It’s summertime, which means, like everyone else, you’re headed to the beach. And what better way to spend your time off than in an overheated car, while the children invent new ways of torturing one another in close proximity to you. Ah, the sweet open road. And by open road, I mean bumper-to-bumper traffic with angry men and women just like you, dreaming of the beach and haranguing one another about alternate routes on Waze. And then the iPad runs out of batteries so you crank up the Hamilton soundtrack and encourage your family to sing along like the family you wish they were while your heart does something that may be a slight arrhythmia. It’s vacation o’clock.
And when you arrive at the beach, might I suggest a beach read to alleviate your pain: Infinite Jest. I know what you’re thinking: Beach reads should be full of sexually frustrated teens, low-paying jobs, and lightly dystopic futures, but I’m here to promise you that the beach read you’ve been looking for has been in front of you all the time, or at least in the hands of some earnest, 23-year-old white male who dreams of being a writer while polishing off his undergraduate degree in philosophy in just under seven years.
First off, the book is immersive, and by immersive, I mean it’ll give you a reason to wave your children away when they ask you to build a sand castle, fly a kite, or give them potable water. If asked to elaborate on the text, tell your spouse that it’s like swimming in the ocean if the ocean were full of marijuana, tennis balls, and wheelchair assassins. Rather than having your youngest bury you in sand, filling in your nostrils to make it realistic and causing you to briefly black out, bury yourself in Infinite Jest instead—nothing says ‘beach read’ like drug addicts and tennis prodigies.
Or maybe your children are older, which means that you’ve dragged them to this same beach for ten years straight, long after they’ve outgrown it and don’t want to join in on family game night, or building a sandcastle, or cooking, or anything but sleeping on the couch. Well then, the extensive footnotes on drug use will help you keep up with your teen on the latest trends in over-the-counter meth substitutes. Do you know what Meprospan and Stelazine are?, you can ask with a knowing smile while they text their friends. Who says you can’t bond with the kids anymore?
In case I’ve overwhelmed you, I want to be clear: By no means do you actually need to read Infinite Jest at the beach. It’s vacation, which means you just need to take a family selfie and then head back to the house for a beer or six. And here’s where IJ can come in handy: The book’s size, so often criticized, is its beachy allure. Infinite Jest is the Swiss Army knife of books. It can be used as a sun hat, though it more mimics a sombrero in its awesome coverage of your mid-life male pattern baldness. It can be used to club a wayward seal, or as the world’s most hipster pillow. It can hold down pesky sheets, or it can reinforce the walls of an amazing sand castle that you keep trying to build if your son would just stop stepping on it when he’s trying to pat it down. No masonry skills, that boy.
At the end of the day, were you to forget Infinite Jest at the beach—and you might want to because the politics of Canadian wheelchair assassins in separatist Quebecois narratives are going to be a bit much—don’t fret. Infinite Jest will float right out to sea and form a natural coral reef. On your last day, when a young horseshoe crab scuttles by wearing the chapter about Kate Gompert sinking into depression on his back, you’re going to feel pretty good about your beach read, or at least the buzz you’ll have from 10 a.m. margaritas.