Yeah, I know everybody read Infinite Jest last summer, but I didn't. I had a book to write. Also this summer. So I am finally getting around to it, but have been somewhat comically delayed by indecisiveness: paperback or Kindle?
I’ve had the big paperback version for a while, and I was expecting to read that. I got myself a bookmark, and then stuck a Post-it note in the endnotes for rapid reference; I even printed out a list of significant characters and taped it to the inside back cover. I sharpened my pencils, and then plunged in.
But darn, that book is big and awkward. Also, it has a lot of words per page, and per line — understandable, given the novel’s length, but not ideal for readability. And then I started thinking that I might want to blog about it, and in that case, being able to access underlined passages online for quick & easy copying & pasting would be a large plus. . . .
So I bought the Kindle version. All the above problems solved . . . but . . . I found that I was missing the visual cues that codexes offer. I don't often miss them, or not all that much anyway, but in this case I miss them. Wallace goes off on these long riffs, but on the Kindle it’s hard to tell how long they are; whereas when holding the codex I could flip ahead to see how long I should be prepared to keep my concentration before I can expect a break. Also, I found that I don't wholly trust the Kindle the way I trust printed books: for instance, in a relatively early episode featuring a conversation between two men on a hilltop overlooking Tucson, Arizona, there’s a sudden cut to a description of vast herds of enormous feral hamsters in an environmentally ravaged region of the northeastern U.S. / southeastern Canada, and I thought, Wait . . . did someone make a mistake here? Is this actually a footnote misplaced? Did an episode heading get left out? I have seen enough mistakes in Kindle editions that I couldn't, and actually stopped reading until I could compare the codex — in the fidelity and accuracy of which I, like most people, have nearly absolute trust.
(That trust, by the way, isn't automatic and natural, but something that has been built up over centuries by a very complex social economics, as described by Adrian Johns in his magisterial Nature of the Book.) (Turns out that the Kindle was right about the placement of the hamster interlude, but a section break — in the form extra leading between paragraphs — was missing. It was there in the paperback.)
So I decided to go back to the codex. But — again — it’s kinda big. My eyes didn't like tracking that far across the page. If I wanted to annotate anything (and I did) I had to be sitting up. I began to long for the small size and light weight of the Kindle, and the ability to underline passages while recumbent. . . .
So I think I’m back to the Kindle. One way or another, I’m going to get this thing read, and there will be some comments on this blog along the way.
(However, blogging will continue to be lighter than usual for a while. I will be on the road this coming week with limited online access, so while I have queued up a couple of posts I might not have many chances to reply to comments.)