By John Gruber
Atoms: We are not selling shoes this time…
David Foster Wallace possessed a verbal gas pedal that he could press further than what I had ever thought possible. The intricacy and watchmaker-like precision of his prose was marvelous. There are dozens of writers whose work I admire and adore, but Wallace is the only one whose work consistently makes me ache with the impossible desire: I wish I could write like that.
It feels foolish and selfish to argue that one particular suicide is any more tragic than another, but there’s something about this that I’m just not able to grasp. The loss is too big, the circumstances too senseless.
The best I can manage is this. It’s worse because Wallace was still rising to the top of his game. I admire his most recent work more than his early work (and I admire his early work very, very much). The occasional tendency toward linguistic showmanship for the sake of showmanship was gone. What was left was an exuberant dedication that left no heavy thought unconsidered, no detail unexamined, no apt digression unexplored. A palpable authorial compassion for the reader. What was left was the truth.
What we’ve lost, the words that were yet to come, we’ll never know.
Over the last few days I’ve listed some of Wallace’s pieces available online. A few readers have asked via email which of his books I’d recommend to someone new to his work. His non-fiction — “essays and arguments”, as described in the subtitle of one collection — is more approachable, and I suspect has more universal appeal. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster are both great books. I suspect there are many of you in the DF audience with a mathematical bent; for you, I highly recommend Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞ — Wallace’s eminently readable but by no means dumbed-down pop-sci overview of the concept of “infinity” in mathematics and philosophy. (Even his titles were brilliant.)
For fiction, Oblivion, a 2004 collection of short and shortish fiction. The first story therein, “Mister Squishy”, that’s the one I’d hold up and about which declare, no one else but David Foster Wallace could have written this.