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15 Facts About Infinite Jest

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It's not a stretch (or very original) to call Infinite Jest the defining work of the 1990s. David Foster Wallace's second novel is set in an absurd (but agonizingly believable) near-future, and it explores addiction, entertainment, pleasure, commerce, technology, and tennis—lots and lots of tennis. Here are 15 brief facts about Wallace's sprawling work (which produces about 15 fascinating moments a sentence).

1. Wallace began writing Infinite Jest in earnest in 1991. "I wanted to do something sad," he said in an interview with Salon shortly after its publication in 1996. "I'd done some funny stuff and some heavy, intellectual stuff, but I'd never done anything sad. And I wanted it not to have a single main character. The other banality would be: I wanted to do something real American, about what it's like to live in America around the millennium." The novel has quite the title considering its author's healthy fear of irony.

2. Fantastic online Wallace compendium The Howling Fantods has Steven Moore's notes on the first draft of Infinite Jest. Moore knew Wallace when Wallace was teaching at Illinois State, and he was one of three people to see the early manuscript. He describes it as "[a] mess—a patchwork of different fonts and point sizes, with numerous handwritten corrections/additions on most pages, and paginated in a nesting pattern (e.g., p. 22 is followed by 22A-J before resuming with p. 23, which is followed by 23A-D, etc). Much of it is single-spaced, and what footnotes existed at this stage appear at the bottom of pages...Throughout there are notes in the margins, reminders to fix something or other, adjustments to chronology (which seems to have given Wallace quite a bit of trouble), even a few drawings and doodles. Merely flipping through the 4-inch-high manuscript would give even a seasoned editor the howling fantods."

3. Moore cataloged the changes Wallace made from that initial version to the final, published copy. For example, "instead of a crisis in southern Quebec, Wallace originally set the crisis in Sierra Leone." In addition, the first draft begins not with Hal's college interview in Arizona, but rather his meeting with his father who is disguised as a professional conversationalist. The Year of the Whopper appeared in the original manuscript as "The Year of the Twinkie" and character names were changed around; Orin Incandenza was originally "Cully" in the first draft and also appeared as "Hugh" in early versions.

4. After reading 200 pages of Infinite Jest, Michael Pietsch, Wallace's editor at Little, Brown, told Wallace's agent, "I want to do this book more than I want to breathe.”

5. Pietsch responded to the original 1,600-page manuscript of Infinite Jest with a letter to Wallace saying, "It's exactly the challenge and adventure I came to book publishing to find." He also suggested that Wallace make extensive cuts to the book, adding, "I’m still hoping there are ways to make the novel much shorter, not because any one piece of it isn’t wonderful but because the longer it is the more people will find excuses not to read it. On the attached pages I’ve suggested chapters and scenes that maybe can come out without killing the patient." On Pietsch's letter, Wallace circled that section and simply put a question mark by it.

6. Wallace eventually accepted some of Pietsch's cuts, but he objected to others and pushed back with verbose rebuttals. According to D.T. Max, Wallace's biographer, Wallace "learned to erase passages that he liked from his hard drive, in order to keep himself from putting them back in."

7. It was hyped like crazy before it was published. Little, Brown sent out cryptic postcards to publications teasing the book with phrases like "Infinite Pleasure" and "Infinite Writer." It worked. Infinite Jest was published in February 1996, and by March it was already in its sixth printing.

8. Dave Eggers, who wrote the gushing intro to the 2006 edition of Infinite Jest, gave the novel a less-than-effusive review in The San Francisco Chronicle when it first came out (you could call his feelings "mixed"). In 1996, Eggers described the book as "brilliant," but also called it an "extravagantly self-indulgent novel."

9. According to Ryan Compton's "Infinite Jest by the Numbers," Wallace used a vocabulary of 20,584 unique words to write the 577,608-word Infinite Jest.

10. Compton also calculated that the longest unbroken series of conjunctions in the text is six: "But and so and but so."

11. n+1 has a neat story about where the name for Michael Pemulis, Hal's drug-dealing friend at Enfield Tennis Academy, came from. "Michael Pemulis" was the stage name for a little-known Phoenix musician whose record Wallace had heard while getting his M.F.A. at the University of Arizona in the late '80s.

12. In David Lipsky's transcribed account of his 1996 road trip with Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, Wallace mentions that he hated Infinite Jest's original cover. He said that it looked like the safety booklet on an American Airlines flight. "This was my major complaint about the cover of the book...The cloud system, it's almost identical."

13. Instead, Wallace said he wanted a specific photograph of Fritz Lang directing the cast of Metropolis to be used as Infinite Jest's cover (perhaps this is the photo he alluded to).

14. While Infinite Jest can be seen as prophetic regarding the Internet (especially video-conferencing) and the consequences that come with such an informational firehose, Wallace had never used it as of the novel's publication. "I've never been on the Internet," he told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1996. "This is sort of what it's like to be alive. You don't have to be on the Internet for life to feel this way." (A few months after that Tribune story, Wallace would participate in an online chatroom interview).

15. The movie rights were sold soon after the book's publication, but don't count on anyone actually filming it. "I'm in the odd position of having taken the money and hoping that it doesn't get made," he said in a 1997 Boston Globe profile. "And I'm feeling confident it won't, since the chances for eighteen-hour movies are small, unless they wanted to dispense catheters upon entering the theater."

[Many thanks to The Howling Fantods, an excellent resource worth checking out.]

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The Best Children's Books of the Year, According to Bank Street College of Education
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The Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education in New York City recently released its 2018 list of the best children's books on the market. Separated into five age-appropriate categories, the list includes more than 600 titles published in the U.S. and Canada in 2017.

In making their selection, judges considered books' literary merit, presentation, and potential emotional impact on young readers, as well as originality of the story, credibility of the characters, and absence of stereotypes. They also looked for positive representations of religious and ethnic differences.

Nonfiction books were checked for accuracy, balance, and documentation, while poetry books were assessed for their language, sound, rhythm, substance, and emotional intensity. Each book on the list was read and reviewed by at least two members of the committee, and then considered by the committee as a whole.

Of the books on the list, three are selected for special awards each year. For 2018, the Josette Frank Award—given to an outstanding novel in which a child character handles difficulty in a positive and realistic way—was awarded to Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. The Claudia Lewis Award for poetry went to One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes, and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for inspiring nonfiction went to Hawk Mother: The Story of a Red-Tailed Hawk Who Hatched Chickens by Kara Hagedorn.

Below is a selection of some of the books on the list. All of the titles below were awarded "outstanding merit" by the committee. For the full selection, click on the PDF link next to each individual category.

Under five category [PDF]
Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root and G. Brian Karas
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown
Mine! by Jeff Mack
Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs
Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Snow Scene by Richard Jackson and Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer and Richard Jones

Five to nine category [PDF]
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
Alfie: The Turtle That Disappeared by Thyra Heder
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
Good Night, Planet by Liniers
Pandora by Victoria Turnbull
Robinson by Peter Sís
Sleep Tight, Charlie by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo
Spiders!: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle and Meryl Henderson

Nine to twelve category [PDF]
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander and Kelly Murphy
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams
Little Bits of Sky by S. E. Durrant and Katie Harnett
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King
Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain, Philip C. Stead, and Erin E. Stead
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Twelve to fourteen category [PDF]
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time by Tanya Lee Stone
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali
Satellite by Nick Lake
The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World's Favorite Candy by H. P. Newquist
The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner and Maxime Plasse
Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Fourteen and up category [PDF]
Between Two Skies by Joanne O'Sullivan
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick
The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A print copy of The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2018 Edition ($10, plus $3 shipping) can be purchased by emailing bookcom@bankstreet.edu.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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