Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Heavy Book Review

I think this year I have read the least amount of books since I graduated high school. Somehow I started out slowly and never quite picked up steam in the reading department. Lately, though, I have begun to return to my former glory.
Seriously, I can't stop wearing these shorts. And now back to what I was saying.
I have been tearing my way through books lately, at least in the sense that I've read about as much in the last month as I have the rest of the year combined. I think a lot of it comes from nice weather that beckons me out with a cold drink, a good book, and a heavy dousing in spray sunscreen. And the rest of it from Joe's recent interest in reading, something he's never much been into, and especially not in the year and a half we've been together. Since we live in separate towns at the moment, when we're together I feel kind of guilty reading if he's around, so usually we would end up watching movies or TV or hanging out with friends. But now that he's started reading, we can do it together. It's nice, actually, since reading is a great interest of mine, and it's nice to share it.

Anyway, in the past couple of months I've made it through the first four books in the Percy Jackson series,  The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I've had a rather good run of luck, and have enjoyed them all in different ways.

Just yesterday I finished Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky, the same man who wrote a lovely memorial article about Wallace for Rolling Stone after his suicide in 2008. The article referenced material that would become Although, gathered by Lipsky during a few days the men spent together at the end of Wallace's book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996. Lipsky was gathering material for an article that, at the time, didn't surface. But after Wallace's death, Lipsky revisited the interviews and tapes and decided to release the transcripts. The result is a fascinating, difficult, heartbreaking picture of a man called by many a genius.

Wallace's death, of course, biases any reading of Although hopelessly. As Lipsky says in his afterword, "Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning." To hear Wallace hope for marriage, children, speak of himself as an old man, speculate about his future, and recount his past brush with being on suicide watch, culls a painful resonance in the heart of the reader, as one empowered with Cassandra-like vision of his grim future. Wallace's thoughts, as recorded by Lipsky, are so sharply observant beyond the capacity of the average person as to make his "normal" utterances (jokes, contradictions, fumblings to find the right word, the time he mistakenly refers to Gwenyth Paltrow as Blythe Danner when discussing Seven) seem an endearing treat, a conspiratorial gift that reassures us that he's still only human. And to read this book, more than anything, was for me a validation that Wallace's suicide was in no way romantic, or inevitable. This man, David, was not and Author, a Writer, a Genius. He was a guy whose need to write led to a lot of good things, and a lot of hard times, and caused a lot of trouble in his life. 

I've never been much of a fan of Wallace's fiction, though granted I have only read Girl With The Curious Hair. But his nonfiction has always astonished me. He mines his subjects with such relentless abandon, the final product is simultaneously full and empty of him. I read his essay about about David Lynch without having seen a single thing he directed, of John McCain's presidential campaign though I hate politics, of the porn industry's equivalent to the Oscars. Tennis, lobsters, cruise ships...anything seemingly mundane or beyond my scope of interests became fascinating in his hands. So while most of the conversation in Although revolves around Wallace's best-known work, the 1,000 plus page novel Infinite Jest which I have never read, I breezed through Although in just a few days. And now, of course, my curiosity is strong, and while I've contemplated reading Infinite Jest before, I have never been able to bring myself to do it.

So what should have been an interview about a book became a book about a man and his book, but of course about everything else as well. Thankfully, Lipsky gives us a transcript of the vivid, vital man that Wallace once was, before he went of his medication for depression in search for something better, before the doctors failed to find something, before he tried to go back on the original medication and found it no longer worked, before he (as his mother imagines) kissed his dogs and told them he was sorry and was gone.

Although, of course, he never quite got to finish becoming himself.

1 comment:

  1. I love your perspective, Steph. You have a way with words that makes me want to keep reading. I will be bookmarking your blog and look forward to the next entry!