[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end. I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]
The mammoth book Infinite Jest has been sitting on my coffee table for many months now, doing nothing more than serving as a conversation piece and a constant reminder of my own failure.
I feel like I really ought to read this book. I feel like I should like it. But for the life of me, I just can’t get into it. At all. And I feel awful about that.
I honestly did want to read it in the beginning. But since then I’ve deteriorated into the hopeless state of wanting to want to read it. The book has become a guilt trip, lingering in the forefront of my otherwise happy living room and shaming me for my lack of self-discipline.
It’s just silly, really. I’m an adult now. I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to. So why do I feel so bad about this?
Self-Induced Guilt Trips & The Ridiculousness Thereof
Because I used to be an English major, a really overachieving one, who could burn through full novels in the course of a day whether she cared for them or not. Because the former Overachiever Me likes to berate Post-College Me for not challenging herself enough. Because Post-College Me has let herself have it pretty easy in a number of ways, so she tries assigning herself projects she thinks will make her a more well-rounded and impressive person, even though secretly she has no interest in them whatsoever. [See: the Great Wedding Scrapbook Failure of 2008-present, in which an actual scrapbook has yet to produced, although I’ve managed to collect lots of nifty scrapbooking accessories in the hopes that they would inspire me to get started.]
I knew that taking on Infinite Jest would be a project. It’s around 1,100 pages long, has almost 400 footnotes, and is the size of a standard infant (see photo at top). But it was written by David Foster Wallace, a writer I enjoy so much I thought that even if the book felt like work at first, eventually I’d get so into it I’d start devouring pages. When I realized I wasn’t getting into it, and it definitely felt like work, I still thought it was worth reading because it would be “good for me.” I would feel proud when I’d finished it. It would mark me as a serious literary reader. It would be an impressive achievement to brag about to…whoever you’d brag to about your serious literary achievements? (I guess I didn’t thoroughly think that one through.)
Well, I was wrong. I’ve owned this book for nearly a year, and I haven’t managed to get more than a dozen pages into it. (Plus several pages of footnotes, if I want to boost my numbers a smidge.) It’s time to admit defeat. More importantly, it’s time to stop feeling bad about admitting defeat.
Who Am I Trying to Impress, Anyway?
It’s time for me to sit Overachiever Me down and tell her the truth: I’m never going to live up to her expectations. I’m never going to be a Renaissance Woman, and there’s really no need for me to try. Maybe her mindset made sense when I was trying to bulk up my resume for college applications, but now I’m just trying to live a life that matters more. If I can just accomplish the things that really matter to me, I’ll be a pretty successful (and happy) little Cordelia. Anything extra I take on, just for the sake of taking it on, is only going to get in the way.
Maybe in a few years, I’ll revisit Infinite Jest and something will click. I’m holding onto it in case it does, because my tastes could always change. But I’m taking it off the coffee table in the meantime, because I don’t need to impress anyone anymore—myself included. (Tweet!) And that freakin’ book is a pain to dust around.
May the spirit of David Foster Wallace forgive me. I tried.
Image: Bart Everson / Flickr
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