Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace


In Chicago once more, the DBC team has many fall titles left to scale. Many of them will take us plain through to 2013. Here now are just a couple selections that we’ll be previewing shortly:

Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace.

Little, Brown releases 15 never-before-anthologized essays by our most revered literary genius. The titular essay on Roger Federer is held up by fans alongside Infinite Jest as Wallace’s unparalleled masterpiece (something with which Kevin wholeheartedly agrees), and we’re particularly excited to read (and re-read) his dissection of Terminator 2, which we hope will cause the same unexpected stir of emotions that his 1996 essay on David Lynch and the film Lost Highway did. Though of course, because of whom we’re talking about, it will cause the unexpected either way.

 An End to All Things: Stories by Jared Yates Sexton.

It’s exciting when DBC’s Illinois-born-and-bred contingent can read a collection rooted entirely in the Midwest. Indiana, with its contrast between vast cornfields, a storied state university, and Gary’s industrial narrative, serves as a microcosm for America as a whole. These stories chronicle a town wracked with doubt as the collapsing economy closes in — written in presumed contrast to the book’s author, earner of an MFA who has the choice to be there or not be there. It’s a dangerous thing to trust just anyone with a Midwestern voice, so likely to accidentally condescend or misconstrue as they may be. But I trust Atticus Books, and doubt they’d put their faith in anything less than the real deal.

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D. T. Max’s “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace”

It’s difficult to imagine a figure with a more awesomely passionate and thoughtful audience than David Foster Wallace. So the task of writing the first major biography of the late writer must involve not only the regular mining of primary sources but also grappling with a weighty paradox: the group best suited to buy and absorb and appreciate your work is also your adversary in that they know a ton, they care a lot, and they will hold you to a higher standard than your editor. But D. T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace is so captivating, well-researched, and straightforward that even the most frenzied Wallace fanatic should find little to quibble with.

Max’s method is simple: compile a lot of information about Wallace and arrange it in a way that tries to explain how he came to be who he was at each stage in his life: the pot-smoking tennis-playing adolescent; the anxious and competitive wastoid who managed to complete two undergraduate theses at Amherst College; the volatile writer who struggled with the combination of national critical success and realist professorial criticism at an MFA program in Tucson; the recovering addict who wrote Infinite Jest; the lothario who seized on young mothers; and the man who hanged himself at age 46.

Understanding the composite Wallace, DFW the person, doesn’t seem Max’s objective. He appears content offering the reader a better grasp of what led Wallace where in life and what formed his understanding of writing, drawing largely from Wallace’s friends and family, his letters, and, of course, his books.  Continue reading

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An Interview with D. T. Max

This Tuesday, Viking Press will release D. T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. I first read Max in a college copyediting course, where his wonderful article on editorial boundaries and the relationship between Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish was assigned. Our professor talked fondly of the buzz created by the article, how it was all anyone talked about, how he and his friends wrestled with what the revelations about Lish’s heavy influence meant about Carver’s work.

When I found out Max was writing the first comprehensive biography of Wallace, I hoped he might help us at least know more Wallace’s life and work. And of course I had high hopes—Max’s heartbreaking New Yorker piece on Wallace’s final years augured well for a larger project.

Max was kind enough to speak with me about the book’s reception, the DFW backlash, and where The Pale King fits in Wallace’s oeuvre. Special thanks to Viking’s Shannon Twomey for arranging the interview.  Continue reading

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Our August Review Previewganza

Who likes August? For real. It’s hot all the time—so hot that cheese will melt in your fridge and your skin will stick to your subway seat. There are no paid holidays at any workplace in America. Severe thunderstorms go on vacation. The White Sox go into their annual tailspin. It’s a horrible time to be alive.

And by way of the Internet’s powers of inquisition, I found a handy-dandy guide to those awful thirty days, courtesy of that venerable American institution Holidayinsights.com. According to the good people at HI—especially my man “Dirty Dozen” Dave Poluyanskis in content creation, what up boyyyy!?—August is the following official (read: not official) months (listed in descending order of huh): National Catfish Month (delicious), National Eye Exam Month (I’ve had 20/20 my whole life; stop extorting me), National Golf Month (all right, whatever), National Picnic Month (sweaty potato salad), Peach Month (Earth’s worst fruit, but I can see it), Water Quality Month (WHERE IS THE CONCERN IN OCTOBER?!), Family Fun Month (…), Romance Awareness Month (cue twenty-four-hour loop of MTV’s “Undressed”), and my personal favorite: Admit You’re Happy Month (you love that sweater, faker).

So to keep you from participating in America’s annual mass suicide—the 2012 iteration being Friday August 24 at Danville’s David S. Palmer Arena—DBC’s going to roll out a whole bunch of reviews. Continue reading

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: David Foster Wallace’s Continued Relevance

It is a well-known fact that the dregs of semi-computer-literate society congregate daily in one place: the comment forums on newsy Web sites. Be it Huffington Post or The Sporting News, YouTube or your local newspaper, a story about Michelle Obama eating a cheeseburger or Hank Williams saying something stupid about the gays/blacks, the blithering hick denizens come out in full force against the communist-socialist conspiracy du jour, making unveiled threats about power, the media-government industrial complex, and blahblahblah; you know what I mean.

But then there are those folks on the other end of the spectrum who gather in the comment forums on less mainstream Web sites, openly left of center, and seemingly more intellectual places: The Nation, Slate, NPR, etc. This is a very special species of crusty old hippie, semi-computer literate like their right-wing brethren, still insufferably sowing their political seeds in poorly punctuated, simplistic and bitter missives aimed at no one in particular.

I’ve noticed these folks a lot lately in stories about a certain prolific writer’s death. Virulently (and somewhat rightfully) anti-neocon commentators focused with measured intensity on certain aspects of Hitchens’ life: his support of the Iraq War, his disdain for religion, or perhaps his hatred of the former President Clinton. But then there were those commenting who had simply lost the will to give two shits about Hitchens anymore, who didn’t offer an argument about why Hitchens shouldn’t be so lauded, some tired of the 24/7 memorial, those who pleaded for these news outlets to make it stop; enough is enough, they said. We’ve heard enough about him, already.

They were suffering from a sort of Hitch Fatigue; the HF havers more than likely didn’t care for him when he was alive, simply avoided his columns and television appearances, and led happy lives. Hitchens’ death, however, brought mourners out in such full force that there was no avoiding him.  This HF pandemic resulted, as everyone — well, basically everyone — expressed some contrition about his passing, and on every network or in every periodical; there was no avoiding a very public memorial for a man who was a very public figure.

Often, I’m queerly tickled by these sorts of reactions. Relevant people dying means something to society; people care. A great aspect about our Web revolution is that there’s far more choice involved in reading/avoiding stories. But the death of a public figure is now, almost always, met with universal contrition followed by a vocal (but minor) backlash against such contrition.

When Michael Jackson died, there was MJ Fatigue; when Darryl Kile died, there was DK Fatigue (not to be confused with the other DK fatigue); Brittany Murphy, BM Fatigue; Pope John Paul, PJP Fatigue; Heath Ledger, HL; and down the list.

So this is where the rubber meets the road as re: the subject of this piece — “…David Foster Wallace’s Continued Relevance” — and the above meanderings. Wallace, of course, killed himself in September 2008. Still, more than three years later, the praising articles and essays continue to roll in — this having something (but not everything) to do with the posthumous release of The Pale King, of course.

Though it was last year that marked the opening of the DFW Archive at UT-Austin, 2011 saw the publishing of some great essays about the pieces therein: Maria Bustillos’ piece for The Awl on the late writer’s self-help book collection standing out. Elizabeth Lopatto’s recent “Come On, Pilgrim” is also a wonderful result of such research.

More intimate pieces were written as well. Jonathan Franzen turned in a wonderful essay on his late friend, “Farther Away,” an attempt to reason with the unreasonable. Michael Pietsch’s introduction to The Pale King fits in here as well, as does the widowed Karen Green’s interview with The Guardian. Continue reading

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The Year in Stuff We Liked: Quality Design

This week, in lieu of a BEST OF 2011 series, we’re running five stories focused on Stuff We Liked in 2011.

Book design: You’re not going to get much of an Inside Baseball discussion from us. We don’t know much about it. We can’t offer much in the way of judgment other than that looks cool, yuh-huh, yuh-huh. Still, we know what we like — and what we don’t like.

The Publisher’s Weekly blog PWxyz offered their favorite covers of the year. It was something of a puzzling list, as the explanations were lacking (for Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods, they said: “The bright blue background conveys the off-the-wall aspects of the book, and the repetition of the eyes hints at a maddening condition.” Hm.) and their number one choice — Colson Whitehead’s Zone One — baffling. Another weird explanation:

The best book cover of the year offers a glimpse of an empire, mostly obstructed, put through a filter so desaturated it’s almost black and white, making the book’s dread insidious rather than explicit. It looks like an old, important photograph, but with something unsettling, though you can’t quite put your finger on it. The zombie apocalypse has never looked so subtle or refined.

What is an “important photograph”? Jackie O. with blood on her dress?

Anyways, we’re being too critical, due in large part to how much we adored certain designs this year. Here’s a few, in no particular or-der.

Continue reading

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David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”

The first thing you ought to know about David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King is that it’s incomplete. The second thing is that it’s rife with boring, directionless passages that may have been excised either by Wallace himself or his editors at Little, Brown at a later stage, long novella-ish chapters that either contain dialogue tag-less conversations about American civics or circuitous character sketches  from the childhoods and adolescences of characters whose contemporary-as-in-the-book-as-it’s-happening selves remain murky and difficult to engage with. The third thing is that it’s deeply personal—Wallace himself is a character, and many of the book’s figures bear a resemblance to the author. The last thing you ought to know is that The Pale King is, with the provisional all things considered, a brilliant work, and a reflection of not only Wallace’s enduring genius but his maturation as a writer. Continue reading

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This post-Thanksgiving stupor thing is taking days to like stop. It’s really a pretty big hindrance life- and blog-wise, but we’ll persevere and have some ballin’ new content next week, including reviews of Sara Levine’s quick and engrossing debut Treasure Island!!! and David Foster Wallace’s posthumous exercise in fake memoir The Pale King. We’ll also start previewing some of our big-time January reviews, so look for that!

In the meantime, here’s our #fridayreads.

Ayad Akhtar’s American Dervish
I have to say, starting a blog is pretty conducive to reading cool stuff before it comes out. Flipping through the Little, Brown catalog for the spring and summer, I was immediately grabbed by American Dervish—both its arresting cover art and intriguing story. Akhtar tells the story of a Pakistani family in suburban Milwaukee, and their relationship with Islam. It is complicated and intense, and—quite refreshingly—not at all morally didactic; the conflicts are layered and the characters, forgive the cliché, really do make you think. It’s a story that benefits from Akhtar’s pedigree as a playwright, as it’s driven by some difficult-to-write showdowns between culturally diverse characters. I’m about seventy-five percent of the way through it, and I’m confident it will be one of the most talked about books of 2011.

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Post-Thanksgiving Recovery and #TuesdayReads

Welcome back to the world, everyone. Was Thanksgiving blessed and gluttonous for you all? Your bloggers spent a long weekend indulging in just about everything the holiday has to offer besides Black Friday sales. (We weren’t really in the market for a 55″ LCD screen or 2011’s equivalent of a Digi-Dog.)

Regrettably, amidst the festivity (and its many leftovers), we weren’t doing much reading, either. So here’s what’s on tap the rest of the week:

A review of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This was one of the only other books my mom has ever purchased on her Kindle, with which I had my first ever encounter a couple weeks ago reading The Night Circus. (It’s tempting to discuss the correlation between people who use 21st-century-exclusive technology and those who simply purchase it, but maybe that hits too close to home for some. Not to mention that I have a few skeletons in my closet too, in the form of Palm Pilots and Nintendo Gamecubes. [Anyone want to come over for a few hours of Mario Sunshine…?])

I figured I’d test how long the battery would run on a Kindle 2, since everyone I know has been grumbling lately about the unreliable batteries in their iPhone 4s’s. And in this regard — which (mea culpa, Amazon) I neglected to notice or mention before — the Kindle has performed admirably. I couldn’t have imagined that someone who reads as slowly as I do could get through Morgenstern’s whole 400-page novel and over half of Henrietta Lacks without losing even half the battery life. That, I imagine, is a feature the Nook or the Kindle Fire won’t share with the original Kindle or the Kobo. The ink technology just isn’t as demanding of battery power…or my eyesight.

We’ll also have some thoughts this week on David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, all 560 pages of which were the laudable result of Michael Pietsch’s reverent editing. An interesting article from the Atlantic interviews Pietsch on the subject; the editor was also the Keynote speaker at the Denver Publishing Institute this past July.

Finally, a recommendation: I don’t know if anyone else’s interest in reading is so closely tied to a love of grammar and vocabulary, but a new game at Dictionary.com is a great way for quizzing both latter. If work is still slow in the post-holiday lull, try the Word Dynamo in Beta. It not only quizzes you in a streamlined way (they even automatically take you from one word to the next after answering), but it plays like a video game where you can unlock levels of vocab words, and flatters you with a running counter of “estimated number of words you know.” Which, notably, hovers somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000.

We’re pretty bright, in other words. And, apparently, there are always lots and lots of other words.

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This year, for the first time ever, I am flying on Thanksgiving Day. Given that I’ll be working late into the evening Wednesday night, closing down the office, dotting and crossing the requisite letters, etc. and that I love saving money, flying on the holiday morning makes perfect sense. There is, however, the creeping dread: flying that day leaves no wiggle room. What if there’s a spontaneous snowstorm that closes down the entire East Coast? What if I eat my turkey leg at the Legal Seafood at Logan International—except since that this is a crazy situation stranding me at a “high”-class seafood restaurant in a busy airport, I’d be eating some low-class marlin or something—and never even get to smell homemade stuffing or fill my mouth with entirely too many mashed potatoes?

What if Boston’s notoriously unreliable and lousy, filthy, rotten public transit services decide to shut down en masse—it is a holiday, after all—leaving me with a more unreliable, lousier, filthier, rottener option: taxis. Taxis in Boston are nothing like taxis in Chicago (and New York, as some have informed me); that is to say, they are crazy expensive and almost impossible to find. Given that I live in Somerville, taxis are sparser here than the city. And Cambridge—our more erudite and irrevocably haughty neighbor city—taxis can’t even drop off in Somerville; mind you: the border between Somerville and Cambridge is arbitrary and stupid (so much so the cab drivers don’t even know what’s what).

At this point, I’m just going to assume I’ll be taking a raft from the Aquarium to the airport. It’ll probably be quicker, anyhow.

It’s best I not think about how everything could go wrong. But I’m not that kind of guy. I’ll be monitoring the weather for next Thursday every seventeen minutes until I go to bed Wednesday night.

So what are you reading this weekend?  Continue reading

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