Two guys I love who are no longer here
Recently I came across a book of interviews with David Foster Wallace that I had never read. It was suggested to me through some mysterious library ebook algorithm despite the fact that what I’d actually requested was totally unrelated.
But I was glad.
I hadn’t read anything by him in a while and it was just what I needed to remind me how engaged I can feel in reading the words of such a deep and interesting thinker. It makes me want to think deep too and I love when that happens.
If someone knows anything about DFW as I’ll call him from now on because his name is too long for me to keep typing and you to keep reading, the first thing they will ask is if you’ve read Infinite Jest. To this, I must confess that no, I have not read it. I started it and then, well, life happened. I mean it’s over 1,000 pages for crying out loud.
Having said that, however, one of my dreams is to take a year off, rent a coastal house in Maine, and just read books. Maybe do some writing too, but mostly, read books. If this dream ever actually comes to fruition, the first book I will read is Infinite Jest. Mark my words.
But there is plenty of other good stuff to read by DFW. I particularly enjoy his essays of which he has several collections; one called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again contains an essay about attending the Illinois State Fair that is HILARIOUS, and another called Consider the Lobster caused me to decide I would never again eat lobster (and I have not). Another favorite is an article that he did for Rolling Stone covering John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.
His writing is at the same time relatable - he talks a lot about the effect of television and advertising on those of his generation - and not - he studied philosophy in college and wrote a sort of philosophy of math book about the history of infinity.
I’ve heard him referred to as a once in a generation mind.
What’s super weird is that just a few days after this re-awareness, I came across an article about him. One of those eerie moments that gives you the chills, you know? Sadly though, this article was a rerun; it was originally published in 2008 shortly after his suicide at age 46.
The article was a moving account of a truly unique individual that just always seemed to struggle. And you could feel that. Because while he is probably the smartest writer I have ever encountered that is at the same time entertaining, there is also an underlying…angst…to his words. An angst I feel like couldn't be there if you didn't really feel it a little no matter how well you can write fiction.
Perhaps it’s only hindsight, but perhaps not.
It’s a similar experience to the one I have with the work of Anthony Bourdain; another incredibly smart writer who also took his life.
While of course he’s better known as a TV personality, he was truly a writer at heart. Kitchen Confidential was a big deal and his first book, but he also wrote other non-fiction and fiction works, as well as the background narratives for his shows.
One of my absolute favorite episodes was one of the last of the series Parts Unknown, which takes place in West Virginia. The way he is able to compassionately allow the individuals he encounters to tell their stories while at the same time completely disagreeing with them and most of their way of life, is a lesson we could all stand to learn.
The music in that episode is also incredible; as is the case for much of the show. Such great taste that man had.
And his life was one I coveted greatly. He got paid to write and travel and eat. It’s insane to me that’s even a thing. But as with anyone’s life, and especially someone famous, there is so much we as outsiders don’t see. We can learn from him in that too.
He lets us in just a little in an episode in Buenos Aires. “I’d like to be happy. I’d like to be happier. I should be happy. I have incredible luck."
It makes me at the same time so grateful that they shared themselves for the short time they did, but also sad and more than a little angry that we’ve been deprived of more of it. The world is frankly a little duller for me thinking that they are no longer in it.