On My Shelves: David Foster Wallace

I’ve read most of everything by or about David Foster Wallace (not counting the mountains of academic prose dedicated to him). Here are my copies of these books.


Here’s where it all started: one of Wallace’s two undergrad honors theses and first novel, The Broom of the System. As you can see, I got the fancy re-issued edition. (As to Wallace’s second honors thesis, more in a bit.)


And here’s his first story collection, Girl with Curious Hair. This one includes the infamous “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” of which Wallace later said:

Twenty-five year-olds should be locked away and denied ink and paper. Everything I wanted to do came out in the story, but it came out just as what it was: crude and naive and pretentious.

I was a little kinder in my judgment of it. This collection also contains the rather hilarious “Little Expressionless Animals,” which includes Alex Trebek as a character and is about a Jeopardy! champion who just can’t lose.


Next up is Infinite Jest. This was back when I wasn’t writing in my books, so you can see I used a lot of sticky notes to mark passages I wanted to come back to. Kind of strange that the Seattle Times gets the front cover rave. I bet that’s different now.


I also found this list of terms paperclipped in, apparently to help me through Gately’s fever-dream sequence toward the end of the book when he starts speaking in terms that I knew nothing (or very little) about at the time.



Next up is A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I still don’t really get the cover of this book.


The title essay is one of the funniest of Wallace’s I’ve ever read. And of course it contains this one, to which I still continue to return:


Then there’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, a bit of an outlier for Wallace:


Following that was one of Wallace’s more maligned books, Everything and More a book on the concept of infinity.


This was part of the “Great Discoveries” series, wherein famous authors were asked to write on a subject of their choice (and which has led to more than a few oddball titles). I liked this book a lot, as it made math interesting to me in a way few books have (and infinity is an inherently Wallac-ian concept that he really does a lot with in this book), but mathematicians have taken Wallace to task for what they say is a poor understanding of the math. I wouldn’t know.


Next up was Wallace’s last major fictional work, the short story collection Oblivion. Here’s a shot of a spread where I circled two words very important for Wallace’s line of thought, audience and performance.



Then came Consider the Lobster, Wallace’s last essay collection. My copy is a galley.

And here’s a page from the infamous talk radio essay, “Host” (actually not that hard to follow).


These last two were both posthumous releases, both appearing in 2011: Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King, and Wallace’s other honors thesis, Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.



Not pictured here are This Is Water, a commence address delivered to Kenyon College in 2005, somehow padded into a 144-page book, which obviously was a smart marketing move (I’m sure the sales surge every spring), Both Flesh and Not, the drawer-clearing uncollected essays that I may purchase one day if the mood happens to strike me at the right time, and Signifying Rappers, which I’ve never actually seen in person.

There are also some adjacent works. One day I received in the mail the impressive Elegant Complexity.


The cover looks a little like Infinite Jest, and the book is nearly as massive. It’s a scene-by-scene summary of the entire book, with helpful notes, guides to characters and themes, etc:


And in the back there are some short pieces toward interpretation and final thoughts about the book’s unresolvable issues.


Then there’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which is essentially a transcript of recordings journalist David Lipsky made while driving around with Wallace on his Infinite Jest tour (the recordings were for a magazine profile that never saw the light of day). My copy is the galley I got for the mixed review I gave to the book in the LA Times.


And then there is Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s readable and informative (though a little boilerplate) biography of Wallace.


Not pictured here is The Legacy of David Foster Wallace, a collection of rather good academic writing on Wallace (plus some remembrances by famous authors like Don DeLillo) edited by Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou. I did read this book (I interviewed Lee about it for Bookforum), but my copy is electronic, not printed.

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