What Ezra and John Said

Back in May (May? God, yeah, May.) I succumbed to the excitement of “Infinite Summer” and started reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” alongside several thousand people generally and this person in particular. I got 185 pages in, and then got sucked into the pedestrian drama of moving housing. I haven’t really touched the book since. I haven’t wanted to. I’ve read a novel and a nonfiction book and some comics, and I’ve seen some movies, but I don’t care if I pick up “Infinite Jest” again.

Which leads us to Ezra Klein.

It’s not that I don’t want to finish Infinite Jest. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading Infinite Jest. It’s that I don’t have time for Infinite Jest. But this is not a book that takes the opportunity cost of the reader seriously. In my other life, I write 15 blog posts a day and a weekly interview column and a twice-monthly food column. I need to read books on the Federal Reserve and papers about obesity and CBO scores. I don’t want to be the sort of person who doesn’t have the time to read a long and serious and difficult novel. But I am that sort of person. And it is not as if Infinite Jest richly rewards every sentence read or page finishing. It is not taut and there is little forward motion. I can’t shake the feeling that DFW is wasting a lot of my time. But at this point, I can’t tell which bits are actually unnecessary, and which just feel that way.

Right. Allow me to pull an Alan Partridge and suggest that this book, which many smart people enjoy (I know people who’ve read it twice!) is a piece of shit. David Foster Wallace was a brilliant man who didn’t have a lot to say, and God help me, on this I agree with John Ziegler.

It has been often said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. I believe that is indeed true. But I also believe that there is an equally fine line between real genius and just plain weirdness. In my experience, Wallace had very little of the former, so he exaggerated the latter. In fact, his only real genius may have been his ability to understand that if the right people want to think that you are a genius, they will give you the benefit of the doubt when deciding on which side of that line you fall. It is therefore far better to be weird and thought, at worst, to be “too smart for the room,” than to play it straight and be revealed as a “one hit wonder” or even a total fraud.
I’m unconvinced that Wallace had much to offer the world, or to me, in this novel. Will I finish reading it? I may not, and may instead concentrate on my own writing, or on reading better and more useful books. Wallace could write short fiction (this story, while cloying, is immediately unforgettable) but had no business pretending he could write a novel.