Friday, May 25, 2012

Consider the Wallace

Book: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Author: David Foster Wallace

Published: 1997 (Little, Brown)

Pages: 353

I’ve decided to make my Wallace collecting semi-accidental, i.e. going to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and buying all his books at once will be considered cheating. But finding A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again bury amongst other 1-for-$5, 2-for$8, 3-for-$10 (guess how many I bought) volumes in the used-book alley of the South Carolina Book Festival is fate, and a damn good turn of it.

This could turn into How I Am Learning to Stop Worrying About My Literary Pretensions and Love the Wallace: The Essay, but I’m saving the real meat of that for my MFA application statement of purpose (just kidding) (sort of, halfway) (oh God I want to do that so badly but how in any sort of fashion am I going to be able to suspend enough belief to pretend it’s a viable and practical way of steering my life?) (did crystalizing that thought out loud kill the true writer in me?) (SEND HELP AND MOTIVATION). So you guys get the cliff notes.

It boils down to how skillfully Wallace is able to use his intellect to reveal his humanity. That’s it; that’s his entire nonfiction trick, and it’s very, very powerful.

Wallace captures sort of controlled explosions from his brain in hyper-analytic language that permeates each subject, no matter how pedestrian (tennis, Midwestern geography, David Lynch movies, a cruise, a state fair), with equal and enormous amounts of passion. I love how deep yet conversational he writes; that balance is how a writer gets people to care.

His writing is difficult, full of allusions sometimes explained but sometimes left to dangle and make fun of how little you’ve actually read. And I’ve an idea that Infinite Jest and the rest of his fiction only gets more thickly veiled with layers to chip away. But the key thing is he makes the reading work worth it. There’s a spark of humanity and meaning that exhausts you in the very pleasant way of sinking into a comfortable squishy armchair after a long journey home.

And when you discover that, all the mystique and pretension and literary idolizing inherent in his name falls away and leaves you feeling understood as only the best authors can.
My copy of this book is from 1997, which means there’s no mention of what happened to him. I kind of like that, and it sums up why I like literature so much: it endures, even when we don’t.

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