Book 249: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace


Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Finished reading on December 27th, 2017

Having spent the Holidays with the Incandenza family at Enfield Tennis Academy and with Marathe and Steeply in the desert and with Don Gately in the hospital talking to a wraith, I’d like to start out with the most pressing question in my mind: Why did I ever think I needed to read it?

That is one of those questions, like many that the plot of the book brings to mind, that are probably mathematically unsolvable.

When it is mentioned what the book is about, it seems that mostly a combination of such words and phrases as pursuit of happiness, entertainment and tennis might be represented.

But it should also be mentioned that there is a lot of violence against humans and animals, substance abuse on many levels, but also profound ideas about the human condition.

In Infinite Jest, there’s a huge cast of characters, who for most part are somehow interlinked, although you can’t see it at first. There appear to be three main themes that are intertwined and set the tone for the book – there’s tennis and other sports, there’s entertainment and there’s addiction. They’re not mutually exclusive and actually they’re all various forms of each other.

One of the important places where the book takes place is the Enfield Tennis Academy, where we find out about the lives of the Incandenza family: Hal, Mario, Orin and Avril “the Moms” and “Himself”. And then there are the other students and members of staff at the academy.

Another important setting is a Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, where we meet such characters as Don Gately and a veiled Joelle.

And then we have a rather random seeming desert where we find out about Marathe and Steeply, what the Great Concavity is and how they’re searching for a tape of the ultimate Entertainment, that makes anyone who watches is forget about all else and eventually die a pleasurable death in front of a screen.

It was a difficult book to read for various reasons – first the plethora of characters you have to be able to distinguish, the page-long paragraphs that just don’t seem to end and the fact that it’s not following a linear timeline – some things happen before or after or during and you’d be fortunate to realize that most of it is in the future, some in the past, but all of it is mixed up.

The second and for me more disturbing one was the violence and substance abuse, there were so many times when I just wanted to stop and quit reading it or just skip pages or do anything to escape another scene of someone dying etc.

However, now that I have spent over 50 hours with the book in close proximity, this much has changed:
* I feel like after Infinite Jest I can read anything, I feel it’s highly unlikely that there’d be anything more difficult in the world of books (that’s unlikely, but that’s my impression at this moment).
*I’ve been numbed to scenes describing people in various puddles of body fluids or emitting or ingesting fluids or solids or doing things to escape reality using chemistry.
*I wonder about when did the idea of entertainment even come about, and why is it so “important”.

Ofcourse if you need to know more about the plot and the characters, I’m sure any search-engine will lead you somewhere. As for this post, this is what the book made me think about:

The most pervasive idea for me was the one about entertainment. Doing something to spend your time, ideally something, that is fun, doesn’t require much effort and is attainable. So watching tv or any kind of videos would be an example of it. But it seemed to me that drugs and alcohol were presented as another option, as was watching sports. The main goal for all of those seems to be for someone to be happier or to have more fun. Can’t be exactly sure that it would be though. It seemed to me that the key was that entertainment is seen as a short-cut to happiness or oblivion or maybe not feeling, if we’d set goals or standards low. At one level the person engaging in any type of entertainment is either totally focused on it to the exclusion of everything, or is not focused on anything.

Is that possible?
I don’t know.

Another idea I picked up from the book was that of choosing. Why should we have options to choose from without the education about how and what and why to choose. In the case of entertainment, it might be easy in some case to say what is a “good” or a “bad” choice, but how do you choose between “good” and “better” or “bad” and “worse”?
I was especially troubled by that idea, because as a bookworm, my preference is of-course “reading books” – good vs. “watching TV” – bad.
But I remember a time when it wasn’t like that, and I’d spend days or even weeks watching TV as a kid; the only time I’d choose to do something else, like read a book, was when my brothers had control of the remote control, or when I thought nothing good was on TV, or when I was sent away somewhere where access to TV wasn’t guaranteed. But I cannot pinpoint the time when I started to prefer reading. I know it must have been at around when I was maybe 11-12. But was that because of something I learned at school or at home or was it just a random transition. Maybe in half of the parallel universes I’m a TV-addict and follow celebrity gossip. It sounds too horrifying to even think of it. I’m sure there’re other options.

I started listening to Daniel Kahnemann’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” when I need to take a break from Infinite Jest. And Kahnemann made me think of how my first impressions and ideas about Don Gately and some other characters introduced with the connection to drugs or alcohol right off the bat and the history of their decisions versus the Incandenzas and the students at Enfield Tennis Academy were a definite example of how I saw the first characteristics of the people more strongly, to the exclusion of others; as I got further into the book, my impressions started to even out to a degree where I could see them on the same level and have less of my judgement interfere. I thought it a really neat way how Kahnemann’s book changed my view of Infinite Jest while reading it.

I’m going to think some more about Infinite Jest, but to finish up, there has to be a rating. So…
I can’t say it’s 10/10 because I feel that would signify a slight Stockholm syndrome and my happy emotion of being done with it. It can’t be 5/10 because I did appreciate the difficulties of reading it (I thought that’s the thing to distinguish it from being “entertaining”), and I did find the characters fascinating even though some were obviously out of my comfort-zone. I know I wouldn’t want to reread a book that I’ve given 7/10 or less before So..

Rating: 8/10

Because I think I could and might at some point read it again.

A thought on the actual reading part though – I think it’s really only possible to read it in huge chunks not in tiny little portions. I found it very difficult to get back to the story even for about 20 pages or so from each time I got back to reading it and I had the overwhelming desire to put it down and stop. But there was also the opposite effect – when I had reached the set goal of however many pages I wanted to read on a particular day, I always read further than that.

Some of my favourite quotes from Infinite Jest:

“[…] but like for instance where do you look with your eyes when you tell somebody you like them and mean what you say? You can’t look right at them, because then what if their eyes look at you as your eyes look at them and you lock eyes as you’re saying it, and then there’d be some awful like voltage or energy there, hanging between you.”

“But he’d also gotten a personal prickly chill all over from his own thinking. He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding. No one single instant of it was unendurable. Here was a second right here: he endured it. What was unendurable – with was the thought of all the instants lined up and stretching ahead, glittering.”

“There’s something elementally horrific about waking before dawn.”

Book 235: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Finished reading on October 27th, 2017
Rating: 9/10

Why is it that a lot of women with higher education after some years don’t work or haven’t advanced in their careers as much as men with the same education? Why don’t men opt for being work-at-home fathers as often as women make the choice to stay at home with their children? Why shouldn’t one ask how to “have it all”?

This is another one of those books that I wouldn’t normally read, just because the content seems logical anyway, so why spend the time reading it? It’s still how I  feel, that’s why I only rated it with 9 points out of 10.

However I did find some points in it interesting. And I do feel that high-school and undergraduate students should read it, so that more women would stay in the workforce and also so that men would also see more options….

There’s a lot of good advice. For example to make your partner a real partner – don’t just do all the chores yourself, but share them and don’t require the other person to do them your way, but rather their own way, even if you consider it wrong.

Another one would be to not judge people on their choices when it comes to career and family – it might seem as if everyone has the same choices but in reality that might not be the case.

An interesting point Sandberg made in the book is that a man and a woman with the same skill-sets would be perceived differently and that there are different expectations to women in professional situations, and not just from men, but from women as well – you’d expect a woman to be nicer in any given situation than a man with the same kind of job. But at the same time successful women are seen as less nice and not liked as much as successful men.

While reading this book, I had one successful woman in the back of my mind, whose decisions have influenced me a lot and that probably is the reason why I felt that Sandberg’s book is just purely logical, and there’s not much new to me information in there. And I consider it obvious that it isn’t  “a woman’s” job to cook and clean – the person who can and wants to do those things will, but there’re no expectations for any one person to do it.

Another interesting thing was the part about mentors – asking someone to mentor you, or having a mentor without even realizing it. I think the main point there was to not ask someone to mentor you in those words, ask for specific advice rather than “be my mentor” – a sneaky way to get a mentor without the mentor even realizing it :).

I’m glad that I read it, and I think that everyone might benefit from reading it – to lean in to what ever it is you want to do with your life, be more confident and reach for the opportunities even when you don’t feel particularly ready for them.


Book 234: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Finished reading on October 21st, 2017

Rating: 7/10

I always had the idea that somewhere in this book there would be someone counting sheep in their mind to fall asleep and wondering whether androids would be doing the same with electric sheep…. Well, I was wrong…

This book is not my usual kind of fiction book to read for several reasons – first if I read sci-fi it the book’s plot should better take place on a different planet or a moon, secondly isn’t it just a bit too mainstream?

I’m not going to get into the synopsis of the book, because that can be found anywhere else…

So my thought on this book: I’m glad it’s over. The end.


I do feel like this book took me for a trip outside of my comfort-zone, which isn’t all that bad in itself.

*Androids as personal servants. Ok, why not. Though why not have them do everything else too? Humans are lazy, programmable robots however can be much more efficient, even in giving orders I’d think, so androids escaping humans sounds logical.

What doesn’t sound logical is having androids of two genders (as far as the book is concerned). Why? If you’d make them indistinguishable from humans, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they behave like humans. But that doesn’t sound effective – my question/idea arose from reading the part where Pris is encouraged to move to Isidore’s apartment where he could take care of her. That’s confusing. They’re capable of pretty much everything but a good cover for an android is living with a “chickenhead”? I wonder whether that’s for compatibility or some other reason that androids have genders…so that humans could relate to them better?

Now electric animals instead of real ones because a lot of species have gone extinct, very few survive and having an animal has become a status symbol – that’s an interesting idea. I remember as a kid wanting a remote-controlled dog when I couldn’t get a real dog, so it makes some sense. But it’s curious that androids aren’t considered as electric humans and as someone you should take care of and keep as pets, but rather as servants. So the latter serve a purpose, the former are merely symbolic and fake at that too. But I guess it’s more the culture – you have to have an animal or you’d be seen as odd, kind of like someone who doesn’t watch TV….

There were two things which I found most disturbing, should those ever come to life. First is fake memories. It’s been used elsewhere too ofcourse. But it’s just creepy.

Second is empathy boxes and Mercerism. So you take hold of the handles and feel what someone else is feeling and others can feel how you feel (kind of like the point-of-view gun in Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, only it works both ways). Maybe I’m just (trying too or really am) not that emphatic so I would hate to feel someone else’s feelings and moods – partly because I feel it’s an invasion of their privacy even if they’re doing it willingly and secondly it’s making you feel different. However now think of what reading fiction does….. Aren’t they just empathy boxes with pages instead of handles? That’s a disturbing thought. Which is also why I find that any book recommendations should be really well-considered and thought-out. (At least when I’ve read a book on someone’s recommendation I still always connect them to that book…) But why should everything be shared?

Then just something I noticed – in case of names of people etc that I haven’t come across too much, or not at all, I find it difficult to assign a different meaning or character to it, so in my mind Mercer is connected to the Mercer in Eggers’ Circle and the Rosens are connected to Dr. Rosen from A Beautiful Mind….

And now for the last thing – mood organs are probably the most interesting bit of technology that is in that book. The ability to just dial a different mood and schedule your moods in advance -that’s quite intriguing. If such a thing existed, would I use it? On the one hand it goes against my idea of what a mood is and that would just be a setting… and I’d prefer to not have my moods changed even just by me… On the other hand I see how it might make some things easier – for example set it on a sociable mood and you’re willing to talk to people or a learning mood for those early morning lectures…

In my mind the most disturbing part in the novel is the bit with the spider. I do have empathy for the spider…Those awful bully androids…

So that’s what I thought about while reading this book. Unfortunately I finished it way past midnight, so my thoughts haven’t been organized too well.

What were your thoughts on this book?

Data remains my favourite android.

Book 230: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand


Finished reading on May 7 th, 2017

Rating: 8/10

I feel like I’ve been slogging through “The Fountainhead” forever. I approached it with curiosity and excitement as I had rather liked “Atlas Shrugged“.

In case of this book however, I made steady progress with it for a while, then hit a roadblock and almost decided to not get back to it at all and left it for months. Until a few weeks ago when I felt like I’ve made my peace with the character’s actions and can go back to it having pretty much forgotten what had driven me away.

But now to the plot and characters and the rest…

We first meet Howard Roark, the main character of the book when he gets thrown out of college, where he has been studying architecture, which remains his calling throughout the book. Another character we meet at the same time is Peter Keating who graduates successfully, already has a great job offer, but really he would rather have studied painting instead of architecture.

Now we get to the main part – one has a passion for architecture, for creating something original and functional and not following in the footsteps of anyone else and trying to reproduce ancient buildings etc. The other wants to be though as a great architect, follow the demands that anyone places on him and steal from historical buildings whenever necessary.

Roark has very high principles whilst Keating doesn’t seem to have any – Keating doesn’t really have the talent to get where he wants to get with his job, but does have a knack for weaselling his way into the good job, making the right connections etc.

At first I felt sad for Roark, because as he wants to follow his ideas and not conform to others in any way, he gets trampled under everyone’s feet with modern buildings that are ahead of their time, and doesn’t appear to be getting anywhere. At the same time Peter Keating is climbing the career ladder.

There are more characters connected to arcitecture in the book, but I’m going to skip over them.

Media and general public play an important role in the book in helping Keating gain what he wants and to keep Roark’s genius at bay by not giving him any slack. The media and general public are however controlled by some powerful and despotic people, whose activities seem to be at the border of insane and quirky. We have Ellsworth Toohey, an expert on architecture, who has a large influence on many successful businesspeople when it comes to choosing someone to design a building for them.

Then there’ Dominique Francon – a columnist at the New york Banner, the daughter of the architect Guy Francon for whose firm Peter Keating starts working for. She is one of the few female characters in the book, another one being Catherine Halsey, and then there’s Peter Keating’s mother…

Dominique Francon comes through as a strong, independent and very intelligent woman. She plays quite a big role in the book, but despite her part as a smart woman I didn’t really take a liking to her at first. There’s a relationship between her and Roark eventually, that drove me away from the book altogether. I had just started to see her as an interesting and relatable character, when something happened that to me seemed ultimately stereotypical taming of the shrew… (I think that I might possibly have been so disturbed by it exactly because I had found Dominique so relatable) and I took a break from reading it.

However eventually I got back to it to read some more of rather strange and illogical actions, that seemed to lead to a real dystopia, where the public’s opinion can be easily molded to a certain limit to accept rubbish as great masterpieces (The Gallant Gallstone and The Skin Off Our Noses), which seem so riddiculous, but scarily possible…

Enough of that though… I felt as if Rand could have been quoting Einstein: “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” in the whole of the book.

At first it isn’t as obvious, but it does seem to end up with few great geniuses against the easily affected mob of common people. I wonder what was she trying to say with that…

I could almost hear a maniacal lauch when Toohey is explaining to Keating ” If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind”. And “kill his  capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it”. I can see how that is just around the corner… A world full of mediocre people who don’t want things to change or anyone to be different or better…

Toohey’s a real menace. A really scary person, especially if they’re after power and against individualism.

I did end up liking and enjoying the book, and I think I will read it again in the future, since there are so many actions that are undertaken for a variety of reasons that I’d like to ponder on… Like the general lack of female characters, and how all three that are mentioned the most are connected to Peter Keating… Or how Peter Keating searches for Roark’s validation on his paintings… or capturing the spirit of someone or something in a work of art or in a building etc,


Book 186: The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany


The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

Finished reading on July 23nd, 2015

Rating: 7/10

“The Yacoubian Building” is set in Cairo, Egypt and deals with the lives of some of the people who live in one building. In the book you meet some people who are really quite different – although they live in the same building their living conditions are very different. For example you meet a young boy who wants to become a police officer, but there are difficulties that stand in his way and aim his later life in a rather different direction.

That is basically the main theme as I saw it – you’ll be expecting one thing and something totally different will happen.

The book does contain quite a lot of adult content.

Reading this book did feel as if I was just peeking into the lives of the characters through the windows.

One of the troubling aspects for me was that none of the characters are really altogether likable – mostly they’re obsessed with something – religion, work, sex etc – to a point that’s disturbing and strange.

Book 165: Ulysses by James Joyce

PIMG_9144“Ulysses” by James Joyce

Finished reading on April 22nd, 2015
Rating: R

I’ve read Ulysses, I feel like I should be able to say something profound, yet I’ve never been bothered more by the lack of logic than I was when reading this book.

Honestly it was a bumpy ride reading Ulysses in 8 days. I only really started enjoying it when a colleague asked whether I was enjoying the book I’m reading and I said “no” – after that it all got better.

I think I feel slightly angry at the book – I’ve loved reading Joyce’s shorter works, but this one left me confused and baffled and thinking that I might actually prefer to read a quantum mechanics textbook rather than delve into such a literary work next time. Though I think maybe that’s not a good idea as maybe that’s exactly what it’s about – it’s so different from our everyday experience that you have to reset your mind or die trying to adapt to a novel where one moment a character is forced to wear womens’ clothes at a brothel and the next they’re in a courtroom and then they become a mayor…

There certainly were enjoyable parts, but it’s mostly all way too difficult – as soon as you get used to it you’ll have to face fifty pages of stream-of-consciousness writing without any punctuation marks!

But then in the end it’s all quite sad, especially when you realize it’s been a week from when you started reading it, and it’s still the same day in the book…

I liked how Joyce mentions the night sky – I often wonder whether regular people who have no work-related reason to look at the night sky and know what’s there, whether they even notice it – do they see the planets, do they know that you can see planets and what about constellations? At least Joyce seems to have noticed. So that was good.

The important part is – I read it, and now I know it’s not made-up words throughout, only in some parts. In other parts it’s as if it were a (hideously long) play where there are new characters coming to the stage every five minutes and they’re not even doing the same play!

It’s interesting, but with one reading I wouldn’t even try to figure this one out even just a tiny little bit.

I’m hoping that reading “Ulysses” will make me value more writers whose works aren’t from an alien world in a parallel universe.