Last night I went to Jest Fest, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest at the great Skylight Books in Los Feliz. I read the book when it first came out in 1996, took a few breaks along my way through the book's 1,078 pages, and finished it some time in 1998. I rememeber reading the last words on a lime green leather couch at Dunn Brothers coffeehouse on 34th and Hennepin in Minneapolis. I remember being disappointed, not in the ending but in the fact that it was all over and I'd never read another book like that again. Yes, the book blew me away.
But the book did something else. It turned me into a more serious writer. It turned me from an occasional poet into a daily essayist and weekly prosist, into a screenwriter and blogger. I never really credited Infinite Jest with this transformation but I think it did the trick. Sure, there were other factors - 1996 was the year I started grad school and the year after my father died. I was equipped with disposable income in the form of an inheritance and a wide-open schedule due to my eight-year plan for graduation. But I look at the tone, the ambition, the quality of my writing before, during, and after the reading-Jest period (1996-1998) and it's clear to me now.
I'm not saying the book/transformation didn't send me down some misguided avenues (the Black Leaves poem, the infatuation with a black-haired girl who reminded me of Madame Psychosis, the ridiculous short story I wrote called Her Machine, etc.) but we all have to start somewhere and I'm not sure if I've ended up anywhere but I've traveled a long way.
I learned last night there would be an Infinite Jest movie. I never thought this was possible and though its chances of "capturing" the book are slim, I'll still go see it. I'm still waiting for Wallace's next novel. His essays are nice and his short stories are nicer but the man's vision, brain, and ambition demand something big, something huge, something infinite and 1000+ pages long.
If you haven't read Infinite Jest, go ahead and read it. Have patience and yeah it's okay to skip the Eschaton part (not saying I did). If you have read it, read it again. Once I'm finished with this (probably tonight), I'm going back to this (and maybe eventually this but not right now).
The highlight of the Jest Fest was Michael Silverblatt's amazing (apparently unscripted) 20-minute speech about the importance of the book. I make fun of Silverblatt on occasion. Today, I praise him and implore everyone to dig up something of interest from his archive.