Like any good hipster, I try to jump off the bandwagon at every opportunity... unfortunately, though, I just can't shake my David Foster Wallace habit. From Consider the Lobster to Infinite Jest , when I'm feeling high or low, it's Foster Wallace I look to for comfort, insight, and my daily IQ fix. But realistically, you can only reread for so long before your literary eye starts to wander. Sure, I've tried the imitators — once (and please let's not speak of this again) I even tried to write my own little humor piece in the style of DFW, and the private humiliation of that moment left me all the more awestruck.
Over the years Foster Wallace has become a cultural icon and a literary legend in his own right, so I am sure that I am not alone in seeking out more ways to love the inimitable author. Although the humor, candor, grammatical wizardry, and footnote fearlessness of DFW could never be approximated, there is more than one way to feel the literary love of this lost luminary.
So out of an unusual combination of passion, desperation, and sheer obsession, I've developed an alternative reading list for all the DFW-lovers looking to branch out without wandering too far from the proverbial nest. If you're looking for something that channels the same spirit, these titles will get you going:
Underworld by Don DeLillo
In addition to being one of the greatest minds of our generation and a writer of uncommon brilliance, Don DeLillo was one of David Foster Wallace's regular correspondents, an admired colleague, and a trusted advisor. So, if you're interested in perusing the influences and exploring the world of David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo's Underworld is the perfect place to start.
The David Foster Wallace Reader by David Foster Wallace
I know, I know, I promised you an expanded David Foster Wallace reading list, not all your old favorites in a shiny new package, but hear me out on this one. The David Foster Wallace Reader is not only a fantastic collection of some of DFW's greatest literary hits, but also an archive of his teaching materials and a unique collection of writings from 12 brilliant colleagues and critics on the work of Foster Wallace. If you're interested in a more critical approach to the literary luminary, The David Foster Wallace Reader is the perfect place to start.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I was shocked to find The Screwtape Letters on a list of David Foster Wallace's recommended reading. Frankly, I was never a huge fan The Chronicles of Narnia, and I'm embarrassed to say that I never bothered to explore Lewis' body of work much beyond that. Of course, David Foster Wallace has always been one for pushing boundaries, and that's just one of the many reasons why we love him. Sure, The Screwtape Letters flies in the face of expectations as far as DFW's literary recommendations are concerned, but that only increases the allure, doesn't it?
Where Are The Children? by Mary Higgins Clark
Take a little gander at this synopsis, then think back to Infinite Jest and tell me you're not a little curious to see how David Foster Wallace worked the influences of this particular novel from one of his early Syllabi his into his own work:
Nancy Harmon long ago fled the heartbreak of her first marriage, the macabre deaths of her two little children, and the shocking charges against her. She changed her name, dyed her hair, and left California for the windswept peace of Cape Cod.
Yep, I knew it... you're hooked already.
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
David Foster Wallace's heartbreaking suicide was a shock to readers everywhere, and a loss from which the literary world will not soon recover. Foster Wallace's wife Karen Green has shared publicly that Goethe's The Struggles of Young Werther helped her cope in the wake of such an enormous tragedy, and perhaps it can do the same for his most ardent literary admirers.
Garner's Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner
Anyone who's read DFW will have a sense of the man's love for the English language. But what the discerning reader may not have realized is that Foster Wallace was himself on the board of the Oxford English Dictionary and a noted grammarian in his own right. Foster Wallace's review of Bryan A. Garner's Modern American Usage will be known to his most faithful fans, but for the genuine DFW experience you need to read it for yourself. The brittle, witty, brilliantly informative Garner text is not only a new window into Foster Wallace's world, but also a fascinating and useful read in its own right.
Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan
One of David Foster Wallace's most widely read magazine pieces, a profile of Rodger Federer at the top of his game, appeared in the New York Times Play Magazine in 2006. Most fans will have lingered over this juicy little nugget of specialized sports writing more than once, but what the casual reader may not know is that John Jeremiah Sullivan was originally tapped to write this piece. So, if you're interested in what the idea of a Foster Wallace substitute might look like, why not unwind one evening with John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead and give A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again the night off.
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