The Reader Becomes God
"Fiction's about what it is to be a human being."
- David Foster Wallace
I've had "Infinite Jest" for about 5 or 6 years and I still haven't gotten around to reading it. Its intimidating, though, in its massive heft, its famous density, and in that surplus of footnotes. In my defence, there are literally a couple of hundred books on our shelves I haven't gotten around to reading. But I will eventually, just like I will get to "Infinite Jest". David Foster Wallace just killed himself, and so, with depressing predictability, that novel has just jumped a few dozen other books and is nearer the top of my mental In Tray. I'll read it soon.
What I have read is much of Wallace's shorter fiction and his journalism. I had heard of him before I first encountered his work. That initial experience of him was very positive -a surgical strike on "Terminator 2" from a Waterstones magazine in the late 1990s. It is always a pleasure to encounter nicely written film criticism by a novelist who actually knows what he is talking about. Wallace was no dilettante. Instead, he always communicated the voracity of his mind, his interest in every single facet of the world around him. I read his journalism wherever I encountered it, and he was capable of illuminating and enriching one's own thoughts on any subject, from professional tennis to lobsters to cruise liners. It all feels like a single great, long work in progress - Wallace wrestling with the modern world, with irony and how it has affected what it means to be human, with his place in that world as a writer. Anybody reading this should go out and buy his two non-fiction collections; "A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and “Consider the Lobster”. You will feel awe at the man's intelligence and wit, and also the beauty and power of his prose.
The last thing I read by him absolutely blew me away. Writing well about sport is difficult. It is a cliche-strewn field, and it often feels as if everything has been said. But in his appreciation of the genius of Roger Federer a few years ago in the New York Times, Wallace makes that seem like an apologia for laziness, for unoriginal thinking. Wallace himself was a regionally ranked junior tennis player, and his love and understanding of the game are evident throughout his piece. But he also muses on the strangeness of Wimbledon and of the beauty of sports and athleticism itself. All of it beautifully written, sensuous, funny, rapturous at times. His piece made me want to watch Tennis, which takes a certain kind of genius.