484 001

Book 17. Of the ten longest novels written in English, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is 10th. 484 001 words. Compare this word count to: Crime And Punishment (Dostoyevsky): 211 591 The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway): 67 707 Wuthering Heights (Bronte): 107 945 East of Eden (Steinbeck): 225 395 The Bible (Old and New combined): 774 776 Mr. Messy (Hargreaves): 189

This number, 484 001, doesn't include the words from definitions I had to look up. I recall thinking I'm spending as much time reading the dictionary as this book, and so I counted the number of times, on a single page, I looked up definitions: six. *1

I started reading it on April 08 (this year) and finished it at 4:30 p.m. on May 28th. 50 days *2And somehow I feel both smarter and dumber. 

Do I have any sense of what just happened? I don't.

From the novel, a conversation between a tennis coach and a student of the game:

“You burn to have your photograph in a tennis magazine.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why again exactly, now?”

“I guess to be felt about as I feel about those players with their pictures in magazines.”


“Why? I guess to give my life some sort of meaning, Lyle.”

“And how would this do this again?”

“Lyle, I don’t know. I do not know. It just does. Would. Why else would I burn like this, clip secret pictures, not take risks, not sleep or pee?”

“You feel these men with their photographs in magazines care deeply about having their photographs in magazines. Derive immense meaning.”

“I do. They must. I would. Else why would I burn like this to feel as they feel?”

“The meaning they feel, you mean. From the fame.”

“Lyle, don’t they?”

“LaMont, perhaps they did at first. The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for. After the first surge, they care only that their photographs seem awkward or unflattering, or untrue, or that their privacy, this thing you burn to escape, what they call their privacy is being violated. Something changes. After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are.”

“Is this supposed to be good news? This is awful news.”

“LaMont, are you willing to listen to a Remark about what is true?”


“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

“Maybe I ought to be getting back.”

“LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang’s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal.”


“You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.”

“This is good news?”

“It is the truth. To be envied, admired, is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are any more enjoyable than the feelings associated with envy of fame.”

“The burning doesn’t go away?”

“What fire dies when you feed it? It is not fame itself they wish to deny you here. Trust them. There is much fear in fame. Terrible and heavy fear to be pulled and held, carried. Perhaps they want only to keep it off you until you weigh enough to pull toward yourself.”

“Would I sound ungrateful if I said this doesn’t make me feel very much better at all?”

“LaMont, the truth is that the world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old. You suffer with the stunted desire caused by one of its oldest lies. Do not believe the photographs. Fame is not the exit from any cage.”

“So I’m stuck in the cage from either side. Fame or tortured envy of fame. There’s no way out.”

“You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage.” *3


1. Only three of the six words were in my dictionary. *a a. David Foster Wallace uses the OED. 2. 72 510 minutes, or 6.67 words per minute for every single minute for 50 days, including the ones when I was sleeping or showering, rounded down to the nearest hundredth. 3. sic