In 2007 I was working as a bookseller at a Barnes&Noble in Murray, Utah. Most people are aware that somewhere within a Barnes&Noble there is a discount book section, usually up front near the cash registers, these books are called Remainder Books: books printed in excess and are liquidated and resold to book distributors to be, again, resold at considerably discounted prices. On my shift one morning I was browsing these discount books and happened upon a book titled, Consider the Lobster. It seemed interesting, based solely on the cover: it’s a white book at the center of which is a single red lobster and above that is the title, in black Consider the Lobster. I bought it, having never heard of David Foster Wallace until then. Yes, that’s right, prior to that moment, having worked for Hastings Entertainment and Border Books, Music, & Café I somehow never became familiar with the 1996 Literary Masterpiece Infinite Jest. I take full responsibility, though it did not take me long to remedy that mistake. After finishing Consider the Lobster I scoured the shelves for anything I could find by Wallace, and I consumed it all.
David Foster Wallace from that moment on would be my favorite author. There was something about the way that he wrote, and it was more than his prescriptive, and deeply personal relationship with the English language, it was as if Wallace was peering with an unbiased curiosity into my psyche, and this was perfectly comfortable for me, as the reader, because in response he would open himself up to me even more. There are passages of Wallace’s that I would sit and read over and over again, squeezing every ounce of substance from each sentence. It felt as if David Foster Wallace and I were more than confidants, we were friends. And for me it may have been more than that, because it seemed as if he was speaking through me, to me.
Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, and was raised in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. His parents were professors at two nearby colleges, his father an emeritus professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his mother an English professor at Parkland [Community] College. David Wallace attended Amherst College and majored in English and Philosophy where he discovered an interest in Modal Logic and Mathematics, he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1985. His English honors thesis would become the manuscript for his debut novel, The Broom of the System (1987), a novel that follows 24 year old Lenore on an escapade to recover her missing great-grandmother who had escaped from a nursing home, dealing with a neurotic boyfriend and the sudden musings of a talking cockatiel. Wallace attended the University of Arizona where he graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts degree. Along with Broom of the System Wallace had also sold The Girl with Curious Hair, a collection of short stories before graduating from U of A.
David was a regionally ranked junior tennis player in his youth, which was the inspiration behind Hal Incandenza’s (the protagonist of Infinite Jest) time spent at E.T.A. the Enfield Tennis Academy. Infinite Jest is one of the most epic novels ever composed. The novel is set in a postmodern setting of The United States, Canada, and Mexico that composed a unified North American Superstate known as The Organization of North American Nations. Corporations would be allowed to bid for, and to purchase naming rights for each calendar year such as the Year of the Whopper, the Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster, and the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade for Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems for Home, Office or Mobile [sic], but most of the novels setting takes place during the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. There are several major plotlines, that all connect via the production of a film, Infinite Jest also known as “The Entertainment.” It’s at this point in the description of the novel that I will stop summarizing and implore that you find the time to read it yourself, and by “find the time,” I very much mean scrap for time, because this book is going to consume your life for that period of which it takes you to read it—it’s worth it.
David Foster Wallace is the recipient of the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, The Lannan Literary Award, the Whiting Award, Salon Book Award, and The MacArthur Fellowship (The Genius Grant), he was a professor of Creative Writing and English at Pomona College in California. He is the author of three novels (The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest, and The Pale King [Unfinished]), three collections of short stories (Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion), and several collections of essays (Both Flesh and Not, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Everything and More, and more), he’s contributed in numerous magazines, and he published his 2005 Commencement Speech at Kenyon College, This is Water, which is widely considered to be the greatest commencement speech of all time.
After the publication of Infinite Jest in 1996 Wallace went on a book tour that was kind of alarming for him, and it shook him in regards of fame, and how it is that someone in his position might view themselves in relation to how others view him. Some of what he went through was illustrated in David Lipsky’s, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a memoir about Lipsky’s experience traveling with Wallace on the tail end of the Infinite Jest book tour, a piece that was originally supposed to be for Rolling Stone Magazine. The Memoir become the 2015 drama film The End of the Tour starring Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky and Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace—both the memoir and the film are fantastic, and although it made me nervous when I first learned that Jason Segal was playing the part of Wallace, he was absolutely phenomenal.
David Foster Wallace spent a lifetime struggling with depression. He was on a cocktail of medications and in early 2008 he stopped taking one cocktail in hopes of transferring to another, they did not work, and when attempted to return to his previous cocktail it no longer had an effect on him. David Foster Wallace hanged himself on September 12, 2008. He rarely talked about his issues with depression and alcohol and recovery and medication, yet he did have moments of sincerity if under direst, which is to say that if people really pushed. David Foster Wallace was an incredibly human being, and an outstanding American writer whose works will continue to amaze people for…ever. The Las Angeles Times called Wallace, “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last twenty years.” And Time Magazine referred to Infinite Jest as one of the greatest English language novels published since 1923. Loyola University in New Orleans and Harvard University both offer classes on Wallace, and in 2017 the International David Foster Wallace Society, and The Journal of David Foster Wallace Studies were established. For another unique and refreshing take on Wallace check out this wonderful article from NPR, Here.
OK, no, I mean, yeah, not really, at least when it comes to running a business, what we know is incredibly important, but for the sake of this name dropping blog, I thought it was a good title.
What authors have I met? Well my Aunt is an author: Cindy Bonner. She was the first. She writes historical Texas romance novels. Lily: a love story, Looking after Lily, The Passion of Dellie O’Barr. I love looking for her books in used bookstores across the country, and I often find them. I’ve found copies of Lily that have unique inscriptions to whomever, as well as my Aunts signature. I met Stephanie Myers at a book signing some years back. My wife, at the time, was interested in going, in part because my wife started off Latter Day Saints (Mormon) (though she isn’t anymore), and wanted to meet the most popular Mormon author of the time, which happened to be Stephanie Myers.
When I moved to New York City I worked for the Barnes&Noble on the Upper East Side, at 86th and Lexington, it opened its doors in 2009, and would be the company’s brand new Flagship store. It was designed partly by Len Riggio, who is one of the founders, and owners of Barnes&Noble. I met both Len, and his brother Steve while working at 86th and Lex. A number of actors, authors, comedians either shopped there, or were invited to do various events. Lewis Black performed in the event space, once. A few authors were asked to speak, but the interesting ones—for me—those that wrote fiction were usually asked to read/sign/Q&A at the Union Square Barnes&Noble.
Kevin Kline was a regular shopper, along with Alec Baldwin, Rene Zellweger, Jodi Foster, Madonna, and more. Joseph Cross would come in a good bit, and I always recognized him, but I couldn’t place him. For months I tried to put a name to his face, he used his mothers’ B&N membership card, but his last name, Cross, still didn’t offer me the insight I needed to place him. I knew he was an actor, I’d seen him before—many times. Most of us have seen at least one movie that Joseph Cross has starred in. One afternoon he came in, and I was behind the register—we must have been shorthanded that day, I usually only supervised the front end—and Mr. Cross came to me, of course I recognized him right away, and my brain immediately went to work trying to place him, and then he said something to me, and how he said it just resonated, and a light went off! Owen Reilly! Joseph Cross played the evil tech genius in the movie Untraceable, and suddenly I was ringing this guy up, and that character was staring back at me. Joseph Cross has been in a lot of things, and though it was Untraceable that placed him for me, it was his role as Augusten Burroughs in Running with Scissors that made him stand out for me.
Also at 86th and Lex Lee Child, the authors of the Jack Reacher series, would often show up and hangout in the Mystery section, while customers browsed, they would often pick books off of the shelf and read the description on the back. Mr. Childs would say, “You don’t want to read that…” as he took one of his books from the shelf, and hand it to the patron, “You should read this.” Dan Rather interviewed Dan Brown one afternoon, at the store. Following the release of The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown is the author of The Da Vinci Code, if you’re unaware. I was able to meet him, briefly. I even have a signed copy of The Da Vinci Code (The Lost Symbol as well) in which Brown refers to himself as, “LA CHUPACABRA.”
It wasn’t until I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico that I got to know the authors that I do, today.
I met Sam Shepard while working as the Floor Manager at Double Take, a large consignment shop off of Guadalupe Street in the downtown area of Santa Fe. Shepard came in and I was the first person he saw, as I was making my rounds, and he stopped me to ask, “Where do y’all keep the Wranglers?” He and I would speak a couple more times at Double Take, but when I started working at Op. Cit. Books, and Sam Shepard came in pretty frequently, we started talking about literature, movies, art, and any number of things. I was upset to hear of his passing in July. He was a great author, and storyteller, and, of course, actor.
It was at Op. Cit. Books that I met Armistead Maupin, Bob Shacochis, Bob Mayer, Cormac McCarthy, Michael McGarrity, Joe Lansdale, William DeBuys, Sam Keen, Daniel Lenihan, Hampton Sides, and Natalie Goldberg. There may have been others but off the top of my head, that’s who I can remember. Willa Cather’s granddaughter came in to Op. Cit. a number of times, it was interesting talking with her.
At the time that I worked there Op. Cit. was located on the left front corner of The Sanbusco Center, it was a mall of sorts, but not exactly. The Sanbusco Center was on Montezuma Street, just off of Guadalupe Street in the downtown area. Across the street is the Jean Cocteau, a single screen movie theatre that had been left empty for nearly a decade. While I was working at Op. Cit. Books the theatre was bought and reopened by none other than the author of the Science Fiction series A Song of Ice and Fire, better known to the world as The Game of Throne series, written by George R. R. Martin (GRRM). Martin bought the Jean Cocteau and opened it as a movie theatre, a music venue, and a place for authors to read/sign/Q&A. And GRRM was there A LOT. Inside there was a full bar, as well as the typical movie theatre concession stand, and the lobby acted as a little bookstore for Martin’s books, Game of Thrones memorabilia, and signed books by authors that would do readings at the Jean Cocteau. I spent a great deal of time there. I would get a drink and sit in the lobby, which did act as a little café area too, with my laptop and I would write, and talk to people. GRRM came up with famed Sci-Fi writer Roger Zelazny, who wrote The Chronicles of Amber. The two started by writing episodes for The Twilight Zone—back in the day. Zelazny has since passed, but his son Trent, who is also a very talented Mystery Noir writer spends a lot of time at the theatre, considering GRRM is more, or less, Trent’s Godfather. I came to know GRRM and Trent really well, and Laurel, Trent’s girlfriend, at the time, now wife.
Hanging out at the Jean Cocteau had some perks. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are good friends of both Trent Zelazny and GRRM, so they were at the theatre a good bit—I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them on a few occasions. I met Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz, David Benioff, and Jonathan Nolan when they were hosted by the Cocteau for author events. Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and co-writer for many films, hung out for a drink after a showing of The Prestige, which he co-wrote, and discussed; GRRM, Jon Nolan, Trent, and I had a drink in the café/lobby after the showing.
It sounds a great deal like I’m bragging, and in some respects I am, because I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to have met each of these people, they have in many ways inspired me to be a better writer, and a better person, and again, in that way, I am very lucky. But I mentioned them, in part because I was asked to write this blog, but also in part because meeting each of these people has made it easier me to invite each of them to come, and lecture, or read, or sign, or do a Q&A at CommuniTea Books. The opportunity to bring these authors to Boerne for events is one that I have been incredibly grateful for, and being able to share that with my community is a blessing. Also, if you are in Santa Fe, take the opportunity to stop by the Jean Cocteau, because it truly is an amazing venue that offers the community so, so much. Then afterwards stop by Meow Wolf.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.