Coaxing a teenager to read Infinite Jest

My oldest nephew (aged 14 at the time, currently 15), Philip, read Moby Dick this past summer while he stayed with me here in Baltimore.  It wasn’t his idea to read it, but he did it, and he enjoyed it.  And I enjoyed talking to him about it.  Then we watched the movie (the old one with a fiery Gregory Peck as Ahab), and we talked about the differences between the book and movie (screenplay by Ray Bradbury!).  And I made sure to press upon him the importance of what he just did: that is, that he’d just read all of Moby Dick—and enjoyed it.  I told him, “I know 30-something high school English teachers who haven’t read Moby Dick, so this is a real achievement for you!”

When I took him back to North Carolina at the end of July, I weighed him down with a bunch of other books Amanda and I felt he needed to read. Interestingly, he picked out Infinite Jest to add to the mix.  I gladly gave him Amanda’s copy (yes, we owned two copies of IJ), but I warned him repeatedly about the book’s difficulty and said he’d be lucky to make it to page 200.  And when I gave it to him, I also included the reading schedule Canelli and I used last winter to get through it again.

Fresh off his conquest of Moby Dick, Philip was untroubled by any of my warnings, especially after reading the first 14-17 pages.  He was brazen, even.  Since then, however, he’s told me that he’s tried working through the book three times now—three—without making it much farther than page 50 or so.  But—BUT!—he has committed to doing Infinite Winter this year, and he’s going to follow the schedule we used last year.  And to make things easier for him, I’ve already explained to him what Subsidized Time is in the book, and I’ve encouraged him to read “the spoilers” so he’ll have some clue as to what’s going on and how the whole novel fits together.  Also, I’ve repeated to him the mantra “Ten pages a day!  Ten pages a day!” to help psych him up.

So we’ll see how that goes.  As Canelli and I dip into A People’s History of the United States, I’ll be sure to keep on Philip and IJ.  Wow.  Think about that: he’ll have conquered Moby Dick and Infinite Jest before he’s 16 years old!  What else could I get him to read…?


  1. Ed Burnham

    Excellent! Way to go Philip! Proud of you!!!

  2. Luigus

    I need to meet Philip.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *