I’ve always had the same first-edition paperback printing of Infinite Jest. So holy has the thing seemed to me that I’ve dog-eared only a few pages and hadn’t, until the past week, made a mark in the book. My sister-in-law and my wife are (at least for now) participating in infinitesummer. The sister-in-law is no problem, since she lives all the way on the other side of the country, and there’s no chance of her using my copy of the book. But it occurred to me that there could be contention for my revered copy of the book between my wife and me. She scoffed at the idea, saying that we’d just read at different times. The thing about that is that my evenings are more or less consumed by it. She would basically pull back a nub if she tried to take the book from me most evenings. Further, I’ve at last started taking notes in my old beat-up copy. I’m kind of secretive about whatever I scribble in books, mostly because most of it turns out, after the fact, to seem either obvious or just stupid, however insightful it seemed at the time of its scribbling. So I have this dilemma wherein my wife wants to read the book, but I’ve started making asinine (and, thank my lucky stars, mostly illegible) notes in the margins, and of course I want her to keep thinking I’m as smart as I am dashing, so I have to shield her from reading these notes. Uh, and there’s also the whole contention thing.
Yadda yadda yadda, I bought the tenth-anniversary edition, and it arrived today. I don’t like it. The cover seems wrong (I’ve lived with this other for ten or 11 years, recall). The pages are thin and smell like the ink of cheaply-printed books. The font seems not quite as crisp and the kerning seems maybe ever so slightly narrower (I could definitely be wrong on this last thing). It’s just not the same book I grew to love (however much it actually is, in all significant ways, the same book). My original copy is something of a Velveteen Rabbit to this newer edition’s — what? I forget — stupid boat or stuffed asshole lion or something? I’ll gladly hand this imposter over to my wife.
The foreword, though, seems ok. I am not especially a fan of Dave Eggers. I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius years ago. I forget exactly what I thought about it. I think maybe I thought Eggers thought he was very cute or very deserving of something, whether it be of acclaim or of pity or of who knows what. I think I mostly enjoyed the book but felt tired after reading it, and not the kind of tired you feel after reading something sprawling and big and ambitious, as if you’ve just finished running an exhausting but satisfying marathon, but the kind of tired that leaves you feeling kind of Thank. God. He. Finally. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. I think Eggers probably does a lot of good work and is probably ultimately a good guy. My point is that I’m not a fan boy (as I am with Wallace, I’ll admit), that I bring to the table with respect to his introduction to the tenth-anniversary edition something closer to guarded disdain than admiration.
But I think he gets some things really pretty well right in his intro. For example:
[W]hile much of his work is challenging, his tone, in whatever form he’s exploring, is rigorously unpretentious. A Wallace reader gets the impression of being in a room with a very talkative and brilliant uncle or cousin who, just when he’s about to push it too far, to try our patience with too much detail, has the good sense to throw in a good lowbrow joke.
I think that’s more true of his essays than of his fiction, for what it’s worth, but it’s still relevant to Wallace’s whole work. And (though I think it’s far more true of, say, the Gaddis of JR than of Wallace):
This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws. If you could somehow smash it into smaller pieces, there would certainly be no way to put it back together again.
There’s more in the intro that’s worth reading. Eggers closes by talking about what a “normal, and regular, and ordinary” guy Wallace was (“is” at the time of printing; this is no eulogy [well, etymologically it is, but chronologically and culturally it isn’t]) and how Infinite Jest is a “not-normal achievement, a thing that will outlast him [oh dear — ed.] and you and me, but will help future people understand us — how we felt, how we lived, what we gave to each other and why.” It’s hard not to get behind that once you’ve read enough of Wallace’s stuff. So I’m no fan of this incarnation of the book, and I’m no fan of Eggers, but I think his introduction does at least a small service to Wallace and his work, and I’m glad to have bought the edition (to hand off to my wife, having read the intro).