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5 Things You Didn't Know About David Foster Wallace - But Should

DFWFour years after Wallace's death by suicide, the brilliant and troubled writer still inspires curiosity and awe. As D.T. Max found while researching his critically acclaimed Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (an Amazon Best Biography of the Month pick in September, which the New York Times called "gripping" and "a page turner") there's still much we don't know about "DFW." Even a casual student or reader of Wallace's knows about his depression, his addictions, and his fragile genius. We asked Max to tells us a few things we didn't know about the man the Los Angeles Times has called "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."

  1. David-foster-wallace-by-marion-ettlingerHe loved U2 and disliked the B-52s. Also loved Enya, at least for a while. He claimed he'd never heard of Nirvana until Kurt Cobain's suicide.
  2. His favorite foods were hot dogs and blondies. He loved Dr. Pepper, Diet and otherwise.
  3. His favorite writers were Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Don Delillo, Manuel Puig, Julio Cortazar, and Jean Rhys. He called them his "personal Mt. Olympus." He also loved Tom Clancy novels and at least once claimed Fear of Flying was among his ten favorites. Not likely.
  4. He was afraid of sharks and kept clippings of particularly grisly shark attacks. Probably it was a mistake to go to Jaws when he was thirteen.
  5. Nothing DFW wrote sounds like anyone else, not even his letters. The longest sentence he ever wrote may be in The Pale King. It begins: "Part of what kept him standing in the restive group of men waiting authorization to enter the airport was a kind of paralysis that resulted from Sylvanshine’s reflecting on the logistics of getting to the Peoria 047 REC...." It goes on for 1185 words, per Mr. Smartypants at the web site frothygirlz.com, who counted them. But as he/she also pointed out: DFW could write short when he wanted to too. He writes in "Incarnations of Burned Children": “If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child.” DFW never did but he knew heartbreak anyway.

(Photo by Marion Ettlinger)

>See all of David Foster Wallace's books.

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I never heard of Nirvana until Kurt Cobain died too. I'm happy to know I'm not the only member of western civilization to make this admission.

Great stuff, this. What a great way to gain some perspective on David Foster Wallace.

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