Tag Archives: david foster wallace

What Do The Pale King’s Four New Scenes Add?

Gabe Habash -- March 28th, 2012

On April 10th, The Pale King will come out in paperback with four previously unpublished scenes. The details: three scenes of three pages each, and one scene that runs 14 pages. The book states that they’re “four of the most complete pieces” that don’t fit with the rest of the novel, whether because of inconsistencies or because there just wasn’t a logical place to fit them in.

The question of whether these scenes are worth reading seems beside the point, because you probably already know if 23 pages of unfinished, vagrant David Foster Wallace writing is something you’ll be interested in reading. The scenes, like the rest of The Pale King, primarily function as texts to be examined and parsed. But Wallace fans (and this goes double for the Wallace fans who’ve already read through The Pale King) will enjoy contemplating their spot in the book’s grand design. And, yes, to answer your question: there are moments of wonderful Wallace prose.

A brief overview of the four scenes is provided below.

Scene #1: Reminiscent of “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” this scene offers a glimpse of seeing ourselves clearly, a moment of self-awareness and our true place in the world.

Best Line: “I have, every so often, come briefly awake. I awoke nearly in mid-stride once on 5 October 1975, my junior year at PCB.”

Scene #2: The antithesis of the previous scene, narrated by a thoughtless, self-described “thug” (“I don’t reflect much: reflection is paralyzing”).

Best Line: “You do not think. You do not stand there trying to reach an accommodation with the fact that you just got hit. You hit back. Or first. Between the impulse and the action are only spinal nerves and fast-twisted fasciae. It is not a life of the mind.”

Scene #3: The most immediately rewarding and complete of the four. A brief overview of Charles Lehrl’s childhood upbringing in Decatur, related by Lehrl to his friend Claude Sylvanshine. The friendship between Lehrl and Sylvanshine is also covered.

Best Line: “…Lehrl, his brother, and his tiny sister negotiating the ditches and fences and crossing Self-Storage Parkway to climb a Big Boy restaurant’s billboard’s support and peer through the hole that was the Big Boy icon’s (a big smiling boy in a fast food cup bearing a tray’s) left incisor to watch the rendering plant’s lone cow or swine, standing chained in the crabgrass…”

Scene #4: A scene set in the lunchroom revolving around a project in which employee Hovatter will take a year to watch every single moment of cable television broadcast in the month of May 1986. The bulk of the scene is roughly 10 pages of fastidious, hyper-attentive dialogue spoken by other characters trying to account for all of the specifics and potential pitfalls of the plan.

Best Line: “Singh would be falling asleep in the back seat and his parents’ conversation would get rushed and roary and disconnected in his ears and this was one way he knew he was starting to really fall asleep instead of lying in the back seat and listening to his parents talk as his father drove.”

5 Great Author Interviews from Charlie Rose

Gabe Habash -- September 9th, 2011

Charlie Rose has been on the air since 1991, and in that time, Rose has had some wonderful guests from the world of writing. For your Friday viewing, here are 5 of our favorites. Click the name to watch the entire interview.

5. Siddhartha Mukherjee (11/24/10)

Mukherjee, author of 2010′s Pulitzer Prize winner The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, tells you everything you’d want to know about cancer, including the etymology of the word (the Greeks said a tumor resembled a crab and the blood vessels around the tumor were the crab’s legs), the origins of chemotherapy, the wonder of gleevec, and tobacco’s association with the disease.

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The Best ‘Reading’ Ever, And Not A Page Was Read

Gabe Habash -- July 28th, 2011


A few weeks ago, we posted a response to The New York Observer‘s article, seconding their sentiment about how dull readings can really be. But last night at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, David Lipsky and Darin Strauss gave the best “reading” I’ve ever attended. What was so different about this particular reading? Well, neither of the writers read, they just talked.

Lipsky and Strauss, close friends and faculty members at NYU’s Creative Writing Program, treated the event like a laid-back dialogue, trading good-natured barbs and pushing each other with questions. Sure, they were there in promotion of their newest books, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace and Half a Life: A Memoir, respectively, but one got the feeling that the conversation wouldn’t have been much different if there were no audience.

Lipsky’s book, which is an extended conversation between him and David Foster Wallace from Wallace’s 1996 Infinite Jest book tour, was ultimately done out of his desire to present details of Wallace’s life as close to fact as possible.

“When he died, I’d written a piece about him and I didn’t think there was enough there for a book,” said Lipsky. “But, ultimately, the book ended up allowing Wallace to tell things himself.”

Strauss added: “It’s a new way to do a biography. It’s much more faithful.”

For Strauss’ book, a memoir about his car accident that resulted in the death of a young girl, there were challenges in telling facts accurately, but Strauss was also concerned with the craft of the memoir–stating that memoirs don’t work when they’re not crafted because they end up being too solipsistic and cathartic for the writer.

“In bad memoirs people forgive themselves in every paragraph,” he said.

Both Lipsky and Strauss shared the difficulties in the writing process.

For his previous book, Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, Lipsky transcribed everything from his time at West Point. What’s everything? 40 tapes and 16,000 pages (before being worked down to a manageable 300). What did he learn from the transcriptions?

“People repeat themselves a lot,” he said.

Strauss’ publisher for his previous books was Dutton, a Penguin imprint. Strauss, aware that a problem with memoirs is that the writer tends to repeat himself over and over, wanted to make Half a Life very short and very to-the-point (he originally envisioned it as 30 to 40 pages). But when he pitched the book to Dutton, they told him it had to be 200 pages, minimum. When he asked them what happened if it wasn’t, they said, “pad it with childhood memories.” He ended up publishing with McSweeney’s.

Much of the conversation revolved around writing in general. The topic of “show, don’t tell” came up, but Lipsky was quick to tear apart that notion.

“What’s great about writing is you can show AND tell,” he said. “Saying ‘show, don’t tell’ is like telling you to go into battle and to only use one type of ammunition because you have to win the battle fairly.”

The two also talked about the strange combination of what makes a writer successful.

“The best writers are swaggering pricks but are also incredibly humble,” Strauss said. “On the first draft, you have to go for it but in later drafts you have to cut everything and be ruthless.”

The back-and-forth between Lipsky and Strauss was a rare thing that anyone with an appreciation of writing and craft could’ve appreciated; it was just watching two smart and funny people talk about what they love.

Before the event, the two stood outside in the warm evening, talking and laughing for a good half hour. When it came time for the event to start, they entered the bookstore and just continued their conversation, right where they left off.

If only every literary event were this much fun.




A Lost David Foster Wallace Poem

Craig Morgan Teicher -- April 12th, 2011

David Foster Wallace, a bit older than when he wrote this poem

A lost poem by David Foster Wallace, written when he was a child, has been found in the Wallace Archives at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The researcher who found it posted it on the Writebynight blog.  You can see it in Wallace’s adorable handwriting over there, but below I’ve typed the poem as it seems to be liniated on the page:

My mother works so hard
so hard and for bread. She needs some lard.
She bakes the bread. And makes
the bed. And when she’s
threw she feels she’s dayd.

Dang.  That’s deep, dark stuff for a kid…happy National Poetry Month?

Lev Grossman on ‘The Pale King’ by David Foster Wallace

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 31st, 2011

The Pale King officially comes out on 4/15, but its onsale date was last week, so you can get it now.

One of the big literary events this week is the arrival of David Foster Wallace’s hugely anticipated posthumous novel The Pale King (of which our Jonathan Segura wrote perhaps the first published review), which, though it’s not supposed to go on sale till tax day, is available already at Amazon and B&N.com.

While Segura called the book “A pile of sketches, minor developments, preludes to events that never happen (or only happen in passing, off the page), and get-to-know-your-characters background info that would have been condensed or chopped had Wallace lived to finish it,” adding,  “this isn’t the era-defining monumental work we’ve all been waiting for since Infinite Jest altered the landscape of American fiction.”, Time‘s Lev Grossman, in a fascinating article that’s part review and part history of how the unfinished book was assembled after the author’s death, calls it “Wallace’s finest work as a novelist.”

Here’s a little excerpt from Grossman’s story, which is perhaps most interesting for its insight into how Michael Pietsch of Little, Brown took a duffel bag full of notes and sketches and turned them into a novel:

Nadell called Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown & Co. and Wallace’s longtime editor. He flew out in January and started reading. As it turned out, there was a lot more than just that neat stack. “They brought me literally bins and drawers and wire baskets,” Pietsch says. “Just heaps of pages. There was no order to them.” He went back to New York City with a duffel bag full of them.

Pietsch spent two years assembling and editing the contents of that duffel bag. The results will be published, appropriately enough, on April 15. If The Pale King isn’t a finished work, it is, at the very least, a remarkable document, by no means a stunt or an attempt to cash in on Wallace’s posthumous fame. Despite its shattered state and its unpromising subject matter, or possibly because of them, The Pale King represents Wallace’s finest work as a novelist.

Are you excited about The Pale King? Will you be grabbing a copy?

Infinite Jest Gets Drafty

Craig Morgan Teicher -- February 24th, 2011

Circulating around the literary Web today is this image of a handwritten draft of the first page of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  Look at how unbelievably small his handwriting was.  This image comes from the Atlantic, which in turn got it from a very cool new journal called Draft, which, among other things, shows off early drafts of literary works.  Check it out.

Also for a fun blast from the past, check out our original review of Infinite Jest, which we called a “brilliant but somewhat bloated dirigible of a second novel.” Oy.

The PW Morning Report: Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- February 11th, 2011

Today’s links!

Famous Author Doodles: Flavorpill collects doodles from Path, Nabokov, Foster Wallace, and others.  Very cool.

Meet McNally’s Espresso: A video of McNally Jackson’s Espresso Book Machine in action. From NPR.

Borders Goodbye Emails: Thought Catalog documents the fall of borders through the company’s email newsletters.

iPad Library: In Japan, the iPad is becoming a space-saving solution to the cramped home library. From Bloomberg.

Taxes in Texas: Amazon is shutting down its Dallas distribution center due to Texas’ demand for taxes. From Business Insider.

Bookstore of the Week: Jacket Copy names Small World Book in Venice, CA, as its bookstore of the week.

Why Magazines Aren’t Reviewing More Female Writers: The New Republic looks at the differing attention being paid to male and female writers in print.

Analyzing the David Foster Wallace Cover

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 15th, 2010

What does this mean?  As our dear friend of the double rainbow (all the way) so poignantly wondered about another phenomenon, now that the cover for the posthumous David Foster Wallace novel, The Pale King (on sale 4/15/11), has been released, we must ask what the image has to tell us about the book it covers.  So, we ask you–what do you think of the cover of The Pale King?  Seems very white except for the card and the text.  Though of course very Foster Wallace PoMo, as you’d expect.  Do you like it?

The PW Morning Report: Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 14th, 2010

Barack Obama, Kids’ Author: Obama’s new children’s book is coming out November 16. From AP.

Stone Temple Pen Pilot: Scott Weiland, former vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots, is set to release a memoir about his battle with drug addiction in 2011.

Foster Wallace Papers Go Public: Starting today, the David Foster Wallace archive at UT Austin will be open to the public. From the NYT.

Google Editions Submission Process: eBookNewser finds out that to submit a book to Google Editions can take up to two months!  That is if they ever launch it.

The Booker Shortlist Explained: This is a couple days old, but still interesting: Andrew Motion, chair of the Booker judges, explains the shortlist to Guardian readers.

American Poets on American Poetry: April ain’t the only month when poets talk about poetry.  Here’s some poets doing just that on HuffPo.