Okay, since I’ve become a freakishly devoted fangirl of Jonathan Franzen’s, I decided I should, in fairness, check out his old pal, David Foster Wallace – he who unfortunately suffered from such deep depression that he ended up killing himself. What a waste. But I guess I can kind of understand it. There are times when it’s only the children in my life, who didn’t ask to be born (my own, and the nieces and nephews) that make feel life is truly worth living. Really, sometimes only death seems like a relief. But don’t worry for me: I’m a coward above all things. Not only can I not stomach the idea of suicide – the particulars of it – I can not stomach the idea of death at all. I like living. I want to live forever.
At any rate, so I bought up a bunch of Wallace — thinking I’d go the Amazon route, but eventually did the very un-Franzen thing of buying it for my ipad. And while I like getting my money’s worth on the device, which sits here usually, I have to say, all things being equal, I prefer actual books. I like flipping through the pages. I like turning the pages. I like dog-earring them to hold my place. I like to flip forward. I like to feel the thickness of it. I like to hold a book that’s been read many times because traces of hands are there. I like how books stack up on shelves here and at bookstores and libraries. I like them as things in the world. They are environmental because they are endlessly recyclable. How can an ebook ever be a first edition?
Beyond all of that – it isn’t comfortable to read on it. I feel like I’m still online. When I read a book I like to escape from the online world. BUT when we go camping here in a couple of weeks, dragging an ipad versus a whole bunch of books is an interesting prospect.
So, David Foster Wallace – I’m reading an essay book of his called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (great title). And the second essay is already my favorite, “E Unibus Pluram” because it opens this way:
Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare. They were born watchers. They are viewers. They are the ones on the subway about whose nonchalant stare there is something creepy, somehow. Almost predatory. This is because human situations are writers’ food. Fiction writers watch other humans sort of the way gapers slow down for car wrecks: they covet a vision of themselves as witnesses.
But fiction writers tend at the same time to be terribly self-conscious. Devoting lots of productive time to studying closely how people come across to them, fiction writers also spend lots of less productive time wondering nervously how they come across to other people. How they appear, how they seem, whether their shirttail might be hanging out of their fly, whether there’s maybe lipstick on their teeth, whether the people they’re ogling can maybe size them up as somehow creepy, as lurkers or starers.
The result is that a majority for fiction writers, born watchers, ten d to dislike being objects of people’s attention. Dislike being watched. The exceptions to this rule – Mailer, McInerney – sometimes create the impression that most belletristic types covet people’s attention. Most don’t. The few who like attention just naturally get more attention. The rest of us watch.
I love this dude. He’s brilliant. Already. Just a couple of paragraphs and it’s immediately apparent. Onward.