Book Shame: Or, the Time I Brought Infinite Jest to the Beach.

As a writer, it’s pretty easy to take yourself too seriously. I mean, no one else is going to do it for you. “Oh, you think my Creative Writing Degree is a joke, well I’ve read Proust in three different languages. Tell me more about your job at Soul Crushing Inc.”

(Disclaimer: The writer of this blog post does not claim to have actually read Proust in any of the languages.)

Anyone who took a college writing workshop can probably tell you about the one kid in their class who claimed that he didn’t like to read other writers because he didn’t want to be influenced by their work. That’s right. That means there are people in the world that accidentally read a short story by George Saunders or Amy Hempel or Andre Dubus, and they think to themselves, this is really good and all, but I’d prefer if none of their genius seeped its way into my own work.

Let’s not be too hard on them. We have all been that idiot in one way or another. So here it is, my top three most embarrassing book moments.

The Time In Fourth Grade When I Sobbed During a Spelling Bee.

There was a series of books in our library by Lurlene McDaniels. If you haven’t heard of her, she exclusively wrote books about children dying of cancer, and she is singlehandedly responsible for me thinking I have leukemia every time I find a new bruise in the shower. She is also responsible for me sobbing during a fourth grade spelling bee.

I was a good speller. And normally, I probably would have made it to a later round, but the winner of this particular spelling bee had to participate in a school-wide spelling bee in which you had to spell into a microphone, in front of the whole school. Having no interest in anyone paying any sort of attention to me, I misspelled a word on purpose and headed to my desk to finish my book.

The scene in question took place at the funeral for the 8 year-old girl who, in some crazy plot twist, died from something other than cancer. Upon seeing her in the casket, her younger brother starts screaming frantically for her to wake up. And I lost it. In fact, to this day, I still find this to be second saddest thing in the entire world (The first being when JFK was shot and his wife instinctively grabbed part of his face from the back of the convertible. It doesn’t get any sadder than your wife retreiving your brain matter.)

As it turns out, a pretty good way to draw attention to yourself is to weep uncontrollably in the middle of a quiet classroom while someone spells “opportunity.”

The Time I Thought My Copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Was Defective.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was my first favorite book. In fact, when I finished reading it for the first time, the moment I read the last word, I flipped back to the first page and started reading again. If, during the years of 2006-2010, I did not give you a copy of ELIC as a gift, I probably didn’t even like you as a person.

But before I finished it, something embarrassing happened. If you aren’t familiar with the book, there are some unconventional devices use (newspaper clippings with words circled in red pen, pictures, etc.) At one point, late in the book, a character is writing on a typewriter and the words start to appear as if they have been typed over until the words become unintelligible.

Having exactly zero experience with any literature that was even remotely experimental, I became convinced there was a printing error with my book. I was so convinced, in fact, that I put on pants and drove to the library to check out a different copy. When the other two copies of the book looked exactly the same, I felt like the world’s biggest idiot.

 The Time I Brought Infinite Jest to the Beach.

In high school, I was kind of the worst. As my friends and I embarked upon our senior year spring break in Panama City, I made it my mission to match each person with a book they could read during the week. Most people smuggled booze in their duffel bags. I handed out books to everyone in the car, offering a brief synopsis of the book I had carefully selected for their reading pleasure.

Me, I brought Infinite Jest. To the beach.

I know you’re thinking I was just showing off, and maybe you’re right. Though at this point, I didn’t even really know what Infinite Jest was. And while I’m not the most socially cognizant person around, I feel like I had to have known that the drunken idiots around me weren’t looking for a mousy girl with a 1000 page novel covering her knockers. (While not the most practical beach read, it did leave an Infinite-Jest-sized spot on my chest that remained impervious to the otherwise excruciating sunburn I managed to acquire within the first day of our stay.) I don’t really know why I brought it, and it really doesn’t matter. There are zero respectable reasons for bringing IJ to the beach, though it does occur to me that I am maybe the only person in the world whose first attempt at Infinite Jest occurred while wearing a bikini. And I have to admit, I’m almost a little proud of that.

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13 thoughts on “Book Shame: Or, the Time I Brought Infinite Jest to the Beach.

  1. Thank you so much for making me giggle over a (very) late breakfast. I absolutely can relate, to the last scene in particluar. Also used to be the “weirdo” who was always reading and matching other kids with interesting books. Good times!

  2. This was hilarious and I very much enjoyed reading. I am so with you on the Infinite Jest story. I would have been that girl, if I would have been ‘cooler’ (‘cooler’ as in OUR understanding of it, not the outside world’s, as you so entertainingly pointed out). 😉

    1. Thanks! Though, coolness was not a factor. The copy of Infinite Jest for sale at the bookstore is what did me in. I really didn’t even know what I was getting myself into 🙂

  3. Brilliant post! Gave me a good chuckle this morning 😀 Aww, felt a bit sorry when you cried because of that scene! Though, I’ve experienced that on the bus, where I was sobbing rather uncontrollably when a character died in the book I was reading.

  4. Loved this post! I also binge-read Lurlene McDaniels books as a tween, and I remember my seventh-grade English teacher stopping at my desk during USSR (“UnStructured Silent Reading”) to ask – in her best Concerned Adult Voice – if I liked “sad books”. Awkward.
    Also? I totally approve of “Infinite Jest” as a summertime read. I once read “Crime and Punishment” at the beach. No excuses, no shame.

    1. Ah! I’ve never been able to find anyone else who read those books! I’m actually a little alarmed that no one ever took me aside when they realized I was exclusively reading books with titles like “Six Months to Live” and “Only the Good Die Young.”

      Though, I guess my reading style hasn’t changed much. I’m all in on the sad books.

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