I know nothing makes the founder of this website more uncomfortable than praise, but too bad for him, because without him I would not have found out about David Foster Wallace when I did. From what I can gather from the countless titbits Nick has either put on the site, directed me to, or emailed me at 3am (and not the emails about what to ask taxi drivers to generate an interesting and natural conversation that isn't forced, bland, or condescending) is that most people find out about Wallace when they are ready to. Some have stumbled over a book in the darkened corner of book shop - most probably literally stumbled over Infinite Jest, some are guided by word of mouth, whispers that have become increasingly louder over the years, and some are probably, hopefully, and essentially, pushed. I belong to the latter category. Nick was my David Foster Wallace pusher, and like all good pushers I was introduced to Wallace’s work slowly and carefully.
The first time I ever tried Wallace was 3 years ago, and honestly, I had never heard of David Foster Wallace. And more amazingly after working for over a year at the same school, in the same faculty, at the desk next to Nick I had no idea that he founded and maintained a well respected and occasionally slandered site dedicated to this author of some renown. Nick is modest that way (he will cringe every time he reads his name in this section no doubt.) Nick and I discovered very quickly that we were scarily similar in way too many ways; forever sending links or talking about things we thought were obscure, and therefore excellent, only to find that the other had known about this for years and was a wealth of information on side projects of the guy with the funny hair who says one line in the third episode…to paraphrase the Christopher Guest movie ‘A Mighty Wind’ it was like we were both sharing the one brain.
Forever Overhead, from Brief Interviews, was passed to me with a ‘read this, if you want, if you have the time.’ Nick was using it in his Year 10 English class (imagine that!) and as I read it I thought it was the closest thing that I had ever read that described perfectly that moment, usually in adolescence, when the bouncer guarding the door to mind lets an idea through and fifty of its mates rush in at the same time. A sixteen year old student last year described this event as a ‘month of epiphanies’ which is exhausting. I was super impressed by Wallace’s ability to slow time immensely so that every drop of water, every thought, every grain of an old diving board was held, studied and replaced methodically. I have marvelled ever since at his ability to change the speed of a scene so it jags from a scene that requires you to put down the book to a freeze frame that attempts to capture the universe in a grain of time. I told Nick ‘It’s pretty cool.’ I wonder if he was disappointed.
A month or so later a copy of Good Old Neon (found in Oblivion) appeared on my desk. Something a little stronger perhaps. From the opening page I had a ‘month of epiphanies.’ Wallace does what no writer before has done. He freaked me out. All my precise, secret insecurities and fears in every sentence. My secrets not my own. But then came the calm. In a matter of pages Wallace provided a freeing realisation that all our experiences, even our most private shames, are universal. Again Nick casually asked how I found it. This time I was more involved, and I’m sure he recognised that familiar brain whirring manicness that Wallace produces in the reader. I’m sure he knew I would ask for more, and I’m sure he was super happy when I did. It’s a risk offering to pass on the things you really cherish and it can define friendships. If, like me you agree with Nick Hornby when he said ‘It’s about what you like and not about what you are like.’ (High Fidelity)
So I asked for more, and so more and more little joys came my way and I fell into a world I was unfamiliar with. I checked online for anything to do with Wallace, interviews, readings, obscure articles, and like any addict, turning up on the doorstep at all hours looking for the next piece, and wondering what that big blue one did. Short stories, essays, speeches, lists...
And so I came to Infinite Jest, the most intimidating book of all time. Eleven hundred pages in 8 point font and printed on rice paper. I was hooked so I pressed through the book on a program. Twenty five pages a day. Many times I was confused and deeply questioning whether I was fit to be an English Teacher. The most ridiculous thing about it all was that I really didn’t get into the novel until I was a quarter through it. Page 242. Who reads 242 pages of a book in the hope they will get into it? Thankfully I did, because the next 16 pages were the most intense piece of written dialogue, the first thing I read that literally quickened my heart to a dangerous level, thinking about it still gives me that familiar, yet painful, rush of remembrance that will never ever be as exciting as the first time. I flew through the remainder of the novel, reading the final third in two days of breathless craziness.
And I haven’t stopped.
It’s all thanks to Nick; it’s all thanks to the pusher.
Now it’s my turn. I just tell my wife: just read this short section…just a little taste.
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