David Foster who? …

July 7, 2010 § 15 Comments


I knew the writer had three names and that the first was “David.” I told her that, about him having  3 names, and that he was a contemporary writer, a literary writer with a book that had the word “Jest” in its title. And I knew there was a rhythm to his name.
Still the librarian couldn’t help me. 

“I need more than his first name to help you.” And she stood there, fingers poised on the keys and I started to sweat, thinking, drat, I was hoping she just might know, kinda like a game show for book lovers and English majors, what his name was. I mean, sometimes book lovers just know these things.

Anyway, she couldn’t help. So I walked around and around, looking at books, while the back-brain worked on what the author’s name could be….David…David Foster? Nope.  David Stevens? Nope. And tried to remember some of his book titles since that was, after all, what I was looking for. One of his books.  Nope. Couldn’t remember them and had only read recently about him so had nothing to latch on to. Besides, it was lunch hour and a part of me said “hurry up so you can get back to work.”

Inevitably, I left the library.  That was days ago. As soon as I returned to my corporate desk, his name popped out: David Foster Wallace.
I would stop at the library again on my way home.
No, I wouldn’t.
I would go to Amazon.

NOTE: this was all before my self-imposed separation from The Library.

I’d read many references to Wallace lately and barging into his bio, discovered several surprising things, not the least of which were some of his writing peers, Mary Karr and Jonathan Franzen; his intense shyness; his love of dogs; and, his brilliance in math. What a combo. A mathematician and a writer. And due likely to depression, we lost him nearly two years ago.

I found, in my mini DFW research, that someone compared the size of his book INFINITE JEST to Pynchon’s V. I have Pynchon on my shelf but haven’t delved in yet. I was considering putting Wallace’s tome next to it, once I found it,  once I made the purchase.

Or, maybe I’d make it a summer read. (Fat chance! I have skimmed through four chick lit books so far this summer with actual intellectual reading playing not even second or third but more like fifth fiddle.)  Sheesh.

Finally at B&N, I skulked the shelves and came up with only one  Foster Wallace selection available. EVERYTHING AND MORE, non-fiction. OK, I’d give it a whirl.  Didn’t notice anything else about it ’til I got home and set myself up with some time on my hands in the wing chair where the light is really really good.

I hadn’t noticed the book’s subtitle. A COMPACT HISTORY OF INFINITY. But the word “infinity” is not spelled out; instead it uses the symbol, which I cannot find at the moment on this keyboard.

I opened to the Foreword titled “Small but Necessary Foreword.”  Thought  I’d better read it.
And I began. Five or six pages into it, I began wondering where the foreword would end, and the chapters, if any begin. I flipped ahead.
No breaks. 
I kept looking, riffled all the pages back and forth. There were no breaks, no chapters, nothing. Everything apparently fell under the “foreword’s” domain. 

No wonder it was called “necessary.”
I was enjoying this book already though it is from a math point of view, which is a foreign language. I am all for understanding and speaking foreign langues, but this one took  off at a normal level and zoomed into the stratosphere of formulas and math philosophy. I did enjoy his discussion of algebra when it introduces letters to a young crowd that heretofore knew math as arabic numbers.

He made me laugh aloud, remembering what algebra was like, with me in the seat farthest from the teacher hoping he didn’t see my consternation at A=B and C=B so A=C. Because I know in real life, that’s not true. Just because A and C both equal B, it does not follow that A and C are equal. Nope.

Anyay, there is no Table of Contents. No excuses, no breaks. No index, though there is a wonderful “Scholarly Boilerplate” at the end of the book. In fact, the book is part of the Great Discoveries series.

I have rarely spent so much time examining a book and thoroughly enjoying the examination. I looked at everything, from copyright to fly leaves to first lines of paragraphs throughout.

The book was an introduction, a blind date, a way of learning more about the writer than the book itself.
 It was a new dimension of book appreciation even though I knew I wouldn’t read it page for page, not yet. I will likely read it in the winter, when the world is quieter and wrapped up in winter’s cozy.

I know I will try his fiction for which Wallace won nearly a dozen major prizes.

EVERYTHING AND MORE is a fine book, alone in its bookright. And full not only of said “foreign language” to be translated (you don’t have to be a math expert) but also an engaging and pervasive sense of the author’s humor.

It’s a find.


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§ 15 Responses to David Foster who? …

  • shoreacres says:

    This is the first time ever I’ve come across an entire blog that is a palindrome.

    Honest to goodness. When I got to the end of your entry, I started reading from the bottom to the top, paragraph by paragraph. It read just as well that way as from the top down.

    Somehow, it makes sense. It honors DFW and his book. It’s an infinity of a blog. I will go the library and look for it. I love reading math, physics, computer programming. I don’t understand a lick of it, but it’s fun to go in and explore, to see what piques my interest, what seems to be connected to my “real world”.

    The funniest thing is his initials. DFW? No Texan can read that without thinking Dallas/Ft.Worth. But he does have the “big hair”!

    Great entry – thanks for introducing me to him!

  • oh says:

    Linda, you’re right! “DFW” seemed familiar when I typed it – that’s why – it’s a major airport to this a wannabe Texan!
    I’m betting you’ll enjoy any of his books, pages, writings!

  • Mel u says:

    I have yet to read any of DFW’s books-maybe one day !

    • oh says:

      Ditto on that, Mel U! I have to really read one in completion. I did try several pages of INFINITE JEST in the bookstore and think it should be something “big” somehow, but first? I have to do Gone with the Wind and Huck Finn as promise to self for summer reading.

  • qugrainne says:

    You are a better, stronger person than I.
    My hat is off to you!
    (Math gives me hives, in any shape or form.)
    Sorry about your break with the library. These things happen.

  • oh says:

    Thanks, Q! Back at ya, and more later!

  • Arti says:

    This is such an interesting intro to DFW, in particular his book EAM. Too bad for the librarian who couldn’t help you… I’m quite surprised at her response. Anyway, have you heard about the book by DFW and… something about lobster? Yes, I was reading it in a bookstore, but haven’t finished. So, just for fun maybe I’ll go to the library and ask about it. Oh well, now that we know the author, it’s easy to find: Consider The Lobster and other Essays. You might like to check it out too. And for Infinite Jest, I saw it at the book sale last year, like new condition, but alas, even for just $1, I put it down… fear of its 1088 pages (and 2.8 lbs. according to Amazon). But hey, thanks for this highly entertaining post in lieu of my actual reading DFW.

    • oh says:

      Arti – I’m on vacay AND I am a mere city block (not even) from a bookstore. I might run over to see if they have “Consider the Lobster!” Always fun to go on a quest, especially when there’s time.
      Also, at the moment reading EAT PRAY LOVE. And catching up on magazines! More later…will let you know what the bookstore has…!

  • ds says:

    I liked the way David Foster Wallace wrote short stories and essays. I never did get around to reading Infinite Jest (just too much). So you think even a mathophobe like me would enjoy this book? Will have to give it a shot.

    So sad about your library. Please don’t divorce it. Maybe you should seek out another branch…

    Anyway, great post!

    • oh says:

      DS – it’s been ages since I’ve commented my way around blog world (10 days?) so I hope you find this reply ’til I get back on my own laptop. (what IS it about using a “different” keyboard than one’s own?
      Anyway, no, I’d skip the DFW math book, especially since you’re already familiar with essays, etc. It’s just that it was the only DFW book on the shelf that day in the library.
      And you’re right. I’ll give the place another whirl after a few weeks. Perhaps it was the summer swirl, the chaos and hubub of out-of-schoolers and moms prepping for vacation reads that made the place look like the place had been hit by locusts and the librarians huge-eyed and gobsmacked. That could have been it.
      Stay tuned…!

  • jeanie says:

    I don’t know this fellow, though the thought of the math as a major concept leads me to think I’d best leave him behind — at least for the summer!

    Missed you while I was gone. So good to check back in, visit and write again!

    • oh says:

      Jeanie, I have to get all caught up on your vacay and escapades on the lake. I didn’t bring my laptop with me on vacay but will try to poach HM’s tonight when he gets back from conference. Miss you and have mucho to talk about and share! Big hug to the Gypsy!

  • typehype says:

    Have you ever visited this site (called: “I Write Like”): http://iwl.me/

    You cut and paste a sampling of your writing into a window, click a button, and it tells you who you “write like.”

    My writing sample produced…David Foster Wallace.

    Of course, I immediately thought of your post.

  • oh says:

    What? How cool is that? (both the fact that you write like Wallace and that such a site exists!) (although perhaps one should say that DFW’s writing is like yours!)
    Gotta take a look at the site, and thanks for the heads up.

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