The death of a genius


David Foster Wallace, a 46 year old novelist and essayist, was found dead at home on Friday September 12th, 2008.

I wrote on Thursday about one of my favorite novelist (Neal Stephenson) coming out with a new novel, and how wonderful it is (not to mention good for your brain) to read a great book. David Foster Wallace was another member of my big three of favorite novelists.

Reading David Foster Wallace’s epic, ‘Infinite Jest’ was truly an experience. I can not describe the book that includes many arcane diversions into a vast number of topics, but centers around a tennis academy for junior tennis hopefuls, recovering drug addicts, and the zombie like control entertainment has over the our population. But without being able to do justice to this novel it feels like you have completed a journey when you are done. It is not all easy going, much like life, but also like life this novel is rich and deep. It is hard to read without coming out changed.

There are only three authors that I have read that while reading you just say to yourself that the author is a genius. Now this word might be overused and maybe I should use a different choice but these books were the shadows of a brain that are just hard to believe. You know they are special – something maybe to strive for in your dreams, or just to admire and enjoy. If I had to choose another word or phrase other than genius, it would be: Gods among men.

The three novelist were (in order of me reading them): Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow), Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon), and David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest). I would not argue that all the novels produced by these writers are works of genius, but the ones listed to me are.

Sunday morning I was surfing the net (Saturday was taken up mountain biking with my sister and visiting her) and I came across the headlines in Wired the David Foster Wallace was dead – I thought it was a joke (with Mr Wallace humor and the way people write headlines this was considered a possibility). Maybe I was in denial, but I checked other new sources and yes he really was dead. I was shocked. The initial reports suggest that he committed suicide by hanging himself. I was deeply saddened. Ever since I read his great novel I looked forward to his next big novel. Not only for me to enjoy, but for the world to read and gather a bit more insight into our world.

I am sure that there will be many appreciation and memorial pieces (e.g. NY times piece) written about David Foster Wallace (see below).

In my attempt to remember and honor him for my evening run (the efficiency of audiobooks) I downloaded his free essay – Consider the lobster (freely available at Audible) which is part of one collection of his essays (Consider the lobster and other essays). I had not previously read or heard this essay, and only heard short readings by Mr Wallace. Last night on my run Wallace read his essay to me for 50 minutes as I ran. He gave a surprising (it should not have been surprising to me) wide ranging discourse on lobsters that included history, philosophy, physiology, and even neuroscience (might so called specialty). And while his chain of thinking and overall conclusion are very similar to my own thoughts I had over the years he still made me think – which I am sure is exactly what he wanted to accomplish. I encourage everybody to take a listen.

Also during the run I made a mental commitment to reread ‘Infinite Jest’ this fall.

I think I have only managed to convince one friend (JB) to actually read this novel (it is a somewhat daunting 1,000+ page novel with some parts that you just have to slough through – part of the journey) I will try to encourage more friends to read this novel. Not just to make Mr Wallace more widely read but also for my own selfish reasons to have more people to discuss this novel with.

In memory of David Foster Wallace.

4 comments for “The death of a genius

  1. CC
    September 15, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Sorry about your loss…and the worlds’.

    Hm…it was Christmas for your just a few days ago, now sad news. Hope Easter is just around the corner…

  2. JB
    September 24, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    His genius becomes very clear when reading DFW. And I agree with one reviewer of “Infinite Jest” that you truly experience loneliness when reading it. I would also add that one may experience a type of depression as well, and (fortunately) a transition to excitement, looking forward to what comes next. I think it kinda mirrored the process of overcoming addiction that he writes about. Really the only book I ever read that caused these feelings so vividly. Hence the genius. Truly a loss.

  3. Ward
    September 24, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Very thoughtful comment JB.