1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
My friend Luke, whom I consider an arbiter of all that is good in the world, told me that Infinite Jest was an absolute masterpiece. And I concur…the writing is versatile and engaging, the humor is sharp and intelligent, and the tone alternatively sardonic and tragic. One section, which features a depressed addict preparing to intentionally OD at a party, is one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read, a chaotic whirlwind of tormented mental spasms set in a world of intense detail. But it’s not all tormented spasms, either. There are some genuinely funny moments, particularly at the tennis academy where the athletes alternate their grueling routines with their drugs. It’s an intense read, yes, but a clever and accessible one.
Why ain’t I finished it? Well, at the risk of sounding like a petulant high school student, it’s over a thousand pages, and there are hundreds of endnotes written in EVEN TINIER FONT. More importantly, it’s a book that required me to take constant breaks, in order to check in with my brain. This wouldn’t be a problem if I owned the book, but I’ve checked it out (and renewed it) from the library twice now. If I didn’t have to keep giving it back, I could probably get up the momentum necessary to defeat this leviathan.
Likelihood I’ll one day finish it: High. It’s a cool story, and I’ve already read 600 pages of it.
2. Super Mario 64
Remember Super Mario 64? Iconic, ground-breaking game, back when 3-D meant that you could move in three dimensions, not that you had to wear stupid glasses so that Clash of the Titans could look like you were peering into a dimly-lit diorama. Super Mario 64 maintained the humor, excellent music, and hidden challenges of the old 8 bit games while upping the graphics, complexity and scope.
Why ain’t I finished it? I really, really hate getting lost. As a result, I’ve always struggled with three-dimensional games, where you have to wander around and remember where you left your penguin token or whatever. I’d get to a certain point in Mario 64 and then the sheer number of things I was supposed to remember started dragging me down, especially if weeks would go by in between gaming turns.
Likelihood I’ll one day finish it: Low. I’ll make exceptions for really good 3-D games, like Okami and Portal, but in general I figure I have enough media to consume without engaging in the virtual equivalent of trying to figure out where I parked my car.
3. Battlestar Galactica
Probably the biggest obstacle to my enjoying BSG was the hype. Friends, knowing I was a nerd, oversold the show (saying, not insignificantly, that it was WAY better than shows I already liked) , so from the beginning I watched it with high expectations and a critical eye. Even so, I found a lot to admire. The premise is intriguing (a beleagured humanity fleeing from space from their mechanical cylon oppressors), the special effects are far better than any I had seen on TV shows, and the acting is universally awesome.
Why ain’t I finished it? Because of both the hype I mentioned and the show’s fundamental self-seriousness, I have a hard time turning off my nitpicking radar when I watch. I take the show to task for predictable plot twists, for dramatic story lines not satisfactorily resolved, for too many characters that fall under the general heading of “hard-ass whose heart is in the right place.” BSG’s scope is so big and its tone so grandiose that when I sense the writers floundering, I’m much more likely to duck out, as I have, twice now.
Likelihood I’ll one day finish it: Moderate. It helped when Beth was watching with me, but she’s stopped too, and we’ve found a long, serious show to replace it. Perhaps when the robots take over, we’ll watch it and laugh at how quaint it all seems.
4. The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
The Evolution of God is a fascinating look at the way religious creeds and doctrines are affected by practical considerations such as economic growth, political confrontations, and interactions with other cultures. Wright contends that as societies connect with one another, their religions tend to become more inclusive and to include more moral responsibilities. He charts the evolution of tribal relgions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and shows how core assumptions within these faiths have changed in response to realities on the ground.
Why ain’t I finished it? Unfortunately, TEOG begins to get predictable due to repetition. When you figure out how closely Wright connects the dots between religion and economics/politics, it’s pretty easy to see what’s coming at the beginning of each new section. An alliance between two tribes leads to a doctrine on the universality of God’s love. A need to set oneself apart culturally leads to a doctrine of being the chosen people. It’s interesting stuff, and Wright certainly has a great deal of evidence to back up his claims, but by the time I got to the chapters on Paul and Mohammed, I felt I got the point.
Likelihood I’ll one day finish it: Moderate. I should read the chapters on Islam so I have a more complete understanding of the religion, but I’ll likely skim the last couple chapters, which seem to be making the same points again, but in general rather than specific terms.
5. Veggie Sandwich
A few weeks ago, some kind folks gave me a veggie sandwich from Whole Food. It had kalamata olives, tart bell peppers, and crackly-fresh sour-dough bread.
Why ain’t I finished it? Too much food.
Likelihood I’ll one day finish it: Very low, unless I am resurrected as a bacterium before the sandwich fully decomposes.