By David Foster Wallace
God-Among-Men, super-author David Foster Wallace committed suicide in September of 2008. He was a certified genius. A man who was smart enough to write a book about the concept of infinity, but not above going to the state fair to report on how bad the pigs smelled, or how delicious the baked goods were. I’ll miss him greatly. I looked forward to his books like few other things, although he was inaccessible to many–plenty of people flat out hate his writing.
His final book of non-fiction, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays is my personal favorite and serves as a fantastic send off to an author we lost too soon.
Two essays in particular stand out to me, and they demonstrate the range of subjects Wallace explored with profound curiosity. “Big Red Son” is a lengthy essay during which Wallace reports on site from the Adult Video News Awards. The AVNs are the equivalent of the Academy Awards, just for adult films. The essay is big, sad, and hilarious. DFW was adept at making observations that nobody else would make, and describing them in a way that nobody else would. This essay also has what might the greatest opening paragraph of all time, but you’ll have to go check it out yourself.
“Authority and American Usage” is a fascinating and funny look (it’s possible, I promise) at American grammar in all its glories and horrors. From an examination of why kids need to learn to speak every single dialect on the playground, to Ebonics and the trouble with defining it, to a typically dense (but still funny) investigation of the nuances between prescriptive grammar and descriptive linguistics, it is freaking awesome. It just is.
There are a lot of other essays in the book. All are enjoyable, but the two I’ve mentioned have proven the most memorable for me.
I’ve known a lot of people who have tried to get into DFW and can’t do it. I would suggest that they started in the wrong place. If you’re going to try him out for the first time, I would recommend ignoring his fiction (for now), and starting with his essays. And if you’re going to start with a book of essays, start with Consider the Lobster