Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace Paperback – Deckle Edge, Apr 13 2010
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Lipsky’s transcript of their brilliant conversations reads like a two-man Tom Stoppard play or a four-handed duet scored for typewriter.”
—Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“For readers unfamiliar with the sometimes intimidating Wallace oeuvre, Lipsky has provided a conversational entry point into the writer’s thought process. It’s odd to think that a book about Wallace could serve both the newbies and the hard-cores, but here it is…You get the feeling that Wallace himself might have given Lipsky an award for being a conversationalist…we have the pleasure of reading two sharp writers who can spar good-naturedly with one another… What we have here is Wallace’s voice.”
—Seth Colter Wallis, Newsweek
“Insightful… Lipsky seems at ease with Foster Wallace, despite being awed by his fame and talent. More importantly, Foster Wallace seems relatively at ease with Lipsky. The two men drive through the raw and icy Midwest, all the while trying to make sense of art, politics, writing, and what it means to be alive.”
—Lee Ellis, The New Yorker Book Bench
“The reader goes inside the cars, airports, and big-portioned Midwestern restaurants with the two men and, ultimately, inside Wallace’s head.”
— Stephen Kurtz, The Wall Street Journal
“Crushingly poignant… It’s impossible for anyone who ever fell in love with Wallace’s prose not to read Lipsky’s account looking for clues… The rapport that he and Wallace built during the course of the road trip is both endearing and fascinating. At the end, it feels like you’ve listened to two good friends talk about life, about literature, about all of their mutual loves…his fans and his readers at least have this: a startlingly sad yet deeply funny postscript to the career of one of the most interesting American writers of all time.”
—Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
“Required reading… Lipsky not only got the local color of a book tour. Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, let loose with his life story in the week-long conversation.”
—Billy Heller, New York Post
“Compelling…The conversations are far-reaching, insightful, silly, very funny, profound, surprising, and awfully human…a profoundly curious and alive personality…Ultimately, the only person who can talk about David Foster Wallace is, apparently, David Foster Wallace.”
—Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic
“One thing that the book makes clear is that Wallace’s vigor and awe-inspiring writing was, in some ways, part of a deeply intricate personal effort to beat death…The book has some elements of good fiction: blind spots, character development, and a powerful narrative arc. By the end, no amount of sadness can stand in the way of this author’s personality, humor, and awe-inspiring linguistic command. His commentary reveals how much he lived the themes of his writing; all of his ideas about addiction, entertainment, and loneliness were bouncing around in his head relentlessly. Most of all, this book captures Wallace’s mental energy, what his ex-girlfriend Mary Karr calls ‘wattage,’ which remains undimmed.”
—Michael Miller, Time Out
“Exhilarating…All that’s left now are the words on the page—and on the pages of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, too, with the voices they conjure of two writers talking, talking, talking as they drive through the night.”
—Laura Miller, Salon
“Lipsky is not telling us about Wallace’s life: He is showing Wallace living his life…One thing is certain: If you didn’t already love Wallace, this book will make you love him…Wallace’s humor, his pathos, his brilliant delivery—his tendency to explore the experience of living even as he’s living it—make this book sing. If art is a way of caring for others, Wallace cares for us through the novels, short stories, and essays he left behind. And Lipsky, in the wake of Wallace’s death, gives us a narrative that does the same.”
—Alicia Rouverol, The Christian Science Monitor
“It’s a road picture, a love story, a contest: two talented, brilliant young men with literary ambitions, and their struggle to understand one another …You wish yourself into the back seat as you read, come up with your own contributions and quarrels…the wry commentary of the now-mature and very gifted Lipsky, is original, and intoxicatingly intimate.”
—Maria Bustillos, The Awl
“A gift… The reader, hanging out with Wallace vicariously, gets the sense of jogging along with a world-class sprinter…Wallace’s writing illuminates the painful truth that life can be unbearable. But we owe it to him not to let those passages eclipse the vitality that made his prose, and his readers, come alive.”
—Michael O’Donnell, Washington Monthly
“A remarkable book…A heartbreaking and surprisingly intimate visit with a giant talent…Lipsky is a skilled interviewer and a terrific writer and so what we end up with is far, far beyond what might be expected. One of the great literary minds of his generation speaking frankly and at length with an award winning journalist who, himself, has a great deal to say... I doubt, however, we’ll see another portrait that cuts quite this close to the bone…You hear Foster Wallace’s amazing voice on every page. And your heart breaks all over again.”
—Linda Richards, January Magazine
“Wallace was the next great voice of a young generation. But he wasn’t a dweeb-child shut-in hiding with books. He was a big handsome dude who played football and tennis, chewed tobacco, cussed, watching action movies and ticking off references to Hobbes and Dostoyevsky while mixing in Stephen King and Alanis Morisette… A trip into the mind of a writer who owned a dazzling style and a prescient view of modern culture.”
—Mike Kilen, The Des Moines Register
“A hauntingly beautiful portrait of Wallace as a young artist, a raw and honest account of a writer struggling with what it means to have all of his dearest dreams come true…As readers, we’re given unfettered access to Wallace’s incredible wit… Although haunted by it, this is not a book about his death; it’s a book about his life. Lipsky has given us a true gem: Wallace in his own words, in a voice that remains vibrant, hopeful, and frank even after its speaker has been silenced. We all may know how it ends, but Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself takes us back to where it all began.”
—Stephanie Hlywak, Flavorwire
“By mostly ignoring Wallace’s death, Lipsky offers an affecting and meaningful picture of his life: a showcase for the writer in rough cut, for his voice, his interests and his foibles. The book stands as a valuable companion to Wallace’s own work, but it’s also an enjoyable read on its own, something to tide Wallace fans over until his last, unfinished, novel is released next year.”
“A portrait of the artist as newly famous. It’s part biography, part road trip; we hear him at his most conceptual, expounding on his theories on writing, but also get a glimpse of him as a self-described ‘normal guy,’… He answers Lipsky’s questions in an infectious mixture of academically precise terms and peppery slang. The gravitational pull of Wallace’s charm is on full display, as is his hyper-intelligence, electric sense of humor, and staggering self-awareness…almost unbearably heart-wrenching…Although of Course offers a glimpse of Wallace in his prime for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to know him outside of his books.”
—Margaret Eby, The Brooklyn Rail
“David Foster Wallace was, to many, the writer of his generation… An in-depth rendering of a writer whose effect on his generation was matched by few others…It is candid, intimate, personal, exploding with culture—pop and otherwise.”
—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“[Wallace] is lucid, entertaining, self-critical, constantly self-reflective—and to read this book is to meet this personality… these talks changed [Lipsky’s] life, gave him phrases that have stayed with him forever. This poignant book will do the same thing for many readers.”
—Edmundo Paz Soldàn, El Mostrador (Chile)
“If you’re a writer, or even if you just believe that art can nourish us somehow, you will read this book and feel changed. The odd thing is, you feel hopeful, too.”
“Full of everyman details about a writer who often seemed larger than life… Throughout the book, astonishingly profound things are said in airport parking lots and rental-car cockpits… As Lipsky writes, the author’s singular achievement, especially in his non-fiction, was capturing ‘everybody’s brain voice’; Wallace’s writing sounds the way we think, or at least the way we like to think we think…We may never have a better record of what it sounded like to hear Wallace talk... Rolling Stone sent the right guy.”
—Zach Baron, Bookforum
“Lipsky’s recordings of five days’ worth of the writer’s brainy and passionate riffing on the nature of mind, the purpose of literature, and the pitfalls of both academia and entertainment are incredibly poignant. Lipsky vividly and incisively sets the before-and-after scenes for this revelatory oral history, in which Wallace is at once candid and cautious, funny and flinty, spellbinding and erudite as he articulates remarkably complex insights into depression, fiction that captures the ‘cognitive texture’ of our time, and fame’s double edge. Wild about movies, prescient about the impact of the Internet, and happiest writing, Wallace is radiantly present in this intimate portrait, a generous and refined work that will sustain Wallace’s masterful and innovative books long into the future.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Among the repetitions, ellipses, and fumbling that make Wallace’s patter so compellingly real are observations as elegant and insightful as his essays. Prescient, funny, earnest, and honest, this lost conversation is far from an opportunistic piece of literary ephemera, but a candid and fascinating glimpse into a uniquely brilliant and very troubled writer.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A glimpse into the mind of one of the great literary masters of the end of the 20th century…What shines through even more is his deep passion for writing and ideas and his kind, gentle nature…Many fans of Wallace’s writing come to think of him as a friend—by the time they have finished Lipsky’s moving book, they will undoubtedly feel that even more strongly.”
About the Author
DAVID LIPSKY is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, the New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR's All Things Considered and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He's the author of the novel The Art Fair; a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars; and the bestselling nonfiction book Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The author stays out the way mostly, after all, the book is about David Foster Wallace.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Lipsky precedes the interview with a mighty potent "afterword," a several page editorial that is also filled with specific facts about Wallace's depression and suicide. I sprung a leak; it was like he died all over again and I had to mourn him once more. It was tender, frank, and genuine. This is also the only section where it is revealed that Wallace had been on MAO inhibiters (an old-school anti-depressant) since 1989, a fact that Wallace chose not to reveal in the interviews. On the contrary, Wallace fairly denied being (currently) on any medication for depression. But, throughout the text of the interview, Lipsky tells the reader each time the author's watch beeped an alarm. It took me a while to put it together--it seemed extraneous to tell us that. But, I think that Lipsky was allowing the reader to connect the dots and draw the arguable conclusion without making any personal statements. Wallace was forthcoming about his depression, and even about his ECT treatments (electroconvulsive therapy). But he was opaque about his current medication regimen. He chewed tobacco almost ceaselessly, drank Coca-Cola like water, and enjoyed the occasional draught beer. And he ate like a lumberjack. (He was 6'2" and robust, athletic.)
Throughout the three hundred pages of this protracted interview, I engaged with the momentum of Wallace-speak. Because his verbiage is unedited, it is sometimes necessary to read his sentences more than once. They are often choked with articles, prepositions and conjunctives that, idiomatically, are natural, but difficult on the page initially. However, I got into the zone and flow. Wallace is an enthusiastic interviewee if erratic at times. He vacillates from agile, amiable, and arch to repetitive and awkward. There are also words that hold a lot of charge for him, such as "continuum." In fact, Lipsky relates looking up that word after he went back to his hotel room, because it was so fundamental to Wallace's formal conception of the psyche.
For the most part, I was illuminated by the book-sized interview. Wallace shares in-depth insights on growing up, his scholarly pursuits, tennis, depression, love, and of course, the process of writing. He discusses (not all at once, but at episodic intervals) the themes of Infinite Jest and the fear that we are in a culture of entertainment addiction. Additionally, Lipsky and Wallace deconstruct movies--from Lynch to Tarantino and several stops in-between. I was delighted that he waxed about my my favorite movie scene of all time--the scene in True Romance between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. They argue and examine literature and gossip a little about other writers and celebrities. Wallace had an almost childlike crush on Alanis Morissette, permeated with a fetching adoration and wonder.
There are about fifty pages in the middle that lost steam. They were repetitive and grinding at intervals and seemed to be placed there in order to add to the "road-trip" ambiance. I got antsy and wanted to move ahead to more luminous discussions.
By the end of the book, I felt closer to understanding Wallace, who yet remains an enigma and a haunting cautionary tale. Unintentionally, I felt a pull toward Lipsky, too. His observations are quick, inconspicuous, and often sublime. I was impressed by his tasteful treatment of Wallace's memory, of his regard for integrity, and his ability to capture the essence of this beautiful and tormented man and phenomenal author.
The conversations are varied, mostly undirected, and sometimes repetitive, with abrupt transitions between topics and as the time and place suddenly change. The young Lipsky (30 at the time of the interviews, to Wallace's 34) quickly becomes a personality to the reader: what he doesn't reveal about himself in his questions, he reveals in the interviewer's notes. His envy of Wallace's success with Infinite Jest is front and center, as is his mistrust of his subject's generosity and openness. (Wallace, in a mixture of Midwestern hospitality, genuine niceness, and strategy, accepted Lipsky as a house guest and driving partner during the last stages of his book tour.) Whenever Wallace says something complimentary to Lipsky, the interviewer makes a note: Flattery. Trying to win me to his side. Cagily implying that we're equals. Flirting. But it's Lipsky who is infatuated with Wallace, astonished by every flash of humor, each revelation of familiarity with cultural ephemera (the movie True Romance; Alanis Morissette). Lipsky, a New Yorker, is particularly fascinated by Wallace's Midwestern way of speaking. Intermittently, he transcribes in dialect, recording Wallace's "something" as "sumpin'" and "doesn't" as "dudn't." There are passages where Lipsky dutifully removes all the g's from the end of the -ing words. This is tiring and distracts from what Wallace is saying. One wonders how Lipsky would react if someone were always to record his pronunciation of his home town as "New Yawk," assuming he speaks that way.
This isn't the best introduction to the mind and thoughts of David Foster Wallace, which express themselves just as honestly and much more forcefully in his essays and in his Kenyon College commencement speech. Reading this book is like listening to a full-length recording of an opera; unless you already know the opera well, you're better off with a highlights disc. As a fan of Wallace, I frequently found myself irritated by the young Lipsky's suspicion and combativeness in the face of his host's generosity. Lipsky was acting as a good journalist, but as Janet Malcolm pointed out in her book about Joe McGinniss, being a journalist means a certain willingness to misrepresent oneself, and possibly to betray. The best part of this book was the afterword, which (for the first time, as far as I know), tells the story of Wallace's struggle against clinical depression and sets it in context with the rest of his life. The older Lipsky is fair, compassionate, and moving, and makes the powerful point that to file David Foster Wallace in the cubbyhole marked "tormented genius" is a mistake. For most of his life, his disease was well-managed. Certainly the Wallace who's revealed in these five days of conversation doesn't seem more troubled than one would expect of a sensitive person suddenly presented with the weirdness that is universal acclaim. That Lipsky remembers Wallace so fondly, and that Wallace, according to his friends, liked Lipsky in return, reflects well on the interviewer.
Still, the point of the book isn't to pity Wallace. Through the conversation, Wallace comes across as the person one would expect him to: exuberant, highly intelligent, open, introspective, incredibly silly at times, but all in all a good guy and a real iconoclast. Lipsky makes the incredibly accurate observation that he had never lost touch childhood, and that definitely comes across in the book, as he is capable both of wild-eyed wonder and great anxiety. Just a great person to hang out with for a few hours. Lipsky keeps things moving briskly, and the book is a highly addictive read. I would seriously recommend the book if you're interested in DFW, or, you know, good books.
The reviewer goes on to say that we only see the persona that DFW used to shield himself from adulation, but that we don't see his real self, and so we don't get any insight into the man or his writing. So beyond being reprehensible for genius-gawking, it's also worthless, the reviewer says.
I agree that there is some genius-gawking inherent in the book, and I even admit that that was part of my reason for getting the book, but to imply that the book is worthless I think is grossly wrong.
I thought there were a lot of valuables details about DFW. Putting them in bullet form won't do them justice, but here are examples:
* his feelings about Infinite Jest vs. the attention that accompanied it
* the way he talked so informally and candidly with Lipsky and even with random waitresses
* his struggles with women
* his fascination with shark statistics
* his dogs
* his smoking and his soda
* his Midwestern-ness
* the music he listened to while writing
* his crush on Alanis Morissette
* his veneration of his editor
* his fear of TV and addiction
* his moral seriousness
* his going out to dance at a predominantly black church
* the way he couldn't contain his curiosity, always turning questions and directing them back to Lipsky.
And it wasn't just a dry biosketch; I actually found parts of it quite moving.
I might even say that this is one of the most important books I've read, just because DFW was on a plane that was so "whole other" that having a richer understanding of who he is -- how he wrote, why he wrote, what his writing meant to him -- helped me see the magnitude of his writing in three dimensions.
DFW said, "There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is _what_ to worship."
DFW's writing is now -- largely thanks to this book -- one of the things I choose to worship. I will not read it on airplanes or around TVs, and I will not read it if I'm even slightly tired or irritable. I have too much respect for DFW to give him anything other than my full attention. Call it genius gawking if you want, but I think it's much more.
This work is at times very hard to read and understand as we get the full Wallace effect in an informal and hurried setting. Lipsky basically provides transcripts of these talks that covered 3 or 4 days in 1997, probing Wallace for deeper meaning on the importance and relevance that fiction writing plays in contemporary society. The answers Wallace provides show the mind and thought processes he went through to formulate cohesive observations, but are at times really fractured and incomplete. Lipsky, however, seems to recognize this as he then provides contemporary insights into these conversations which are meant to show the hyper character and uuber-intelligence that made up the Wallace icon.
In the end it's hard not to love Wallace and feel the total loss and affinity most held for him. Also, it's now clear to see how his life ended in such dramatic and tragic form. Showing an abounding care and absorption for seemingly all things in life, Wallace seemed to worry and stress about everything, even worrying about worrying. Couple this with the revelation that Wallace had been diagnosed as clinically depressed in 1989 and that the meds he took for this (Nardil, an older anti-depressant "tugging a boxcar of side effects") added somewhat to his overall demise, it is clear to me that suicide was certainly a possible outcome. What makes this book work is the knowledge of how it ends..."Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction."
"...Becoming Yourself" is a magnificent introduction into the world of David Wallace and contemporary literature. I would recommend this book, flaws and all, certainly to all his fans, but moreso, to all who would become fans. Read this and watch some of the revealing videos of Wallace on-line and, I'd challenge, you'll come on board also.