Saturday, September 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace 1962 - 2008

Reading, and by this I mean serious reading, has become a luxury. If the book is really entertaining, you know there will be a movie or television show made out of it, so, seriously, why bother? Books take time to read and very often the time spent reading can be used entertaining yourself in some other way1. With the emails and the text messages and the (dare I say it) blog entries2, it has become increasingly difficult for someone who considers him or herself a reader3 to sit down with a nice fat juicy book with wild digressions and insightful rambles and thoroughly entertaining prose.

There is a strange connection between writers and readers, because you cannot lie on the page. Words leak out of writers in a way that they cannot fully control and the words are absorbed by the readers in a way that can be described as deeply intimate. This is why people obsess over books in a way they rarely do over other things. 4

I really love David Foster Wallace's books. He had something to say about who we are and where we are going as a culture. His books are fun and entertaining and baffling and frustrating and wonderful. He adamantly refused to ever produce anything at an eighth grade reading level.5

And reading his work helped you feel smarter. Whether it is the detailed analysis of brain chemistry in a footnote of "Infinite Jest," or his brilliant deconstruction of David Letterman's entire shtick in the short story "My Appearance,"6 his work inspired me to not only be a better writer, but to be a better reader.

And that is something I have to thank Mr. Wallace for. His work made me want to be better. In his short time in this world, he created works of art above and beyond anything I am sure I could create my entire life. I wanted to be a better reader for him and a better writer in the vain hopes that I could cobble together some words that might someday, maybe, make an impression on him.

Thoughts of loss inevitably become selfish, and my selfish thought is this - I am not going to get more books with the name David Foster Wallace printed on the covers anymore. I won't be able to read what he thinks of the 2024 election. And I will never get to meet him to tell him to his face how much I appreciate what he has done.

I appreciate you and your work, David Foster Wallace.7 May you find the peace that eluded you.


1There is another blog entry idea for the world. "Why do you read?" I tend to read for two main reasons - entertainment and information. Sadly, the whole idea of being entertained is more or less monopolized (in my life at least) by film and television. There are strengths and limitations in each medium, of course. For example, you never have will the distinct pleasure of complaining about Kevin Costner's horrible accent when you merely read "The Adventures of Robin Hood." And why would anyone want to experience the "Adventures of Robin Hood" without complaining about the accents is quite beyond me.

2Yeah, I said it.

3Which I do.

4That is another blog entry idea. How people who are obsessive over novels are different from people obsessive over actors, comic books, or movies? Because it is a different kind of obsession - an obsession that quite literally gets under your skin. Words can affect the mind in a way few things can outside of recreational drugs and possibly sharp rocks. I endlessly quote books. A sizable portion of my conversation comes from other people's words.

5As someone who writes technical manuals for a living, this whole "eighth grade reading level" is a big bugaboo for me. The original idea came from newspaper marketing departments - newspapers should be readable by the general population and the general population reads at an eighth grade level. I had an editor who lived by this and scratched out every one of my words that broke the three-syllable barrier with the note "eighth grade" next to it. I kept responding with the phrase, "isn't this document supposed to help the person get smarter?" but to no avail. There is nothing quite like being continually asked to dumb it down for this mythical person who just won't get it unless it is dumbed-down.

6This is one of my favorite pieces of fiction from David Foster Wallace, and the short story I use to try to get people to read him. It is one thing to hand them a book over a thousand pages written in an eight-point font8, but it is something else to hand them a short story about an pill-popping, aging actress going on the Letterman show. When I try to get people to read any of his non-fiction9, I show them the book "A Supposedly Fun Thing That I Will Never Do Again" which is a real showcase of his essays.

7The whole footnote thing is my way of crudely imitating his writing style. A lot of David Foster Wallace's work is comprised of footnotes. I even want to say in some of his books, there are one or two footnotes that are longer than the chapters they footnote.

8This infamously-dense book would be "Infinite Jest."

9Which is just as good or better than his fiction.

1 comment:

InvisibleMarketing said...

I really enjoyed this post. It made me want to read David Foster Wallace articles & get to know something about his work.