Thursday, February 05, 2009


Since the old days of studying literature at the University I've read as much as I could, and at an unfortunately slow pace. In a down year I'll take in about 15 books. In an up year I can get in 25, and that's about as good as I can do with my schedule. In that time I feel like I've done my most important reading. I am a slave to fiction, which I would love to change someday (and have tried to occasionally), but I cannot seem to break free of its chains. Despite the meager sample there have been a small handful of authors that have really blown me away. One of those authors is David Foster Wallace. I had never heard of him until September of last year when news of his suicide made headlines, and I began linking to articles that left me wanting more. I recently finished Girl With Curious Hair, a compilation of short stories that for me were mostly hit (Little Expressionless Animals) with a little miss (the title story). The man is a phenom and a genius.

Secretly I would like to write as well. But I am plagued by demons that haunt me away from it (which is a euphemism for me being too lazy to commit). In one of his stories, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way", the narrator sums up in so many lovely words what it really means to be a writer of stories:

"...occasionally a writer will encounter a story that is his, yet is not his. I mean, by the way, a writer of stories, not one of these intelligences that analyze society and culture, but the sort of ignorant and acquisitive being who moons after magical tales. Such a creature knows very little: how to tie a shoelace, when to go to the store for bread, and the exact stab of a story that belongs to him, and to him only. How to unfurl a Trojan, where on the stall door to carve BEWARE OF LIMBO DANCERS, how to give the teacher what she wants, and the raw coppery smell of a scenario over which he's meant to exercise, not suffer, authority. And yet occasionally the tale is already authoritatively gutted, publicly there, brightly killed, done by another. Or else menacingly alive, self-sufficient, organic, sounding the distant groan of growth, trading chemicals briskly with the air, but still outside the creature who desires to take it inside and make a little miracle."

Reading him has given me a bit more energy to pursue the stab that is exactly mine.

*Caveat: He is not a writer I would take home to Mom. I cannot in good faith recommend him to all readers of my blog, especially if you might be thin skinned, or somewhat easily offended.


Joe said...

I've been wanting to read Girl with Curious Hair for awhile. Maybe this is the push I need. Gracias.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly the first half is actually a direct quote from Cynthia Ozick's 'Usurpation (Other People's Stories)'. Wallace starts writing on "How to unfurl a Trojan".