Here is the text of the tribute I recorded for Braodcastr as part of the celebration of the release of The Pale King:
Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met? I’m not talking about wishing you could go back and meet them, or naming them on your “if-you-could-have-dinner-with-three-people-living-or-dead” list. I mean to genuinely miss them, being truly sad that they’re gone.
I was not introduced to David Foster Wallace and his writing until the spring of 2009, some six months after his death. My wife’s book club was reading Consider the Lobster, which she passed off to me after she finished it. Somewhere between the explanation of the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar and the description of lobsters trying to claw their way out of pots of boiling water, I was hooked.
I quickly moved from Consider the Lobster to A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again then on to his short stories. I have yet to get more than about 50 pages into Infinite Jest; frankly, it scares the bejesus out of me. But reading what I have of his works has been a truly eye-opening experience on so many levels. His non-fiction opened my eyes to the world that was right in front of me in a whole new way. His accounts of state fairs and adult film awards ceremonies allowed me to see, as he once put it, the “irony of the banal” the humor and absurdity found in even the most ordinary situations.
His fiction opened my eyes to the truth of the human condition. He got it; he understood our humanity in all its nobility and all its frailty. And then he articulated that humanity in such a raw, authentic way. As he put it so eloquently, “Fiction is about what it means to be [an] f***ing human being.”
And his writing – his ability to craft words into sentences into beautiful paragraphs – opened my eyes to the full potential of the English language. He could do things with a blank page that I never knew were possible. He was once introduced before a reading at UCLA as “America’s most radical language artist,” a title most appropriately given.
In January of 2010 I made a New Year’s resolution to read and blog my way through DFW’s bibliography. Starting my Letters to DFW blog ushered me into a world I never knew existed. I found that Dave had written so much more than the nine books listed on his Wikipedia page. Finding and reading his uncollected works, I felt like a kid in a literary candy store. And stumbling across the Wallace-l community introduced me to a wonderful group of people who shared my newfound passion for Wallace’s writing and for language and for life. My kind of people, as my wife puts it.
Perhaps Wallace’s greatest influence has been on my own writing. Blogging about his works gave me much-needed focus and discipline. I have been writing for years, but it wasn’t until I sat under his tutelage and tried to emulate his style that I was able to find that long-waited-for marriage between thoughts and words on the page. In studying his voice, I was able to find my own.
It is with mixed emotions that I look forward to reading my copy of The Pale King. I can’t wait to finally crack it open and begin reading it, but I know I will dread turning that last page and knowing that this is the end. Sure there are plenty of his books I have yet to read, and any of his works invites at least a second and third reading. But The Pale King will be the closing of a door.
I miss you, Dave. We all miss you. But we are forever grateful for the gift your writing has been to all of us. A gift we will forever cherish.