Monday, August 4, 2014

Capital or Infinite Jest

In theory, August is a time for vacation - a break from teaching, research, committee work, and all the other things that come with the academic life. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's a break from reading. This summer I wanted to read a big book. So, I set my sights on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I started reading this book years ago, but gave up after fifty or sixty page, promising myself that I'd return to it some day. However, a couple of months ago, I got a copy of Thomas Picketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, obviously not a novel, but definitely a big book. Because this is vacation time, I should probably be reading fiction, but this is a difficult choice.

Infinite Jest was selected by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the top 100 works of English-language fiction published since 1923. David Foster Wallace hanged himself in 2008, at age 46. He suffered from depression. The novel is set in the near future, with most of the action taking place at a tennis academy and a substance-abuse recovery facility. The themes range from addiction to advertising, and much more.
Capital has taken the world by storm, turning French economist Thomas Picketty into an international celebrity and bringing more revenue into Harvard University Press than they could ever imagine. In what is clearly an homage to Karl Marx, Picketty offers a new take on taxation and income inequality, based on an extensive historical analysis and a good deal of number crunching.
Beyond sheer length, both books are well researched, containing copious end notes, and they both offer timely critiques of the human condition.  
So, here's what I've decided. I'm going to start reading both, about fifty pages at a time, and see which one manages to hold my interest through to completion.

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