As I read along in Infinite Jest, I’ve been thinking about what it means to read a book with a group of people — in this case, a very large group. Even though I’m not actively contributing to the Infinite Summer forums, I’m following the discussions pretty closely and am learning a lot from what people write there. And then there are very, very informative and helpful posts at the Infinite Summer blog, such as this weekly summary, which lists chapters that the group has read so far with a plot synopsis for each one, as well as descriptions of characters encountered in each chapter. I didn’t realize the blog would be doing weekly summaries, and when I first encountered this week’s summary, I was thrilled to have a way to check whether I understood what was going on.
But it also feels a little like cheating. In a way, I feel like I should be reading this book all by myself to be reading it “properly.” It would be an entirely different experience to be reading it all on my own, without help from the blog and forums or any other kind of reading guide. A part of me feels that to have the true experience of reading this book, I should encounter just the text itself. It should be just me and the book, and I should try making of it what I can all on my own. Reading guides and groups and forums seem more fitting for the second time through, when I’ve had a chance to form my own opinions.
But then, I can be too much of a purist about reading and about life in general. I’m a little too obsessed with doing things the “right way,” and of course, there really is no one right way to read a book. I felt similarly uncomfortable using the Reader’s Guide to The Recognitions to help make sure I was understanding the basics of what was going on, as well as to explain the book’s allusions. But I have to say, I was very glad to have that guide available, and it made reading The Recognitions a better experience. I think having the Infinite Summer community available will make reading that book a better experience.
I wonder what the authors would say about these websites and groups. Perhaps they wouldn’t care how we read their novels, or perhaps they would prefer to have us confronting the text by itself, without any props or support systems or weekly summaries? Probably they would just be happy to have that much attention drawn to their work.
What do you think — are you a perfectionist kind of reader like I am?