I’ve just finished reading a book by David Lipsky called Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. That is, David Lipsky is the guy with his name on the cover and his photo on the jacket, but in fact 80% of the words in between the covers belong to the late, lamented David Foster Wallace.
I’m still in two (maybe more) minds about the book. Lipsky spent five days with Wallace just after the publication of Infinite Jest with the intention of writing a long piece about the author for Rolling Stone, which never got published. After Wallace’s suicide, now this book – which appears to be a pretty much unedited compendium of their conversations over those five days – appears. There seems something slightly unsavory about it, a whiff of cashing in.
The profile that emerges over the course of these 300+ pages is of an unsettled, sensitive, brilliant mind. For me, the most interesting tussle that goes on between the two men as they talk is about Wallace’s attitude to his extraordinary success (massive critical acclaim and public recognition – profiles in Newsweek and Time, etc.). To Lipsky, himself an author, it seems like everything a writer might ever wish for, but (to Lipsky’s bafflement) Wallace can’t bring himself to be especially pleased about what’s happened. Wallace is all about the work, and he worries that all the plaudits and scrutiny will distract him from that. He’s grateful for his success, but simultaneously wary of it.
He offers up several insights about the act of writing throughout the book, but I wanted to share a few here:
On the slog of writing:
“I don’t think I’m the most talented person on the planet, but I work really hard.”
On critical acclaim (or lack of it):
“The way to finish a book is to turn down the volume on the stuff that’s all about how other people react. You know?”
“Most bright people, something happens in your late twenties, when you realize that this other, that how other people regard you does not have enough calories in it, to keep you from blowing your brains out.”
On reading habits:
“My tastes in reading lately have been way more realistic, because most experimental stuff is hellaciously unfun to read.”
“I don’t think writers are any smarter than other people. I think they may be more compelling in their stupidity, or in their confusion.”