As I recently described, reading David Foster Wallace for the first time a few months ago was a revelation, a life-changing event. I strangely came to Wallace by way of tennis1 and while I had heard the name David Foster Wallace before, much of what I heard had been about his celebrated post-modern classic Infinite Jest.
At the time, I couldn’t much care for postmodernism. At the risk of making a ridiculously obvious comment, I always thought it felt too new, too shallow. The fiction that had touched me the most lived almost excluisively in the narrow range between Hemingway and Camus. The other thing I had heard about Wallace and Infinite Jest was just how challenging a read both he and it, was. So, needless to say, I didn’t particularly feel the need to delve any further.
It was reading Roger Federer as Religious Experience, a piece Wallace wrote for the New York Times, that truly introduced me to his genius. After that, I was off. Off on a spree to find as much Wallace as I could. I thought that starting with his non-fiction would be best, a figurative toe in the pool. I crushed A Supposedly Fun Thing I`ll Never Do Again, a brilliant collection of essays about tennis; Wallace visiting the Illinois state fair on assignment; and Wallace experiencing a luxury cruise for the first (and last) time. I was officially all in.
I knocked off Consider the Lobster which contains essays about Wallace visiting the AVN Awards, or “the Academy Awards of Porn“; A scathing review of former tennis player Tracey Austin’s autobiography; the titular essay about Wallace visiting a Maine lobster festival which makes him question “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”; and probably one of the most human accounts of experiencing the September 11 attacks as most of us did, as spectators.
With gusto, I attacked Infinite Jest using a reading/audiobook combo that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to conquer it as well. Wallace doesn’t just present his world to you, he pulls up in a panel van, black-bags you on the street and sets you free in the middle of his world. No directions, no explanation. Wallace treats his reader like an adult and challenges you to keep up. I can’t tell you how remarkably refreshing it feels not to be pandered to.
It’s safe to say Wallace has quickly become one of my favourite authors.
Wallace was a somewhat serious tennis player in his youth, and that permeated both his fiction and non-fiction writing↩