Can people who max out at 140 characters read long stuff?


I’m taking part in an online book-reading-club-support-group-community-project* called Infinite Summer, a group-read of the 1,000+ page novel Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace.

I’ll admit, I got a bit of a head-start on the project because a couple of months ago, I purchased the Kindle version of the book after reading Aaron Pressman’s account of how the flow of the book is changed (for the better) by having hyperlinked endnotes. As the whole footnote thing is but one of the challenges of the post-modernist work, I decided to once more give the book a try. Doing it via a Kindle also means I can carry the book with me at all times (it’s on both my Kindle and my the Kindle-App on my iPhone — although the footnotes don’t work the same on the app version). Because the Infinite Summer project is broken down into 75-page per week increments, I feel a little more inclined to read the book in short chunks than I would otherwise. (It helps if you can read multiple books at one time — which is something I’ve done for a long time. I figure if I can keep up with characters and plots of multiple TV series, I can do the same with books.)

Anyway, since one of the non-starters for Infinite Jest is its sheer heft, it’s interesting to me that such a community who lives in a real-time, digital, 140-character world has been drawn to this bookish-meme. On the other hand, there is so much about the book that is entertaining and intriguing to those of us who are fascinated (obsessed) with the role that technology, marketing and media plays in our lives, that it makes sense the book is popular with this group. And by slowing down and reading the book a few paragraphs — or a few sentences at a time — one realizes that it’s not the volume of the book, but the precision of the book, that is most impressive.

For me, reading the book also corresponds with a renewed interest in tennis after several years of setting aside what used to be a big passion of mine. While one doesn’t need to know anything about the game to follow the narrative — Wallace footnotes and explains everything you could possibly not understand — it adds a layer of interest if you have ever been even a bit obsessed with the game.

Which leads me to on last thing.

Yesterday, Esquire magazine posted on its website a 1996 piece written by Wallace that is a nearly 12,000-word examination of the “physics and non-physics” of tennis. The article is, in Wallace fashion, filled with endnotes. But check out the javascript(?) pop-up that appears if you hover your cursor over the endnote number. That’s an example of how a publisher can “enhance” content by moving it from one medium to another, rather than just “repurpose” or “port” it.

*I would call this a “book club,” but the geekish crowd doing this makes the notion of “book club” seem so Oprah minutes ago. This is the kind of group that has a Google Calendar of suggested reading goals that has both page numbers and whatever one calls the numbers at the bottom of a Kindle screen. And did I mention the Infinite Jest Wiki, a totally separate project, but I’m just saying?

**If I’d written this a few weeks ago, I would have said such a long-piece about tennis would be impossible to find in a magazine today — but that’s before I saw (but haven’t read yet) Cynthia Gorney’s recent 8,500-word profile of Rafael Nadal, “Ripped (Or Torn Up?)” in the New York Times Magazine.