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.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.