Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

An infinite read.

Things are finally starting to settle down a bit, finding a place for new job alongside sleep, leisure time, SSR (sustained silent reading), and etc. This past weekend was spent mostly at coffee shops and at home, either reading or writing or watching Best in Show. I’m chugging along in Infinite Jest and I’m convinced that if it weren’t for a group of people reading along with me, I’d take a whole lifetime to read this book. I learned quickly that bookmarks in the footnotes and my current place were not optional. I have a working list of words to look up and another list of quotes and general favorites from the text. First impressions: Holy shit, this is way more accessible than I imagined! Then, holy shit, there are so many people I need to make a diagram of diagrams of characters. Then, Oh, cool, I’ve been to Beverly. 

I’m stoked to be reading it, and more tempted than ever to invest in a Kindle Fire.

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A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka

 It’s sunny out! I took advantage of working from home today and went for a little walk to the coffeeshop here in Ludlow, The Radical Roaster. It’s adorable and serves peanut butter + nutella lattes. It was the perfect inspiration to get reading and writing today, to start off the weekend right!

As a continued celebration of Short Story Month 2011, I revisited Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist.” I was reminded of this story in Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story, which I’m currently reading. The story is amply available on the internet.

David Foster Wallace talked about Kafka’s humor in his speech, aptly titled, “Laughing with Kafka.” He talked about how many of his literature students missed the point, that Kafka was painfully funny, but not in the way many people these days are funny: Continue reading

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Where We Live: Inside My Head

Today’s Where We Live comes from Jason Blanchard. Jason is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying learning, media and technology. He looks forward to completing his master’s thesis in May so he can read more fiction and start writing on his blog again.

“Words and chronological time create all these total misunderstandings of what’s really going on at the most basic level. And yet at the same time, English is all we have to try to understand it and try to form anything larger or more meaningful and true with anybody else, which is yet another paradox.”

You know how in the The Matrix Morpheus and Trinity strap down Neo into that chair on The Nebuchadnezzar and hook that thing up to the hole in his neck and email him into the computer program designed to simulate 21st century society in sleeping humans’ minds while the sentient machines consume their bodies for energy? Well, books are kind of like that. (Bear with me.) All 2012 robot apocalypse connotations aside, what I’m getting at is that meaningful fiction allows us to enter a kind of opposite matrix: instead of leaving a “real” world and entering a virtual simulacrum to facilitate enslavement, literature allows us to leave an experience of the physical world dominated by language to access a more viscerally “real” one constructed between our minds and the writer’s. Inside our heads, literature (and probably other creative artifacts) liberates us from the desensitized contentment of the linguistic world by warping us to psychic simulations that we feel rather than articulate.

This is difficult to describe. Paradoxically, the problem with describing is the whole point.
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Where We Live: Wigleaf, etc.

By Melanie Yarbrough

It’s been a busy week, what with my preparations to go home for the holidays and Shane’s working crazy hours. We’re sorry if you’ve felt abandoned. It doesn’t mean we haven’t been thinking of you, checking up on you, missing you. Have you been missing us? Is this creeping you out?

This week’s Where We Live is a hodge podge, as are our brains at the moment, and we beg forgiveness. Continue reading

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Reasons other than “It’s Friday” to be excited!

By Melanie Yarbrough

I’ve never really been much of a Halloween person. I mean, I eat candy all year round; what’s the big deal? So while I’m excited to don Hello, Kitty garb tomorrow evening, not much gets me more excited than hearing that I can read new (to me) fiction from David Foster Wallace and (soon enough) Gabriel Garcia Marquez! Yep, beat that, TGIF.

What upcoming books are you excited about reading?

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I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more David Foster Wallace.

In my experience, there are two (general) attitudes toward David Foster Wallace: 1) Genuine awe and semi-worship, or 2) Disinterest, disdain and dismissal of his thousands of fans as being the result of simple herd mentality. An example: Sarah from Goodreads.com, says that everyone who brings up David Foster Wallace at a party is a “douchebag.” I know I was late to the party and all, but what happened that made all Wallace fans hipsters, cry-babies or pretentious bastards? I’m all for judging folks based on their literary preferences (I think you’re lazy if you say your favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, and I will care for you less if you spent chunks of your life reading Twilight), but it seems unfair to judge an entire group of fans because their object of affection had a wider vocabulary than the general population. This is a soapbox issue, but this attitude seems to signal a personal fear of not being able to access Wallace’s works or feeling condescended to, which I can empathize with completely. The appropriate response, however, would be to move on to something else or taking the time to wade through it and reaping the rewards for your hard work. Gah, off topic.

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I didn’t write.

I sat down to write last night, pulled my typewriter onto my bed, faced the window – vibrant with sirens and Bukowski tavern – and set out to write. Instead, I cleaned the dust from between the keys and the little rods that carry the lettered ends to the paper. Instead, I looked through my stationery for old birthday cards I bought for friends whose birthdays are approaching. Instead, I contemplated creating a Facebook event for my birthday coming up. I played Words with Friends on my phone, and sent out excuses about having too many vowels to my friend Keenan who will beat me each time no matter the number of vowels I have. I wrote some honest lines about my relationship with my stepmom, then exhausted, lay back and stared at the lights hanging from my ceiling. I thought about conversations I had that day, about conclusions I’d come to. I watched a 28-minute long video of David Foster Wallace reading some of his non-fiction that made me want to reattempt wading through his works. As I cleared the books off my bed in order to climb in, I was overwhelmed by a recent memory that brought up feelings I’ve assured my friends time and again have dissipated. I condensed the feeling into a text message and sent it to Louisiana. Relieved, I realized the emotion was tied more to the nostalgia for intimate moments rather than a particular person. I slept just fine, but still, I didn’t write.

Tonight, I’m at the library, barely pooping out 3/4s of a page of what I have the sneaking suspicion I will hate come morning. Still, it’s satisfying enough to have written. I requested two of David Foster Wallace’s books: Consider the Lobster and The Broom of the System (which I’m checking out in audiobook form until the hard copy comes in). I read this week’s fiction in The New Yorker, Wells Towers’ “The Landlord,” and was not disappointed. My favorite moment in the story made me cover my mouth and eyes with my hands; I love when fiction does that. I developed a crush on the guy sitting to my left, and now I’m going to read another chunk of Carol Sklenicka’s Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life. Reading never feels quite as good as writing, but it definitely relieves the guilt of not writing.

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Reading Now: So Many Things

Of those many things is David Foster Wallace’s short story collection Oblivion. However, the description “short story collection” seems ill-fitting and dismissive, considering Wallace is a master of the English language. Though the opening story, which I admittedly did not make it through and skipped for the greater good of my sanity, is dense and painful to wade through, it’s the kind of pain referenced in the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” However, Wallace doesn’t throw his mastery of the language in your face, rubbing it around, pointing and laughing at your inferiority. He simply demands, with each sentence (and they are epic), that you pay very close attention to what he is showing you.

Why’d I buy this book in the first place? Last Thanksgiving a good friend of mine introduced me to the story “Incarnations of Burned Children,” one of the stories in this collection. Honestly, I bought this entire book so I could own that one story. (Yes, I have bought entire albums for one song.) And here’s why: Wallace doesn’t just tell you the story of a baby having hot water spilled on him and the reactions of his parents immediately after. Instead, he simultaneously puts you into the situation and above it without confusing you once. I can’t even describe what he does so flawlessly without being confusing. His sentences have a breathless quality that forces you to continue reading without pause in a way that parallels the father’s reaction in the story. The rhythm of the sentences, the details he gives along with the precise moments he decides to give them, all work together to form one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

Of the other two stories in the collection that I’ve read, one in particular stuck with me. “The Soul Is Not a Smithy” is a tapestry: at first my interest was piqued because of the subject matter (crazed substitute teacher begins writing “KILL THEM ALL” on the chalkboard in front of a frightened classroom), but my interest was held because of the narrator’s sincerity in relating the events. Wallace doesn’t choose to tell the story from the usual characters; he doesn’t describe the process of derangement in the substitute teacher, or the slow recognition of impending danger from the other children in the classroom. Instead, the story is told from the perspective of a kid whose attention isn’t easily paid to the front of the class. He describes in the type of detail reminiscent of hand stitching a hem (which, if you haven’t done, requires great concentration with the goal of emulating the accuracy of a machine); not only do you believe that this kid stares out the window and comes up with stories in his head, you are told the thread of the story as it happens with peripheral flashes of the goings on in the classroom. The result is an eerie division of events that eventually collide, not suddenly but gradually, in a way that only when you look back can you see how the events of real life affect the events of the boy’s “daydreams.”

Word of advice: Don’t read this on the train. Unlike the boy in the story, you need to pay close attention.

What I Wish I’d Written: “…and the Daddy kept saying he was here he was here, adrenaline ebbing and an anger at the Mommy for allowing this thing to happen just starting to gather in wisps at his mind’s extreme rear and still hours from expression.”

“…though hours later what the Daddy most won’t forgive is how badly he wanted a cigarette right then as they diapered the child as best they could in gauze and two crossed handtowels and the Daddy lifted him like a newborn with his skull in one palm and ran him out to the hot truck and burned custom rubber all the way to town…”

image from ebookstore.sony.com
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