I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for the last ten minutes trying to figure out why I should write this post. My main concern is that it will only make sense to me and that, even after I make the proverbial thirty revisions creating a somewhat coherent text from beginning to end from what would otherwise be a collection of random and unrelated anecdotes, it will seem incoherent/redundant/stupid/pointless (reader’s choice).
The worst part is that I think that I nailed it down with the first sentence I wrote and only when I went to add a second word insecurity creeped in. I’ve also gotten into a fairly decent routine with book reviews and straying from them feels odd. Perhaps the right thing to do would be to write a disclaimer with huge big fucking words.
“WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST IS VERY RANDOM AND IT TREADS ON TOPICS THAT I’VE PREVIOUSLY WRITTEN ABOUT SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE OTHER THAN READING THE TEXT BELOW”
Now that I’ve gotten all my existential dread out of my system – and what better way to do that than by having a complete breakdown and posting it on the Internet – I think I’ll go back to my original first sentence to tell you how I discovered the magnificent writer David Foster Wallace.
I’ve wanted to do this for a long long time. When I first started this blog, one of the main objectives I had (besides book reviews that chronicle my reading habits), was to trace back the path that leads me to a book. Whether it is by mere chance (Dracula), nostalgia (Tolkien: The Painter), or a gift (Cathing the Big Fish) I like looking at the bread crumbs to see if I can identify the source that ultimately lead me to a book or an author whose work speaks to me on a personal level. In the case of David Foster Wallace the first crumb fell more than a decade ago in an office.
In the year 2007 the fourth season of “The Office: An American Workplace” had come to halt due to the writer’s guild strike. I had begun watching the show soon after the end of season two when Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly’s will-they-won’t-they romance was at a fever pitch, and two seasons later I was still committed one hundred per cent to the succesful coupling of those characters. (Context: This was at a time when I was hoping that my best friend would actually fall in love with me, so one can imagine why I responded so strongly to Jim’s predicament). Even though by season four the characters were together, the writer’s strike had left me wanting more so I went looking in IMDb to find out about The Office’s return. Going through all the different articles and post I read that John Krasinsky (Jim Halpert) would be taking his first stab at directing by adapting the book “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” by David Foster Wallace. Two years later I finally watched it.
Without going into too much details and to avoid spoilers in my next post, the problem with Brief Interviews with Hideous Men as a movie is that it is very slow and lacks any real sense of character. Despite an amazing cast and the richness of the source material it feels both pretentious and looks amateurish. I think that Krasinsky did not have the experience or the skills to pull this off so unfortunately his passion-project passed without much recognition from the general crowd and was quickly discarded in my film library.
A few years into the future another sitcom ruled the world: “How I met your Mother”. Theodore Evelyn Mosby, “Ted” to his gang of friends, and his never-ending quest to find “The Mother” had conquered TV audiences thanks to its creative reverse story telling and the growing popularity of womanizer Barney Stinson played to perfection by Neil Patrick Harris. In a similar cycle of repetition I found myself hooked on a show with a romantic underdog and once again I prowled IMDb looking for more information on the show. In this search I found out that Josh Radnor (Ted) was going to direct his second film called “Liberal Arts”, and once again I made a mental note after watching the trailer.
Liberal Arts is a well-executed, competently directed film that is pretty much harmless to the casual viewer and that may resonate with people who miss their college days; I’d also recommend it to fans of the Ted character in HIMYM since Radnor pretty much plays the same notes in this film. There are a couple of scenes that I really liked centered around the (lack of ) quality of the Twilight books and another one about the calculation of the age difference between the two leads, but the movie also had moments where I was almost waiting for the characters to say “Liberal Arts are more profound people than you” and it felt a bit pedantic. Also, whilst I commend Radnor for directing and writing his own film I wonder if he ever noticed that every single female in this movie is sexually attracted to him.
Pros and cons aside, there is one subplot in the movie that caught my eye. Radnor’s characters meets an awkward and lonely college student and their first conversation pivots around a book that he (the lonely college student) is reading for a second time and that Radnor’s character also read obsessively during his college days. Minor spoilers ahead: In the third act of the movie the college student tries to commit suicide Radnor’s character tells him that he does not have to be like the author of the book – which again is unnamed – and in fact he should read something stupidly bad (Twilight). This unnamed book and unnamed author piqued my interest and once again thanks to IMDb I found the name of both: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
This time I got curious enough to research deeper on David Foster Wallace and I learned about the impact of Infinite Jest, his other works on fiction and non-fiction and his suicide at age forty six after struggling with depression. However, after doing the research my immediate reaction towards his work was intimidation – or in far more simplistic terms I thought “Whoa, this is BIG BOY reading” -, so I didn’t immediately jump into his writings which, at first glance, show no clear reference point as Infinite Jest is well-known for its difficulty and behemoth-sized.
The path set by The Office/Brief Interviews with Hideous Men/How I Met Your Mother/Liberal Arts had guided me to the figure of David Foster Wallace but did not manage to make me commit to one of his books. That honour goes to the essay “This is Water” and to the movie “The End of the Tour”.
This is Water by David Foster Wallace is a speech first given to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. It is a beautiful text dealing with the importance of empathy and awareness beyond our self-centered default mechanism that expertly communicates a sense of optimism. It is the one piece of his that I constantly re-read and that I keep always on my phone because it is both inspiring and motivating and because it really helps me to put things in perspective. If you’ve managed to reach this point in this text, please indulge me a bit further and listen to his speech:
The End of the Tour has been the other big reason why I decided to read David Foster Wallace and that was, in fact, part of the subject of my very first post. Editorial note: after this sentence I re-read my very first post in this blog, where I talked about this movie. It is funny how I’m still echoing some of the sentiments in that post.
The film, as past-me said, is “a road-movie based on the trip that David Foster Wallace (played by Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother fame) and Dave Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network fame) took to promote Wallace’s famous book Infinite Jest. Lipsky, an unknown writer working as a reporter for Rolling Stone, covets Wallace’s achievements, thus creating the whole dynamic of the film”.
To this day, I still re-watch it from time to time. The conversations in The End of The Tour create a sense of kinship in me. It has become one of those perfect background movies that I can have on whilst I’m working on something and that I can just jump into for a few minutes. As someone who loves books and that has been struggling with the idea of writing one for many years, hearing rationalized conversations about the sensations that I felt but that I wasn’t able to put into words was like finding a beacon of sanity. Every fear, hope and reality about writing is directly or indirectly present throughout each conversation.
It has been more than two years since The End of the Tour came out but I’ve finally read my first David Foster Wallace book and I’m happy to announce that the decade-old trail of crumbs has led me to a fantastic book and an amazing author. Next post it comes full circle: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace. Until then, thanks for reading!