Share this article

print logo

Editor’s Choice: The David Foster Wallace Reader

The David Foster Wallace Reader; Little, Brown, 963 pages ($35). The name of the story is “The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing.” It was only published once before its appearance at the beginning of this book – in the Amherst Review when David Foster Wallace was an undergraduate there. Its opening sentence: “I’ve been on antidepressants for, what, about a year now, and I suppose I feel as if I’m pretty qualified to tell you what they’re like. They’re fine, really, but they’re fine in the same way that, say, living on another planet that was warm and comfortable and had food and fresh water will be fine: it would be fine, but it wouldn’t be good old Earth, obviously.”

When DFW’s distance from “good old Earth” slipped beneath fine and became too great and too harsh in 2008, he hanged himself, thereby removing one of the last living American writers widely suspected of possessing genius.

Here, released in the final months of 2014, is one of the great books of the year – a behemoth reader of some of DFW’s best, chosen by friends and devoted readers, some of whom were allowed to write afterwords to the pieces chosen.

No single editor in chief is listed on the title page. That is eminently proper, it seems. It took a village of friends and admirers to produce this book as lovingly as was done. Because Wallace spent his non-writing life teaching at various palaces of higher learning, much of this is about academe – how the people who love his work teach it to their students. (Anne Fadiman, on the “Maximalists” among her students, after reading DFW. “They’re trying to inflict less pain/humiliation as they schlep through the day … They wish David Foster Wallace were alive, not only so he could continue to write.”)

I miss his television essay greatly from this. But the amount of fiction is immense. And his mother Sally Foster Wallace, indispensably, contributed 38 pages of new DFW “teaching materials” e.g. this note to students “for a variety of reasons I probably will not put specific grades on your work when I hand it back to you. Anyone who has a problem with this should speak to me personally; I may make an exception for someone with a professionally diagnosed anxiety disorder or something.”

– Jeff Simon