October 14, 2008

I can not feel what to say

After I graduated college, some buddies and I took a road trip around the country, and I decided to keep a journal along the way. Another thing I did along the way was leave all my luggage in a parking lot in Albuquerque NM, where it was forthrightly stolen by local jerks. Strangely, though, my journal contains no mention of this incident. When I look at it these days, I'm struck by how absurd it is that I never included-- among all the incredibly boring shit-- an account of how I lost something so important.

I'm only mentioning this because I wondered today how I would feel in a few years if I looked back at this blog and realized I never wrote anything about the passing of David Foster Wallace.

So, reluctantly:

I feel sure Wallace has had a greater impact on my life than any other person I've never actually met. When I was in college, my brother sent me a used copy of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Wallace's first essay collection. I don't really know why he did it. I was never a reader growing up: I'm embarrassed to say I could count on one hand the number of books I'd ever read for pleasure. But I read it all, very slowly, the summer before my senior year, and I've been reading ever since. I'm not sure how I'd look at the world, what I'd talk about at cocktail parties, what my sense of humor would be like, even who many of my friends would be, if Jack never sent me that book.

(At the very least, I feel sure, certain blogs would not exist.)

Of course I read Wallace's other stuff too. There are boatloads of moving Wallace obituaries scattered all over the web, many of which mention-- with due praise-- his most well-known works: A Supposedly Fun Thing..., Infinite Jest, the Roger Federer piece for the New York Times, the McCain piece for Rolling Stone. Since I don't have anything else to add to the growing chorus of loving memories and tributes out there, I thought I'd put in a plug for some of Wallace's less famous, though no less brilliant, contributions.
  • The story "Everything is Green" from Girl with Curious Hair. I think this is usually written off for what it probably was: a grad student coming to grips with Raymond Carver. But it's also one of the most evocative things I've ever read. Plus it's only 2 pages long and you can read it here for free.
  • The intro to his pop math book, Everything and More. Intelligence, articulation, wit and humility in spades. In a non-fiction "booklet" about infinity, no less.
  • "Octet", from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. What seems at first like a lame ploy ends up being a fascinating insight into the craft of fiction writing.
  • The part near the end of his first novel, The Broom of the System, where one of the characters tells the main character about how he used to visit his grandmother in the nursing home every Sunday when he was little. Besides the punch-bowl scene near the end of Nabokov's Pnin, probably my favorite moment in all of literature.
Go read David Foster Wallace. He will make your life better.