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David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide (Continuum Contemporaries) Paperback – May 20, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: Continuum Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (May 20, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082641477X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826414779
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.3 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“The series comes as near to squaring various circles – popular / academic, ‘good read’ / ‘classic Lit’, novel / film of the book as any I know. And at best it goes a fair way towards reshuffling those categories and redrawing the boundaries. With the first volume, I was relieved. After two or three, I was hooked.

The books are invaluable for gathering out-of-the-way or ephemeral comment from TV and radio interviews and the web as well as from literary reviews.

Refreshingly upfront and up-to-date…

Given the space, there are remarkably balanced film/novel comparisons of the most well-known examples…

An important feature is the fully referenced bibliographies, including reviews and copious website addresses – the latter ranging from fanzines and authors’ and publishers’ own sites to academic discussion lists and online journals.

In method as in subject matter, these guides move freely on the interface between print culture and multimedia. Highly finished and pleasantly handleable as books in their own right, they gesture accommodatingly to both words and worlds beyond.

Taking the series as a whole, it also confirms two things: that narrative nowadays is generically highly hybrid and increasingly cross-media; and that an understanding of the processes of writing and reading ‘contemporary classic’ (or at least ‘currently famous’) fiction cannot be separated – yet must be distinguished – from the processes of making and marketing books and films.”
- Professor Rob Pope, The Times Higher Education Supplement, May 31, 2002


"Burn does a terrific job of placing "Infinite Jest" in the tradition of the encyclopedic novel, explaining the novel's chronology, and demonstrating the subtle points of intersection and narrative intertwining among the many plots. It is in making the case for the novel's careful structure that this study is most valuable…(Burn's David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest": A Reader's Guide) offers more than its size promises." —Robert L. McLaughlin in Review of Contemporary Fiction (Robert L. McLaughlin)

“Burn does a terrific job of placing Infinite Jest in the tradition of the encyclopedic novel, explaining the novel’s chronology, and demonstrating the subtle points of intersection and narrative intertwining among the many plots.” –Robert L. McLaughlin, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2004

"Burn does a terrific job of placing "Infinite Jest" in the tradition of the encyclopedic novel, explaining the novel's chronology, and demonstrating the subtle points of intersection and narrative intertwining among the many plots. It is in making the case for the novel's careful structure that this study is most valuable…(Burn's David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest": A Reader's Guide) offers more than its size promises." —Robert L. McLaughlin in Review of Contemporary Fiction (Sanford Lakoff)

From the Publisher

This is an excellent guide to 'Infinite Jest'. It features a biography of the author, a full-length analysis of the novel, and a great deal more. If you’re studying this novel, reading it for your book club, or if you simply want to know more about it, you’ll find this guide informative, intelligent, and helpful.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 87 people found the following review helpful By George Carr on July 1, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of IJ since reading it in the summer of '96, but I've never read such a lucid and thoughtful analysis as this book provides. Burns has put enormous effort into analyzing Wallace's writing style, and avoids the simple analysis that Wallace is concsiously trying to undermine. Even though there are many subjects in the book that I would love Burns' opinion on, he is forthcoming about the limitations of the 'readers' guide' format, and has chosen his few topics for detailed analysis with care and skill.
I especially liked his understanding and analysis of IJ's literary context: rather than simplistically comparing Wallace's work to Pynchon or DeLillo, as many have done, he explores the richer tradition of myth materials and 20th-century literature that informs Wallace's brilliant novel.
My only criticism is Burns' failure to comment on Wallace's sense of humor, which was one of the reasons I loved IJ so much, and why I find it worth re-reading from time to time. I've enjoyed other writers endorsed by Wallace, like Irvine Welsh and Dave Eggers, but some literary analysis of Wallace's effective use of different varieties of humor would have been helpful. Still, given the lucid and concise analysis Burns provides, this criticism should be understood as part of my wishlist, not any negative take on Burns' sense of humor.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Hamilton on February 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
Inexplicably, the only extant reviews for Stephen Burn's competent guide to Infinite Jest are written by people who seem to hate David Foster Wallace and postmodern fiction in general; one has to wonder why they bothered taking the time to read the thing (and it's quite possible that they didn't).

In any case, if you have been moved at all by Wallace's work, which for my money is some of the most authentic, recognizable, and original of the turn of the century, then Burn's volume is a handy guide with some interesting theories about the characters, themes, and general structure of Infinite Jest. It is brief, which is precisely what you'll want after (or alongside) the immense length of the novel. Necessarily, Burn gives priority to certain scenes (he has a particularly strong interest in the passages about the game "Eschaton," which I never thought were the most interesting parts of the novel, but even so, it's worth a read), and this is best paired with Marshall Boswell's Understanding David Foster Wallace (Understanding Contemporary American Literature), which is equally helpful but quite different in emphasis. Together, these two books helped me tremendously in putting together a dissertation chapter about Infinite Jest, but they are not at all outside the grasp of the curious recreational reader (put another way, if you can wade through IJ, you can definitely understand this work, and you won't find it pretentious). Recommended for casual or ardent fans of IJ and the contemporary fiction scene.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kihm R. Sanders on June 24, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Infinite Jest is one of those once in a lifetime reads that was simultaneously painfully aggravating and indescribably delicious. It took so much effort and concentration to read certain parts that I could feel the sweat popping out on my brow. To make matters worse, I could only figure out portions of the book, even after a couple of reads.
This study guide goes a long way toward answering lots of questions I had about the story, the plot, the characters, and how they interrelated. This was such a big help to me that immediately after finishing the study guide I started reading Infinite Jest yet again, only this time a lot more of it clicked, and made it so much more enjoyable. I only wish the guide had revealed more, but I suppose there's something sort of magical about not being able to figure the whole book out. It would be lots of fun to have more of these guides for great works of fiction!
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
If Infinite Jest has become the Ulysses of the late twentieth century, then this excellent guide is the equivalent of Stuart Gilbert's companion to Joyce's masterpiece: Burn offers a lucid unravelling of some of the more mysterious aspects of Wallace's book (what exactly is up with Hal, where the mastercopy of the film is at a given time), but he also demonstrates fascinating parallels with books like The Golden Bough that I'd never thought of. It's also mercifully free of the kind of esoteric literary theory that spoils so many literary studies - refreshingly Burn prefers to situate the novel alongside the work of writers like Jonathan Franzen, and William Gaddis.
The book is short (you sometimes get the feeling that Burns wants to say more but doesn't have space) but within those limitations this is a fine study of a terrific novel - highly recommended.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Scott Lange on December 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The quality of the analysis is very good and well described by other reviewers, but I was a bit disappointed with the quantity. The book is only 5 inches by 7 inches, the font is fairly large, and it is listed as having 96 pages. That would already be a very small amount of analysis for the money, but here is what those 96 pages consists of:

1-9: Title page, acknowledgments, dedication, table of contents
10-22: Description of Wallace's overall point of view- interesting, but doesn't get in to the meat of Infinite Jest
23-65: Analysis of the book- good quality; this is essentially what I wanted, just not enough of it
66-71: An overview of what book critics said about Infinite Jest when it came out. Not useful to me.
71-76: "The Novel's Performance"- a subjective discussion of whether Infinite Jest is a good book. Not useful to me.
77-79: Further reading and suggested essay topics
80-92: Chronology of the plot- useful as a reference, but lacking any analysis
93-96: Bibliography

So in the end, there are only 55 small pages of large font analysis, and only 42 of those pages are actually about the book itself. Counting the words on a random page and multiplying out, there are approximately 12,000 words in the section that discusses the book. According to some internet sites, that's less than 10% the length of an average novel (or 2% the length of IJ itself). I believe this would be better off as a magazine article or web posting than an actual book. I haven't read any of the competing guides to Infinite Jest, but I don't believe this one is worth the money.
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