Thursday, August 4, 2011

A brilliant scattered mind

Book: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

Author: David Foster Wallace

Published: 2005 (Little, Brown and Company

Pages: 343

David Foster Wallace’s “Host” (about talk radio and how it got to be such a broadcasting juggernaut) is the only essay to use these box-and-arrow digressions instead of footnotes. But it illustrates perfectly what it’s like to read his writings.

“Did you know that US lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?”

No. No, I did not, but now I do, and it’s this ability to deeply mine such subjects with such a fiercely churning analysis and absurdity detector that makes David Foster Wallace one of my new favorite authors.

Yeah, this book was dense as hell, but it was worth the work and the headache I nursed after gorging on it.

(A bookstore clerk from a Charleston trip I took told me that Consider the Lobster is the best gateway into DFW’s writing. That was a couple years ago; cut to last weekend when I went with my boyfriend to the Boarder’s out here. It’s closing, which means everything’s on sale, which means you better believe we combed that entire place of half-empty shelves, which meant I found this book and decided it was time. When I run out of books from my old pile, my been-waiting-patiently-for-who-knows-how-many-months-slash-years pile, I’m going to find Infinite Jest and the three bookmarks it requires.)

His literature and language essays are the most…straightforward isn’t the right word. The most linear, I think is better. He talks about the Great Male Narcissists in a review of John Updike’s Toward the End of Time; he talks about Kafka’s humor (did you know Kafka even had any humor? I sure didn’t) in written speech; he talks at very long, interesting but also long, lengths about authority and usage of American English; he gets right to the heart of why sports memoirs are so disappointing but why he keeps buying them anyway: he keeps looking for the transcendence he sees in the great athletes when they’re playing their game, convinced their physical eloquence will translate to the written word.

YES. That. *nodsnods* I kept doing that while I was reading.

I’ve wanted to read DFW since I read an article in Rolling Stone about his suicide. He just seemed so passionate and talented and like he was actually doing something to combine those two strengths. And then in a reporting writing class I took, our first assignment was to read a commencement speech he had given; it was about trying to find the transcendent in every day, and, frankly, it’s the best advice I’ve gotten about how to deal with the real world.

So I respect DFW, a lot, as a writer and as a thinker. His writings make me feel justified and hungry about finding pathos in the deep meanings of things. No, it’s probably not a good idea to take comfort from a suicidal artist of any sort. But I do.

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