"If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious."
-- David Foster Wallace
An indelible portrait of David Foster Wallace, by turns funny and inspiring, based on a five-day trip with award-winning writer David Lipsky during Wallace’s Infinite Jest tour
In David Lipsky’s view, David Foster Wallace was the best young writer in America. Wallace’s pieces for Harper’s magazine in the ’90s were, according to Lipsky, “like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody I knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming.”
Then Rolling Stone sent Lipsky to join Wallace on the last leg of his book tour for Infinite Jest, the novel that made him internationally famous. They lose to each other at chess. They get iced-in at an airport. They dash to Chicago to catch a make-up flight. They endure a terrible reader’s escort in Minneapolis. Wallace does a reading, a signing, an NPR appearance. Wallace gives in and imbibes titanic amounts of hotel television (what he calls an “orgy of spectation”). They fly back to Illinois, drive home, walk Wallace’s dogs. Amid these everyday events, Wallace tells Lipsky remarkable things—everything he can about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him—in the writing voice Lipsky had come to love. Lipsky took notes, stopped envying him, and came to feel about him—that grateful, awake feeling—the same way he felt about Infinite Jest. Then Lipsky heads to the airport, and Wallace goes to a dance at a Baptist church.
A biography in five days, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is David Foster Wallace as few experienced this great American writer. Told in his own words, here is Wallace’s own story, and his astonishing, humane, alert way of looking at the world; here are stories of being a young writer—of being young generally—trying to knit together your ideas of who you should be and who other people expect you to be, and of being young in March of 1996. And of what it was like to be with and—as he tells it—what it was like to become David Foster Wallace.
David Lipsky is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR's All Things Considered, and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He's the author of the novel The Art Fair, a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars, and the bestselling nonfiction book Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year.
DAVID LIPSKY is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, the New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR's All Things Considered and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He's the author of the novel The Art Fair; a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars; and the bestselling nonfiction book Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In early 1996, journalist and author Lipsky (Absolutely American) joined then-34-year-old David Foster Wallace on the last leg of his tour for Infinite Jest (Wallace’s breakout novel) for a Rolling Stone interview that would never be published. Here, he presents the transcript of that interview, a rollicking dialogue that Lipsky sets up with a few brief but revealing essays, one of which touches upon Wallace’s 2008 suicide and the reaction of those close to him (including his sister and his good friend Jonathan Franzen). Over the course of their five day road trip, Wallace discusses everything from teaching to his stay in a mental hospital to television to modern poetry to love and, of course, writing. Ironically, given Wallace’s repeated concern that Lipsky would end up with an incomplete or misleading portrait, the format produces the kind of tangible, immediate, honest sense of its subject that a formal biography might labor for. Even as they capture a very earthbound encounter, full of common road-trip detours, Wallace’s voice and insight have an eerie impact not entirely related to his tragic death; as Lipsky notes, Wallace ‘was such a natural writer he could talk in prose.’ Among the repetitions, ellipses, and fumbling that make Wallace’s patter so compellingly real are observations as elegant and insightful as his essays. Prescient, funny, earnest, and honest, this lost conversation is far from an opportunistic piece of literary ephemera, but a candid and fascinating glimpse into a uniquely brilliant and very troubled writer.
“Lipsky’s transcript of their brilliant conversations reads like a two-man Tom Stoppard play or a four-handed duet scored for typewriter.” —Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“Exhilarating…All that’s left now are the words on the page—and on the pages of ‘Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,’ too, with the voices they conjure of two writers talking, talking, talking as they drive through the night.” —Laura Miller, Salon
“Crushingly poignant...Startlingly sad yet deeply funny...The picture Lipsky paints is of an author alternately confused and excited, sincere and suspicious... It’s impossible for anyone who ever fell in love with Wallace’s prose not to read Lipsky’s account looking for clues. And while suicide is never really logical, it’s heartbreaking to read Wallace discuss his history of depression...Somehow even sadder are Lipsky’s observations of Wallace’s moments of happiness: his love for his dogs, his fondness for television, the music of Alanis Morrissette. Even his Diet Pepsi and McDonald’s habits read as sweet, childlike and, in the end, crushingly poignant...The rapport that he and Wallace built during the course of the road trip is both endearing and fascinating. At the end, it feels like you’ve listened to two good friends talk about life, about literature, about all of their mutual loves. And while they were both young men in 1996, they seem wise beyond their years, yet still filled with a contagious, youthful enthusiasm...his fans and his readers at least have this: a startlingly sad yet deeply funny postscript to the career of one of the most interesting American writers of all time.” —Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
“In ‘Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,’ Lipsky is not telling us about Wallace’s life: He is showing Wallace living his life. His book could only have been written after spending five days with Wallace, on what Wallace calls ‘our hypothermia smoking tour of the Midwest’… One thing is certain: If you didn’t already love Wallace, this book will make you love him…The purpose is to get us inside Wallace’s head, and Lipsky takes us there. More aptly, he doesn’t interrupt Wallace as he takes us there. We get to see every synapse firing… The compassion readers saw in ‘This is Water’ (the commencement address Wallace delivered at Kenyon College in 2005) is everywhere apparent here… Wallace’s aliveness is the most compelling part of this book. His humor, his pathos, his brilliant delivery – his tendency to explore the experience of living even as he’s living it – make this book sing. If art is a way of caring for others, Wallace cares for us through the novels, short stories, and essays he left behind. And Lipsky, in the wake of Wallace’s death, gives us a narrative that does the same.” —Alicia Rouverol, The Christian Science Monitor
“It’s a road picture, a love story, a contest: two talented, brilliant young men with literary ambitions, and their struggle to understand one another. I can’t tell you how much fun this book is; amazingly fun…You wish yourself into the back seat as you read, come up with your own contributions and quarrels. The form of the narrative, much of which is a straight transcription of the interview tapes, together with the wry commentary of the now-mature and very gifted Lipsky, is original, and intoxicatingly intimate.” —Maria Bustillos, The Awl
“On assignment for Rolling Stone, Lipsky hung out with David Foster Wallace and his two dogs in Wallace’s Illinois home, then accompanied the newly minted celebrity writer on a Midwest stretch of his 1996 book tour for his meganovel Infinite Jest. Lipsky’s article was canceled, and now, in the wake of Wallace’s 2008 suicide, Lipsky’s recordings of five days’ worth of the writer’s brainy and passionate riffing on the nature of mind, the purpose of literature, and the pitfalls of both academia and entertainment are incredibly poignant. Lipsky vividly and incisively sets the before-and-after scenes for this revelatory oral history, in which Wallace is at once candid and cautious, funny and flinty, spellbinding and erudite as he articulates remarkably complex insights into depression, fiction that captures the ‘cognitive texture’ of our time, and fame’s double edge. Wild about movies, prescient about the impact of the Internet, and happiest writing, Wallace is radiantly present in this intimate portrait, a generous and refined work that will sustain Wallace’s masterful and innovative books long into the future.” — Donna Seaman, Booklist
“For readers unfamiliar with the sometimes intimidating Wallace oeuvre, Lipsky has provided a conversational entry point into the writer’s thought process. It’s odd to think that a book about Wallace could serve both the newbies and the hard-cores, but here it is…You get the feeling that Wallace himself might have given Lipsky an award for being a conversationalist… the pleasure of reading two sharp writers who can spar good-naturedly with one another…When a project like Lipsky’s is conceived in such good faith, it’s better for us to have this discursive kind of completeness… What we have here is Wallace’s voice.” —Seth Colter Wallis, Newsweek
“Highly recommended. A glimpse into the mind of one of the great literary masters of the end of the 20th century...What shines through even more is his deep passion for writing and ideas and his kind, gentle nature...Many fans of Wallace’s writing come to think of him as a friend—by the time they have finished Lipsky’s moving book, they will undoubtedly feel that even more strongly.” —Library Journal
“Some personalities lend themselves well to biographies and profiles. These lives can be neatly packaged, edited, and bound. They can be organized into chapters, narratives, lists, and an index…But some lives can’t be; some possess an intellect so vast and frenetic that, consequently, it’s mostly inaccessible to the profiler and, in turn, the reader. See: Wallace, David Foster…All of which makes David Lipsky’s new book, ‘Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” so compelling. Lipsky, a journalist and novelist, was sent by Rolling Stone to attach himself to Wallace for the last leg of his Infinite Jest tour. ....It works. Wallace talks a lot and talks well, even off the cuff; he’s constantly self-editing for Lipsky’s sake. The conversations are far-reaching, insightful, silly, very funny, profound, surprising, and awfully human....a profoundly curious and alive personality…Ultimately, the only person who can talk about David Foster Wallace is, apparently, David Foster Wallace.” —Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic
“‘Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning,’ David Lipsky writes in an introductory note to Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the 310-page transcript of his 1996 interview with David Foster Wallace. That’s well-put, but it won’t prepare you for the experience of reading the conversation that follows... One thing that the book makes clear is that Wallace’s vigor and awe-inspiring writing was, in some ways, part of a deeply intricate personal effort to beat death...The book has some elements of good fiction: blind spots, character development and a powerful narrative arc. By the end, no amount of sadness can stand in the way of this author’s personality, humor and awe-inspiring linguistic command. His commentary reveals how much he lived the themes of his writing; all of his ideas about addiction, entertainment and loneliness were bouncing around in his head relentlessly. Most of all, this book captures Wallace’s mental energy, what his ex-girlfriend Mary Karr calls ‘wattage,’ which remains undimmed. —Michael Miller, Time Out
“Insightful… It’s 1996. Cuba Gooding, Jr., has just won an Oscar and David Foster Wallace, thanks to the recent publication of ‘Infinite Jest,’ is a literary superstar…It’s hard not to read the book as a series of clues or portents…The book is filled with such moments. Lipsky seems at ease with Foster Wallace, despite being awed by his fame and talent. More importantly, Foster Wallace seems relatively at ease with Lipsky. The two men eat at Denny’s and at Denny’s-like establishments, they share pizza, and they drive through the raw and icy Midwest, all the while trying to make sense of art, politics, writing, and what it means to be alive.” —Lee Ellis, The New Yorker Book Bench
“Full of everyman details about a writer who often seemed larger than life… Throughout the book, astonishingly profound things are said in airport parking lots and rental-car cockpits …Wallace emerges as a human being…. As Lipsky writes, the author’s singular achievement, especially in his non-fiction, was capturing ‘everybody’s brain voice’; Wallace’s writing sounds the way we think, or at least the way we like to think we think. The goal of fiction, Wallace tells Lipsky, involves ‘leaping over that wall of self, and portraying inner experience.’ Part of becoming a better person has to do with learning how ‘to treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend.’ Throughout the book, astonishingly profound things are said in airport parking lots and rental-car cockpits. We may never have a better record of what it sounded like to hear Wallace talk... Rolling Stone sent the right guy.” —Zach Baron, Bookforum
“A gift…Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008 at age forty-six, was the most promising and accomplished writer of his generation…Even though officially Lipsky was the interviewer and Wallace the subject, they became pals, talking about movies, music, craft. Lipsky abashedly admits that he wanted to be liked. His subject was a fun dude, observant, generous, exuberant, hilarious—in short, great company. The reader, hanging out with Wallace vicariously, gets the sense of jogging along with a world-class sprinter. The jogging is very fine…Wallace’s writing illuminates the painful truth that life can be unbearable. But we owe it to him not to let those passages eclipse the vitality that made his prose, and his readers, come alive.” —Michael O’Donnell, Washington Monthly
“Required reading…David Lipsky was there when David Foster Wallace hit the literary lottery with his novel ‘Infinite Jest.’…Lipsky not only got the local color of a book tour. Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, let loose with his life story in the week-long conversation.” —Billy Heller, New York Post
“Three hundred magnificent pages that are the closest we’ll get to an autobiography of the writer…He is lucid, entertaining, self-critical, constantly self-reflective— and to read this book is to meet this personality, and to see his constantly conscious mind being aware…Wallace talks about everything…After those five days, Lipsky never saw Wallace again. But these talks changed his life, gave him phrases that have stayed with him forever. This poignant book will do the same thing for many readers.” —Edmundo Paz Soldàn, El Mostrador (Chile)
“The reader goes inside the cars, airports and big-portioned Midwestern restaurants with the two men — and, ultimately, inside Wallace’s head…In 1996, Lipsky was dispatched by Rolling Stone to follow Wallace for five days while the author was on tour promoting his celebrated novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’…As Wallace readers well know, the writer had an expansive mind, and a lot of ground is covered: movies, tennis, drugs, the creative process, even Wallace’s Alanis Morissette obsession.” — Stephen Kurtz, The Wall Street Journal
“A remarkable book...A heartbreaking and surprisingly intimate visit with a giant talent...Lipsky is a skilled interviewer and a terrific writer and so what we end up with is far, far beyond what might be expected. One of the great literary minds of his generation speaking frankly and at length with an award winning journalist who, himself, has a great deal to say... I doubt, however, we’ll see another portrait that cuts quite this close to the bone. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is a remarkable book. You hear Foster Wallace’s amazing voice on every page. And your heart breaks all over again.” —Linda Richards, January Magazine
“Wallace was the next great voice of a young generation. But he wasn’t a dweeb-child shut-in hiding with books. He was a big handsome dude who played football and tennis, chewed tobacco, cussed, watching action movies and ticking off references to Hobbes and Dostoyevsky while mixing in Stephen King and Alanis Morisette… A trip into the mind of a writer who owned a dazzling style and a prescient view of modern culture.”—Mike Kilen, The Des Moines Register
“Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of Wallace as a young artist, a raw and honest account of a writer struggling with what it means to have all of his dearest dreams come true…As readers, we’re given unfettered access to Wallace’s incredible wit…It’s like we’re sitting in the backseat of Lipsky’s rented Grand Am as they barrel south on I-55… Although haunted by it, this is not a book about his death; it’s a book about his life. Lipsky has given us a true gem: Wallace in his own words, in a voice that remains vibrant, hopeful, and frank even after its speaker has been silenced. We all may know how it ends, but Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself takes us back to where it all began.”—Stephanie Hllywak, Flavorwire
“Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is a portrait of the artist as newly famous. It’s part biography, part road trip; we hear him at his most conceptual, expounding on his theories on writing, but also get a glimpse of him as a self-described ‘normal guy,’ joking with waitresses and admitting to his infatuation with Alanis Morissette...At work in his responses are the same qualities that make his writing so compelling. He answers Lipsky’s questions in an infectious mixture of academically precise terms and peppery slang. The gravitational pull of Wallace’s charm is on full display, as is his hyper-intelligence, electric sense of humor, and staggering self-awareness. Wallace comes off as both warm and generous, with a personality magnetic enough that Lipsky soon starts imitating his Midwestern accent despite himself...almost unbearably heart-wrenching...Although of Course offers a glimpse of Wallace in his prime for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to know him outside of his books.”—Margaret Eby, The Brooklyn Rail
“Editor’s Choice. David Foster Wallace was, to many, the writer of his generation. Memoirist Mary Karr, who ‘dated David in the early 1990s, when he was coming back from the worst period of his life,’ according to Rolling Stone contributing editor David Lipsky, said ‘He had more frames per second than the rest of us, he just never stopped. He was just constantly devouring the universe.’… An in-depth rendering of a writer whose effect on his generation was matched by few others…It is candid, intimate, personal, exploding with culture pop and otherwise.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
"If you’re a writer, or even if you just believe that art can nourish us somehow, you will read this book and feel changed. The odd thing is, you feel hopeful, too." --Bookslut
"By mostly ignoring Wallace’s death, Lipsky offers an affecting and meaningful picture of his life: a showcase for the writer in rough cut, for his voice, his interests and his foibles. The book stands as a valuable companion to Wallace’s own work, but it’s also an enjoyable read on its own, something to tide Wallace fans over until his last, unfinished, novel is released next year." --National Post