Tag Archives: Literature

David Foster Wallace: The Infinite Jester.

I have just finished reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, an author I’ve heard about but never read. I doubt I’m the only one in the latter category. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Dave Eggars, Thomas Pyncheon, Jonathon Franzen and Dom DeLillo. Of these authors, I’ve only read DeLillo’s Point Omega – and that’s only because it’s a short novel. I still didn’t get it – if there was anything in there to “get” that is.

Wallace achieved fame after the publication of his second novel, Infinite Jest. There is a copy of this 1,079 page monster beside me right now, looking at me, daring me to open it up and read it. It’s a scary proposition. All the more so because the author himself felt he couldn’t top it. No matter how hard he worked (and he came up with some great excuses when he couldn’t quite find the inspiration), Wallace’s anxieties and ongoing struggle with depression and addiction – as well as a succession of failed relationships – ripped his undoubted talents as a fiction writer to shreds. His non-fiction, particularly his journalism, kept him alive – but only to a point.

Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. He left behind his wife of four years, and an unfinished manuscript for what would eventually become The Pale King, a novel about boredom and the I.R.S.

So why would I be interested in a writer I’ve never read, especially one I’d probably never read? * Because he (and I’m sorry if this sounds clichéd) suffered for his art. When he faced long bouts of writer’s block, he wrote to DeLillo and Franzen to complain about his lot. Nowadays we writers moan about our lack of creativity on Facebook or Twitter. Both actions are cries for help, but Wallace had a bit more class about him. He was also a deep thinker; there wasn’t a subject he didn’t want to know about. He studied philosophy, mathematics, tax accounting (for The Pale King), and was a clever, funny, but insightful critic on modern-day consumerism and mass entertainment. Infinite Jest is Wallace’s commentary on a society brought up to worship television, a society that has become addicted to addictions, become increasingly disconnected, and mourning for a loss of community. Wallace gives us no answers because that would be the easy way out. We have to find these for ourselves.

And this is why I am drawn to this man. He echoes my thoughts right now. The world he wrote about in 1996 is still very much the world of 2012. We’re still searching for answers, looking for meaning in an ultimately meaningless society. Will we find them? Wallace didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

* (I will clarify my above statement. I have read Wallace: it was an article he wrote about Roger Federer – Wallace played tennis to a high level when he was younger – and it’s an exquisite piece of writing.)

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 79. On Poetry.

The Waterboys: An Appointment with Mr Yeats

I’m not as well up on poetry as I should be. If I’m to be any sort of writer, I should appreciate all forms, right? Perhaps – but not always. When it comes to poetry, I do know what I like. Ireland is renowned for its poets: the most famous, in my mind at least, is William Butler (WB) Yeats.

When I heard that a favourite musical group of mine, The Waterboys, had recorded an album set to Yeats’ lyrics, I had to have it. So I downloaded it from iTunes and I have to tell you: it’s wonderful.

Get it.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 73. On Impulse.

We’ve all been there: that moment of madness that overtakes us with such force that we have no choice but to submit to its will. I don’t know what drives you, my reader, to such behaviour; but for me it’s the need for a book. Not just any book – but one book that I need – must – get my hands on.

Last week it was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. After seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I just had to get my hands on some classic Cold War fiction.

As it turned out, I ended up buying three more books.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 4. On Unread Books

I have a substantial library of books, covering most genres with the possible exception of cookery. There are romances, sci-fi and fantasy, crime and mystery thrillers, young adult, autobiography, classics and philosophy tomes.

When anyone sees it, the question most if not all of them ask is, “How many of these have you read?” For me, that’s the wrong question, and I’ll tell you why. Once you’ve read a book you’ve already tapped into its knowledge it. You know it. But think about what you don’t know, the untapped knowledge that awaits you in those unread books.

It’s exciting, isn’t it?

A Malady in Literature

Who's afraid of her?

The Left-wing blog site, Irish Left Review, posted an interesting article this morning, in which it gives out about what it believes is the overuse and over-emphasis of disease and sickness in literary characters. For every Sherlock Holmes, there is an Inspector Morse; for every Lisbeth Salander, there is a a Tintin (yes, Tintin has a rare genetic disorder. And here’s me thinking he was ginger).

It then gives a list of potential novels that could be misread as suffering from the same folly. You can read the original article here.

Agoraphobia: A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

Claustrophobia: The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clarke Moore

Kleptomania: Rob Roy, by Walter Scott

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: The Constant Gardener, by John le Carré

Voyeurism: King Lear, by William Shakespeare

Exhibitionism: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Clinical Depression: Doctor No, by Ian Fleming

Anorexia: Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen

Multiple Personality Disorder: Dubliners, by James Joyce

Stuttering: Emma, by Jane Austen

Bipolar Disorder: To the Ends of the Earth, by William Golding

Nymphomania: The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley

Satyriasis: Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie

Dwarfism: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Hypochondria: The Iliad, by Homer

Priapism: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme

Bubonic Plague: All’s Well That Ends Well, by William Shakespeare

Down Syndrome: The Ugly Duckling, by Hans Christian Andersen

Echolalia: The History of Mister Polly, by H. G. Wells

Necrophilia: The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

Catatonia: Permanent Midnight, by Jerry Stahl

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: The Dandy annual

Vertigo: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Coprophilia: The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne

Male Erectile Dysfunction: The Shape of Things to Come, by H. G. Wells

Halitosis: “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Swine Flu: Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw

Peyronie’s disease: The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James:

Syndactyly: Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

Haemorrhoids: The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

Macular Degeneration: Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler

Incontinence: Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Priapism (again): Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

Leprosy: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Gonorrhea: Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

Self-Harming: Rip van Winkle, by Washington Irving

Necrotizing Fasciitis: Hitler, My Part In His Downfall, by Spike Milligan

Cystitis: Inferno, by Dante Alighieri

Obesity: The Life of Pi, by Yann Martell

and of course

Bulimia: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel