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Dave Eggers Loves Infinite Jest, Or Does He?

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

It seems like ages ago when I read Infinite Jest. When was that? 2011 to be precise. I had one kid at the time, and he wasn’t even one yet. My blog was in its early awkward years…my mom was reading 101 Books, and maybe three or four of you, but that’s about it.

I loved the novel as a whole, but it’s like one big blur. So if you asked me to summarize it off the cuff, I couldn’t. Hopefully, my two-part review would do a decent job of that. And I would hope that if I re-read the novel today, my take would be similar to what it was in 2011. But would it?

This article on Ed Rants brings up the point. In 1996, Dave Eggers (you might know him from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and as the founder of McSweeneys) reviewed Infinite Jest for The San Francisco Chronicle.

He wasn’t much of a fan:

Besides frequently losing itself in superfluous and wildly tangential flights of lexical diarrhea, the book suffers under the sheer burden of its incredible length.

But the book is more about David Foster Wallace than anything else. It’s an extravagantly self-indulgent novel, and, page by page, it’s often difficult to navigate.

Ten years later, Eggers wrote the foreword the 10th anniversary edition of Infinite Jest—with quotes like this:

“1,067 pages long and there is not one lazy sentence. The book is drum-tight and relentlessly smart and, though it does not wear its heart on its sleeve, its deeply felt and incredibly moving.”

Eggers never mentions his prior review of Infinite Jest. And as the Ed Rants blog points out, his take on the novel couldn’t be more different. You can read Eggers’ original 1996 review at Ed Rants, and his 2006 foreword here.

I can see the blogger’s point. It sure seems like Eggers is being hypocritical or backtracking on his earlier review—but is that really the case?

Opinions change over the course of time. Strong opinions. I used to be staunchly for capital punishment about 15 years ago, but now I’m staunchly against it (full disclaimer: I never received any money from a lobbyist). Am I a hypocrite because my opinion changed?

Even in the world of book reviews, I think we can give people the grace and flexibility to see things in a new way—especially if there’s been a long period of time between the two expressed views.

The trick, though, and maybe this is where Eggers messed up—is to own up to things you’ve said and written in the past. Don’t try to shovel it under the carpet and act like it never happened.

What’s your take on the Eggers flip flop? Has your view on any one book changed significantly through the years?

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