Reading Is a Very Strange Thing

February 23, 2016, will mark twenty years since Infinite Jest was first loosed upon the world.* A new edition is coming out with a brand-new cloudless cover (designed by a fan!) and a foreword by Tom Bissell**.

The title of this post comes from the book Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing***. David Foster Wallace says:

Reading is a very strange thing. We get talked to about it and talk explicitly about it in first grade and second grade and third grade, and then it all devolves into interpretation. But if you think about what’s going on when you read, you’re processing information at an incredible rate.

I'm not sure my own rate is all that incredible, but I made it past page 100 of IJ on the bus this morning, so that feels like some sort of progress.

The New York Times today has a piece adapted from the new foreword. I hate reading forewords in actual books, but I might just read this.

So what are you reading?

*Random Yeats reference included for no good reason other than that I like it.
**I have no idea who he is, but I assume I should. He's a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.
***More on the story behind this particular book, which was published posthumously, here.

62 thoughts on “Reading Is a Very Strange Thing”

  1. Language itself is pretty weird, much less written language/reading.

    Here, I'm gonna make a series of noises that we've agreed represent a certain thing/idea/concept/etc. Also, I have a way of making certain markings on a piece of paper that represent the sounds that represent the ideas. You can look at these squiggles and know what is going on in my head.

  2. Just finished Boundries, a great book that talks about defining your boundaries with others. It's from a Christian perspective, so be warned.
    In the middle of Leviathan Wakes. Really enjoying this one. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

  3. I am almost finished with Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? Discourses on Reflexology, Numerology, Urine Therapy, and Other Dubious Subjects , by Martin Gardner. This is a collection of lightly-revised columns from Skeptical Inquirer .

    Lots of this felt rather dated (the book came out in 2000), but the bits were short and often entertaining enough in their debunkery. Handy bathroom reading (I got the hardback used for a couple bucks).

  4. Post edited to remove mistakes, improve clarity, and include the proper number of candles in the featured image (it's now half-baked rather than quarter-baked). I feel better now.

  5. Someone left a bunch of free books in our common area. I picked up "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold", "The Sound and The Fury", and "Good Omens".

  6. From all of the comments the last year from you guys, I am starting to believe that Infinite Jest is a description of the trick the author has played on his (attempted) readers.

    1. I'm still stuck on page 60ish. I think that's about the same pace I had for 100 Years Of Solitude.

      Hmm. I'm seeing a correlation in my book titles/reading pace.

      1. I just got to page 68. I just read the Incandenza IMDb page footnote that takes forever. I remember reaching that once before. I'm just about venturing into new territory.

      2. I got in about 100 pages into GGM's 100YOS then stalled. OK I stalled several times before that. I think the stalling correlated with every time the girl went back to eating dirt.

  7. About a third through On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

    I've heard so much about this book that I figured I'd have to read it. Kinda Hemingway'esque with the occasional Whoop!!, and a guy pissing on himself.

  8. I had a very poor reading month (I blame the time difference making the Australian Open be on during my usual reading times).

    I'm in the middle of The Last Lover by Can Xue, which won the Best Translated Book Award last year. It's really cool and I enjoy it, but it's not a book that I can sit down and plow through a big chunk of pages.

    I read Jesse Ball's new book The Cure for Suicide. He always finds really interesting ways of alienating his characters. This book reminded me a lot of Kobo Abe's The Woman in the Dunes in that regard. Ball has always been a stylist and that is still true here, but I like that about him, so it was a fun book with a few turns and such that kept me reading the whole way through.

  9. I've been reading an actual book. Make that a novel-length piece of fiction that has been published in book form. Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.
    I've been reading printouts of the free PDF.
    Teen fiction about a very-near-future United States in which a terrorist strike in San Francisco brings the DHS to really crack down on liberties, and some teenagers who don't like that.

    I came across it when it was mentioned by Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.
    Sounded like it had some good math in it, and I wondered if it'd be decent for my kids.
    Definitely not at their ages yet. Because Sex and Drugs. And because of that, I can't imagine myself handing it to them either, when they would be old enough.

    I figured, for free, I could try it. I printed out the first 40 pages to read it on the bus. I'm now more than 100 pages into it (out of 140) and just printed the last 32 pages today (the last packet of four).
    If anyone can point me to a PDF of The Goldfinch, I could probably get through that in a similar fashion, and then I could give Pepper her book back. But that much volume of printing could lead to my boss getting suspicious, too.

    1. If anyone can point me to a PDF of The Goldfinch, I could probably get through that in a similar fashion

      The volume of printing would be rather staggering. I'm in no hurry to get the book back, but it is unfortunate that it's not formatted in the way that makes it most readable for you.

      *puts together business proposal for a new book format called foldable multi-column unbound*

      1. Do what Oxford does: four (or nine!) pages per side. At four per side you don't really need magnification and that puts you at under 200 sheets.

      2. If I print 20 pages at a time, two pages to a side of a sheet, that's 5 sheets of paper.
        If I print 40 pages at a time, that's ten sheets. I'd spread that over weeks and months, so it wouldn't be a big stack all at once.

        I saw the paperback on sale somewhere and I contemplated buying it and then cutting it into reasonably-sized pieces.

        I did carry your copy with me on the bus today, but the drive wasn't that slow and I didn't get it out. I started looking through some printouts of eBird data related to my upcoming road trip to South Carolina (March 4-12).

        One reason I'm averse to carrying it is that I'm worried of damaging it by keeping it in my bag for the months it'll yet take me to read it.

    2. Finished Little Brother.
      Good book to indoctrinate teenagers into libertarianism.
      (Not sure if that's the correct construction... Indoctrinate [in,on,to].)

  10. Wild Bill Donovan - The soldier/lawyer/politician who headed the Office of Strategic Services during WWII. Larger than life character and some fun history.

    Simple Sabotage Field Manual. - Published by the OSS. Handy tips for wrecking your car's engine or destroying your boiler. Also a brief section on killing office or administrative productivity. "Insist everything be done by committees of no less than five people," "Apply all regulations to the last letter," "Hold conferences when there is important work to be done," etc...

    It's Your Ship - Professional/Motivational reading. Captain Abrashoff's tenure on the Benfold is a time of unparalleled performance, empowerment, and improbable mirth.

    The Merchant of Venice - Does not go well for the Jews. See below.

    The Serpent of Venice - This was a Christmas present. Christopher Moore folds Merchant of Venice and Othello together, as told by the Fool from King Lear. A fun read with a lot of irreverent and inappropriate material, and some top-shelf Shakespearean cursing. I decided to go borrow the previous book so I could read that as well, once I get through Lear.

    1. There was a woman at work who excelled at
      11a(3, 4, 6-8) and 11b2.
      I hadn't realized she was a CIA-trained operative from our competitors.
      I wish her well on her continued retirement!

  11. After first hearing Dan Gable's name last month, I picked up A Season on the Mat from the library and zipped through it. As someone who grew up at school where wrestling was more popular than basketball (or at least more successful), but still didn't know much about wrestling, I thought it was a good book.

    Then I picked back up in Moby Dick, I'm about 180 pages of 650 pages into it. I'm enjoying it so far, even though nearly every page there seems to be something where I know enough to know that Melville is referencing something (from the Bible or wherever) or at least the footnotes tell me something is being referenced, but not enough to really understand the reference. There's still enough there to keep me engaged for now.

  12. I read The Golden Empire by Hugh Thomas, the second volume of his trilogy about the Spanish Empire. This one began just after Cortes conquered the Mexica, and spanned the reign of Emperor Charles including Pizarro and de Soto. The first volume (focusing mainly on Columbus) was quite good, but this was a disorganized mess. While I learned quite a bit, I'm reminded of the story about how each person who only saw part of an elephant are unable to describe the whole thing. Individual parts are good, but there was never any sense of the Empire as a whole. I'll probably slog through the final one at some point, because completionist, but my expectations are tempered.

    The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff is a history of American comedy beginning with vaudeville and burlesque to the present day. Up until about 1970, it was very very good. The final few chapters just rambled around (here's a page about Louis CK writing for Conan, here's one about how Andrew Dice Clay's persona was fake). I realize recent history is tough to cover, but it was a disappointing ending to an otherwise very good book.

    Go Set A Watchman su-hucked. Did I mention that previously, I can't remember? Completely unlikable characters who are supposed to be likeable with random flashbacks within flashbacks. Yuck.

    Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein is a generic baseball book focusing on people in the International League during the 2012 season.

  13. Books read while cheating on not reading IJ:

    This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain. Young adult nonfiction. This is a lovely little introduction to Audubon's life and work. There are color plates of his paintings throughout and the prose is quite readable.

    Quote from Lucy Audubon that the wife of least one of our fine citizens should be able to relate to: “If I were jealous, I would have a bitter time of it, for every bird is my rival.”

    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Nonfiction. This has been on my mental to-read list since it came out last summer. A coworker finally had it come in from the library and when she finished it, she passed it along to me since it wasn't due for a few more days. The book is in the form of a letter by Ta-Nehisi to his teenage son, and in it Ta-Nehisi reflects on his upbringing in a rough part of Baltimore as well as his thoughts on how his son's experiences growing up in New York City differ from his own and what it means to be a black male in America. I read it faster than I should have (often a fault of mine), but I appreciated this book in much the same way I appreciated Citizen last year.

    1. Dr chop and I both read Citizen, and we both started Between But couldn't finish it. Dr. Chop teaches at a HBCU and has talked to a number of students about both texts. She's found that a large percentage of her students see Mr. Coates as a negative force in the dialogue about race and racism in contemporary culture. I can't link from my phone*, but slate had a very interesting critical response to Between.

      *iphones seem to crash with the imbed link button

      1. Forgot to say that I had an awakening moment after finishing Citizen, where as the good doctor was more meh. She deals with the effects of racism all day, so ymmv.

        1. I can see how Citizenwould be more or less significant depending on a reader's own background and experiences. Since I grew up in a mostly white suburb and now work in an industry where there's an enormous need for more diversity, it was a particularly important book for me.

      2. If you paste the URL on its own line, WordPress might automatically create a link. If not, myself or another editor can make it clickable.

      3. Please do share the link later if you're able to. (A quick search didn't turn up anything that seemed to match your description.)

  14. Last night, I dropped off a couple of books at the library, strolled passed the fiction section to the Ws and there it was. I think I audibly groaned. I don't think I've seen IJ on the shelf before. But I'm in and, like others, will do my best.

      1. My travels were in January. I wish I had had it then.

        It's a library book, so I've got three weeks, as I assume someone will put a hold on it. I'm not going to set any goals. I'm just going to see how this goes.

          1. Oooh, brilliant about a family member putting it on hold.

            I highly recommend my post-it note bookmark system. The adhesive ensures that they don't slip out of place as you're reading. #megadork

          2. This is where I would consider my Kindle an advantage. Tap endnote number, read it, tap Return to Text. Bless whomever put all those hyperlinks in there, I'm sure it was tedious.

            1. I wouldn't be surprised if it was automatic. If using something like TeX for publishing, then the notes could be written in-line and then moved to their desired location automatically.

          3. One of my bookmarks for Moby Dick is half of an envelope for a Starbucks gift card. I am way too happy about that.

        1. I (or we) own more than half of those.
          I .... Don't know what that means other than that I'm a white male I guess

      1. I think I have read or owned (not an identical list) 24 of them, and more of the sci-fi/fantasy than I was expecting.

      2. I have four of these books, and have read an additional three. One of those I read but do not own was lent to a friend, and I do not care if it's ever returned (American Psycho which is not nearly as good as the movie since it's basically a laundry list of brand names mixed with copious violence... having a female director for the film did it wonders, I think).

      3. I've read 24, and own 9 (although I have read, and own all 3 of the Shelby Foote books contained as #77). I do own (and have read), the book Don Draper is reading in the picture.

    1. Read 7 of the top 10. Felt pretty good.
      Read 10 of the top 100. Not so good. I've got some work to do.

      1. Dude at the Beer Cave in WeHa (West H'istan) with whom I discuss things Pynchon, once I told him about this list started checking it off (at 25, he had read 24), at 100 I think he was around 80'ish.

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