Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Howling Fantods and Baggy Monsters

About nine hundred years ago I started reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I still haven't finished it. Last year I read 73 books (yes, I kept a list) but this one has taken me two and half months and I'm still only halfway though.

It's a beast.

I've even been reading other books. I never do that. I'm strictly a one-book-at-a-time girl. But I've found myself getting distracted and wanting something lighter (Charlaine Harris, I'm looking at you...)

It's not helped by the fact that I'm cycling more at the moment, and so don't have that valuable tube-time to read. And that I live in a social whirl, of course. But they're just excuses. Usually I can find time to read regardless of what else I'm doing.

And it's not that I don't like it. I do. It's entertaining, insightful and clever. It is, of course, also baffling, repetitive and unwieldy at times. But I've read plenty of books like that.

But then, on my way home last night, I heard a chap called Mark O'Connell talking on the PM show on Radio Four about massive novels. (Yes, I listen to Radio Four on my bike. No, it's not dangerous. Yes, I am apparently a bit of a cliché.)

It was in response to a story about boys apparently not liking to read long books and you can hear the radio programme here (starts at 45 minutes in, lasts about four minutes). He was singing the praises of 'long and difficult and intermittently frustrating' novels and explaining how, he feels, they reflect life itself; having to work out the meaning as you go along and rarely having a definitive answer, sometimes full of 'riveting digression and interminable dead-ends'.

He also mentioned a quote from Henry James which I liked, comparing Tolstoy's works to 'large, loose, baggy monsters'. But that, rather than being afraid of them, readers should be prepared to 'blaze a path into the unknown in pursuit of these fantastic monsters.'

His enthusiasm inspired me to return to my copy of Infinite Jest, which had been staring at me balefully from the kitchen table and making me feel guilty every time I walked past. 

And I will finish it. Promise.

In the meantime, though, here's my not-very-artistic interpretation of a Howling Fantod, a word invented by Foster Wallace which is sort of interchangeable with the heebie jeebies, the screaming abdabs or, for Buffy fans, the wiggins.

Oh, and this made me laugh: People Holding Infinite Jest.

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