tour, started again, and then just sort of arbitrarily decided I had finished, because who really gets to determine when a novel starts and ends anyway in this postmodern age of ours that you would understand so much better if you had read the first six pages of Infinite Jest like I did. I’ve done it before, and at the risk of sounding cocky, I will probably do it again after I finish watching everything on Hulu and Netflix.
At the end of a big project like this, one of the more common questions you get from people—especially after mentioning that you read Infinite Jest three times in one conversation, all unprompted—is, “Was it worth it? And can you please let me know what you would like to order? I have other customers.” And the answer to the first part of that question is always a resounding, “Yes!” After all, the frustration you feel while trying to get through the first six pages of the book is temporary, but the satisfaction that comes from watching the look on your server’s face as she realizes that you have a few more points about it to bring up before you’re ready to place your order lasts forever.
So if anyone out there is thinking about reading the first six pages of Infinite Jest themselves, my first piece of advice would be not to bother telling the barista at the Starbucks on 14th Street, as she will be far too preoccupied with these “customers” she supposedly has to deal with to appreciate how impressive this decision of yours really is.
And my second piece of advice would be to stick with it no matter how tough it gets. The benefits far outweigh the costs, especially if instead of buying a copy you just borrow one from your friend and never return it.
Having said that, you might be better off just reading Pete Sampras’ autobiography. It's a lot shorter, and they’re essentially about the same thing.