Exclusive: New Fan-Designed Cover of 20th Anniversary Edition of ‘Infinite Jest’ Plus a Brief Interview with Michael Pietsch

December 23, 2015 | 5 books mentioned 10 2 min read

February 23rd marks the 20th anniversary of the original publication of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and on that date, his publisher Little, Brown is putting out a new edition of the now classic novel with a new introduction by Tom Bissell. To recognize, as Little, Brown put it, ” the deep way that so many readers have connected with the book over the last twenty years,” the publisher held a contest allowing fans to submit their designs for the new cover.

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The winner, we can reveal, is Ohio-based designer Joe Walsh, who has dispensed with the sky imagery that has adorned all prior U.S. editions of Infinite Jest. Walsh’s cover is spare and employs symbolic imagery with a playful undertone. After seeing the cover, we reached out to Michael Pietsch, CEO of Little, Brown parent Hachette Book Group, and David Foster Wallace’s editor, to get his thoughts.

The Millions: Beyond the commercial considerations, why is now the right moment to issue a new edition of Infinite Jest and what does the book have to say to today’s readers?

Michael Pietsch: I’m astonished that ten years have passed since our 10th anniversary edition with a foreword by Dave Eggers. It’s the publisher’s job to find ways to keep books fresh, and an anniversary like this seemed an unmissable occasion to highlight how alive the book still is. Infinite Jest is embraced and discussed by ever larger numbers of readers with each passing year. This new edition is a celebration of that vitality and an invitation to those who haven’t yet turned the first page.

The book’s main ideas—that too much easy pleasure may poison the soul, that we’re awash in an ocean of pain, and that truly knowing another person is the hardest and most worthwhile work in the world—are truer now than they’ve ever been. Tom Bissell’s brilliant new Foreword calls attention to this far better than I can.

TM: Why did Little, Brown decide to go with a fan-designed cover and what would David have made of that decision?

MP: The internet has made it possible to see the massive amount of creative response readers have to Infinite Jest. I’d seen a lot of art connected to the book online, and it seemed that allowing readers who have loved it to submit cover designs for the anniversary edition was a way of honoring and highlighting all that creativity.

I never presume to comment on what David would have made of this or any other aspect of our work. The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust wholeheartedly supported the idea of inviting fans to submit cover art.

coverTM: What did David think of the covers and packaging of his books?

MP: David sometimes made suggestions for cover art. For Infinite Jest he proposed using a photo of a giant modern sculpture made of industrial trash—an interesting idea, but one that our creative director felt was too subtle and detailed to work as a cover image. The cover image for the paperback of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is one he suggested, and that I’ve always loved.

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10 comments:

  1. That’s the best they could do? Didn’t try very hard, now did they. Same people that work in pub. marketing must be the same people that work in film marketing. No imagination, no sense of composition, no sense of communication. Nothing. That’s what this cover signifies. Nada.

  2. Horribly poor choice. Infinite Jest isn’t 1984. It’s nothing like it. The problem with the cloud cover was that it gave no indication of what the book was actually about. Here we have the same issue. With the wide variety of covers released to the internet beforehand that were clearly better than this, I’m struggling to comprehend the choice.

  3. Keith, until your post I didn’t realize that I’d seen the ‘winning cover’. I skimmed over it, missed or ignored it.

    I scrolled back and you’re right. It’s unrelated.

  4. i love it.
    “…certain oblique visual gestures…paid the sort-of deep insider’s elegiac tribute no audience could be expected to notice.”

    worthy of Viney & Veals.
    Fully-Functional.

  5. actually
    the image
    reminds me of vonnegut’s bits
    and dave was a pen doodler himself
    as for whether
    or not the lad
    would have liked the choice
    who gnows?
    but he
    probably
    would have loved the audience participation
    having heard him admire
    the free sense of community the Grateful Dead
    permitted to arise around their tours in the 80s
    he readily praised the creativity of those around him
    his students
    his friends
    whatever the sources of its inspiration
    so this old pal of his believes the process would have pleased him
    as well as the fact that he’d achieved his aim
    by leaving you this lush labyrinth of literature
    a hyper articulated artifact
    w/ actual insights
    well worth its
    acclaim

    winter well
    y’all

  6. though KV’s asterisks had
    panache, the je
    ne sais quoi of
    squiggly sphinxes, this
    cover art’s far
    more bar stamp ink
    than badass
    doodle i think: dinky signet’s
    capstone hot
    pink crayon mason’s
    lidless wink or
    blink; rinky
    dink! “well why not
    instead a KV-crude
    enigma-grin with
    infinity’s glyph for its
    Vonnegutish
    lip-wig on a tennis ball
    head?” (imagine
    chip kidd)
    (sed)

  7. Fanboy alert: This is too comical/illustrative. I wish they’d stop trying to highlight ‘funny’ and ‘comedic’ and ‘screwball’. Sure, it has parts that are humorous and parts that make you laugh but If you watch/read any of the interviews with Wallace from around the time of publication he explicitly states that he set out to write a sad book/found the book sad/didn’t understand why people thought it was funny to the degree that they did.

    People can interpret a work however they please but it just seems like in the beginning they didn’t even know how to market it so they just stuck some clouds and bright, big font everywhere. Now they’ve seemingly taken a step toward selling it as a ‘zany’ romp through a television sitcom with a logo cut and pasted from a Keith Haring doodle.

  8. @Mark: in utter agreement am I.

    “People can interpret a work however they please but it just seems like in the beginning they didn’t even know how to market it so they just stuck some clouds and bright, big font everywhere.”

    Yes. This. Pynchon was lucky his “Gravity’s Rainbow” first came out when it did…

  9. WANT TO KNOW THE REAL STORY?

    I WON THIS CONTEST.
    (When I came up with a very clever design of using the earth as a tennis ball I knew I had to win, if it was based on merit. So i entered using a pen name.)

    I can show you the emails (etc) that I WON.

    The next day, after they found out my REAL identity, they disqualified me (b/c i’m an infamous Snowden-type in NYC, blacklisted for exposing corporate corruption and more).

    !!!

    I was shocked to see my replacement was extremely wan.

    empiregoodness@gmail.com

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