Not that he's unsympathetic. When Braiotta was in his mid-20s — he's now 38 — he slogged through À la recherche du temps perdu because he wanted to understand a Monty Python sketch. At that age, "people are trying to hit out of their weight class when it comes to what they're reading." He thinks that's a good thing.
"As dumb as I think people are for reading this book, I don't want to accidentally make them feel bad about themselves," Braiotta says. "They're just nice people, reading a book and taking a picture. Getting excited about a book isn't the worst thing in the world."
Infinite Jest has a vast Web trail, of which Braiotta's Tumblr account is but a mote. Last month, the New York Observer published an exhaustive analysis of Wallace's Internet legacy, in the wake of his suicide. Published in 1996 — the year Microsoft released Internet Explorer 3.0 — Infinite Jest achieved instant critical favor and commercial success.
In 1997, an Australian schoolteacher launched The Howling Fantods, the first David Foster Wallace fan site. But the novel didn't set the Internet ablaze until 2008, when Wallace hanged himself at the age of 46. Blog after blog parsed his sentences and enumerated his virtues.
In 2009, literary site The Morning News sponsored Infinite Summer, an online book club with the goal of finishing the thousand-page book in three months. Its Web site featured essays goading people to keep reading the novel, including one from Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy. The Infinite Summer Facebook page accrued over 15,000 fans.
When the Infinite Summer crew attempted to replicate the experiment with 2666, by Roberto Bolaño (critically sanctified Chilean badass/former heroin addict, who died in 2003 at age 50), they failed. The 2666 Group Read fan page topped out at 219.
Wallace alone has breached the divide between very long works of literary fiction and Internet-based youth culture. His new, posthumous novel The Pale King unofficially went on sale online on March 22 — even though it wasn't available to brick-and-mortar stores until April 15. The New York Times reported an outcry from independent bookstore owners, one of whom threatened to sue Little, Brown.
The Pale King has achieved a strong Internet presence: the blogs are once again abuzz; Web sites are rounding up reviews; LiveJournal mainstay the Hipster Book Club published an essay from jacket designer Marie Mundaca, replete with footnotes. It's all over Twitter, too (of course): "If you're sick of tweets about dfw or #paleking, please bear with me. I currently have no one to talk to about it in real life," wrote Vincent "@vinnypaycheck" Galgano. "I have got the howling fantods regarding the end of the oeuvre. #Paleking in nine days," tweeted Erin "@nniuqnire" Quinn.
Twitter aside, the general demand for The Pale King is far from overwhelming. At the time of this writing, it ranks 25th on the Amazon bestseller list, well behind Tina Fey's Bossypants and Heaven is Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Journey to Heaven and Back.
Since Braiotta launched "People Holding Infinite Jest," he hasn't run into a single person reading the book, but one of his friends did while getting coffee at Diesel in Davis Square. The friend took a picture of the woman with Infinite Jest, but Braiotta hasn't published it.
"She was there for hours," he says. "She would read for about 15 seconds and then stop and tweet something, and then read. Was she tweeting deep observations in the handful of pages she got through in the number of hours she was reading it?
"She got through two pages and tweeted 10 times. There was underlining involved. The Decemberists were playing over the loudspeakers. Someone was practicing an acting monologue. Everything that could happen in Somerville was collapsed into one moment. And then the world ended."
Eugenia Williamson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.