“Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious, and multiform–and even just to see, close up, power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty is to feel inspired and (in a fleeting, mortal way) reconciled.” -David Foster Wallace, Both Flesh and Not
I am a latecomer to David Foster Wallace but I’ve fallen fast and hard for him over the last few months. So far I’ve been unable to gird my loins to the point of actually picking up Infinite Jest, but my word, his nonfiction is some of the best stuff I’ve ever read. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – an amazing, dry, sympathetic account of cruising; his tennis essays made the sport comprehensible (and beautiful) even to me, a confirmed quitter of sports of all kinds; his vocabulary alone crushes my ego into dust. Read this essay he wrote for Harper’s about attending a country fair. You won’t regret it. Funny, sweet, thoughtful, and challenging. His essay about television in A Supposedly Fun Thing is the most insightful thing I’ve read in a long long time. I actually made the effort to dissect it in my private diary, which is normally a string of to-do lists, petty complaints, and descriptions of things I’ve eaten.
Where reading is concerned, I’ve surpassed my goal for 2013, which was 50 books. This is a pitiful number looking back on my graduate school days, but it’s what I was able to do while jobbing and weddinging. I was planning to set a goal of 100 books for 2014, but Carter advised that this was probably pushing it. I’d probably start picking up The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar and books of similar length to make my numbers. I’m making a more reasonable goal of 75, with a few nutritious nuggets like Infinite Jest and The Brothers Karamazov mixed in among the leaves of sci fi novels and graphic novels and vampire apocalypses (Justin Cronin’s The Passage – read it. Read it now).
I told my coworker a few months ago to toss his Alan Patton in the trash. He’d been struggling through Cry the Beloved Country and treating it like bitter medicine. “You’re an adult!” I told him. “Who needs to read indigestible crap like that?” (For the record, I read CTBC in high school and loathed it.)
Still. Still, I feel the graduate/liberal arts school guilt of only reading the fun stuff, the easy to swallow stuff. But David Foster Wallace’s essays relieved me of this burden: books and stories and essays can be challenging and enjoyable. I think it was a favored pet project of his: to ultimately make grand concepts irresistible to an intrepid reader. To make us feel less alone, which he considered to be entire point of fiction.
Reading his stuff should give me a serious case of the green eyed monster. But on the other hand, the depth and quality of his writing is such that I could never, in my wildest dreams, come close to it. It started early; I remember reading that at 3, his mother told him to “behave” and he responded “I am have.” He was a genius, and genius is not replicable. But it is so, so amazing to watch.
Anyway, the 2014 reading list is already underway.
It looks to be about a 2 hour commute home for me tonight. I delayed leaving work at my usual time so I could attend dance class. If this is how the universe is going to react to my feeble attempts at fitness, I’m pretty sure God wants me to be a Fatty Mcfatfat, and I should just give up now and plunge headfirst into a tub of potato salad.