Customer Reviews: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide, 2nd Edition
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on July 1, 2003
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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on February 20, 2013
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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on December 31, 2009
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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on June 24, 2008
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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on August 14, 2003
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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on February 24, 2006
This book is excellent for reviewing the overall meaning of infinite jest. It lays out a comprehensive chronology of every event, delves into several topics concerning David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest, and, most importantly, is a good read. If you've made it through the 1000-some pages of Infinite Jest, add these 96 pages to the top and get a much-needed recap of this great book.
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on November 16, 2009
This is a wonderful guide to Infinite Jest.
It contains, in just a few pages, a valid summary of the book; a short biography of DFW and lots of hints to start a conversation about the great writer's masterpiece.
Nonetheless, IJ is such a broad subject that a short guide could never be sufficient to really master the text without reading it with patience and attention, maybe a couple of times.
Id est, you cannot take an exam on IJ without reading the book thoroughly before. This guide will re-create timelines, happenings, connections that might have been unclear to the reader, but the reader must well know what Mr.Burn is talking about.
I consider myself quite an attentive reader; however, Burn's guide made me realize that, amid the 1079 pages of the book, there were links between the sub-plots that had skipped my surveillance.
A Must-Read for those who have loved this book and want to know some new perspective.
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on December 7, 2013
It's pretty good, but no "Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake" or "James Joyce's Ulysses". Its really only got one chapter on the Infinite Jest text itself. It does have some great insights in that chapter about the book's tricky chronology and it does highlight some key relationships you might otherwise miss. I just wanted a little more.
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on June 12, 2003
A remarkable book - and a fitting tribute to DFW's wonderful novel. Quite how Stephen Burn has managed to cram so much lucid opinion and information into a book of this brevity is beyond me, but he should be warmly applauded for doing so. One quibble only, for the publishers: labelling this book a 'readers guide' is doing it a disservice. Burn's book is much, much more than that.
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on May 13, 2016
It was readable and helpful, especially the forty or fifty pages devoted to the novel and the timeline at the end. But I think the subtitle, "A Reader's Guide etc." is misleading. Those forty pages are an extended essay on important aspects of the novel, but the word "guide" suggests that the reader will receive a page by page map of the novel's full complexity. Some day, an annotated edition of Infinite Jest might be written and would be greatly appreciated by this reader. Stephen J. Burn's book is very readable. I enjoyed it. But I would have liked more on Infinite Jest.
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