Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

“And … if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader of how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time.”

David Foster Wallace says this early on in the road trip David Lipsky took with him in 1996 for the latter to write a big piece for Rolling Stone on the post-Infinite Jest hype. This book is a direct transcription of seemingly every single thing these two Davids said to each other over the course of three days. Some of it’s great, as above, and below:

But that’s the neat thing about—I mean that’s probably ultimately why novels and movies have it over short stories, as an art form. Is that if the heart of the short story is dishonest, there aren’t enough of the little flashes [of incidental greatness, a propos to the earlier conversation about Pauline Kael and movies] to keep you going. Whereas in a novel or a movie, even if the central project doesn’t work, there are often ten or fifteen great, great, great things.

Some of it, though, can probably only be stomached by the most unequivocally devoted DFW fan, which I’ve been since, oh, 2000. Ask yourself whether you’d drive across town to a library that contained a handwritten letter, or photographs of his boyhood bedroom. Would you eBay a bandanna? Would you want maybe to see some naked pictures? If you’re answering at all in the affirmative, this book is for you. If not, approach only if you can stomach many, many paragraphs like the following:

Well, notice that it’s not exactly like I’m a paragon of self-control. I’ve got a raging nicotine problem. That like that I really need to quit, at least the chewing tobacco. It makes your fucking jaw fall off. You know? I’ve got a sugar problem and I like, you know, I have a pretty hard time with girlfriends. I mean it’s not like, you know, I’m not like … And no, no, no, no—but I’m just saying, you know, it’s not like, it’s not like … but yeah, this stuff, this stuff’s really scary. And it’s really confusing, because if I had totally eschewed all of it, then I think I really would have fucked over Little, Brown, who took a huge chance. But there’s also—that could be a really great excuse, ’cause there’s a little part of me of course that loves this, you know?

This is the sort of book that could only be published on the death of its subject, which of course adds to its inherent sadness, and while I think Lipsky does a good job orienting the whole project toward the more nobler end of the commemorative-exploitative continuum, most of the time I feel like I’m complicit in something kind of star-fuckingly pointless.

But I mean I just devoured it in one day. And I was glad to learn that while at Amherst DFW was classmates with C. Guest-alum John Michael Higgins. Not that I have anything to do with this information.

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