I first noticed David Foster Wallace in an interview on Charlie Rose, years ago. He seemed like an interesting guy, and a clever one, with a certain nerdy charm. I finally got around to reading something by him a few years back, an essay in Harper’s titled Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage. That one interested me quite a bit, especially as an English teacher, both because it intelligently defends prescriptivism, and because it injects what might have been an incredibly dry, academic, topic with wit, humor, and clarity.
Wallace killed himself in September of last year, at age 46, after a lifelong struggle with depression. About the time he died, I picked up a copy of his essay collection, Consider the Lobster, which contains the above-mentioned essay, retitled and, perhaps, reworked a bit as “Authority and American Usage.” I really enjoyed the collection, and decided I’d have to give his masterpiece, Infinite Jest, at some point.
It just so happens that there’s a project kicking off this summer, a virtual reading group of sorts, centered around reading that lengthy and complicated work. It’s called Infinite Summer, and it kicks off the Sunday, June 21st, and runs through September 22nd. Even better, Matthew Baldwin, of Defective Yeti fame, is one of the organizers of the project. That was impetus enough for me. I bought a copy this week and am now 32 pages into its 1079 (counting the footnotes, which make up about 100 pages of that).
So far, it’s a witty romp which reminds me a bit of John Barth and Lawrence Sterne. It’s not a fast read, but it’s not needlessly difficult. And it’s certainly more comprehensible than plenty of other lengthy, sophisticated novels. So, I think I’m hooked. I may or may not be able to keep up with the reading schedule, but I’m committed to reading the book and to inflicting my observations about it upon you, gentle reader.
(Harper’s has recently published their DFW pieces as free PDFs. So, if you’d like a free taste, dive in.)