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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
Cover of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
Borrow Borrow
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING JASON SEGAL AND JESSE EISENBERG, DIRECTED BY JAMES PONSOLDT

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.

"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
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING JASON SEGAL AND JESSE EISENBERG, DIRECTED BY JAMES PONSOLDT

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.

"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
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Excerpts-
  • From the book first day
    david’s house
    tuesday before class
    in the living room, playing chess
    his dogs slinking back and forth over carpet
    3/5/96
     
    You were saying about the tour that while we travel, “I need to know that
    anything that I ask you fi ve minutes later to not put in, you won’t put in.”
     
    Given my level of fatigue and fuck- up quotient lately, it’s the only
    way I can see doin’ it and not going crazy.
     
    [Drone—he’s got two dogs—is chewing on the chair David sits in.
    He now has an unlisted phone number, because of fans.]
     
    I don’t know if “fan” would be the right word . . .
     
    [Looking at bookcases . . . He had a board out, and is eager to play.
    So we are playing chess.]
     
    I think when I was twenty- five this was what I wanted. But . . . I
    don’t mind it now. I mean, I’m proud of the book, I’m glad the
    book is getting attention. Stuff about me is (a) makes me uncomfortable
    and (b) is bad for me, because it makes me self- conscious
    when I write. And I do not need to be more self- conscious. Oh,
    fuck me! It takes a while for me to get in a groove. I honestly don’t
    know what’s gonna sort of eventuate here. Well, fuck! (Looking at
    the board)
    Little, Brown bought both the hardcover and the softcover rights
    at the same time. I think I could make a lot if I took an advance for
    the next thing, but I can’t do that, so . . .
     
    [He’s not interested in money for next novels, which friends have
    said is the wisest course. I talk about my own friends—people
    he knows too—who arranged deals while touring for successful
    books.]
     
    That’s incredible. I’ve got this thing where I just can’t take money
    for something till it’s done. So I’m sort of screwed about that stuff.
    (Slow, Southernish voice) I’ve been burnt on this before, I just can’t
    do it.
    I had no choice on this book, it was sort of under way. There was
    so much research I had to do, that I literally could not teach and do
    it at the same time. So I decided to eat it, and do it. But it would have
    been a lot more fun if I hadn’t taken any money for it.
     
    [He’s playing pop radio, the local college station. I haven’t heard this
    song in so much time: INXS, “It’s the One Thing.” David nods, says
    he loves their song “Don’t Change.”]
     
    You know, I went through such a bad time in my twenties. Thinking
    like, Oh no, I’m this genius writer, everything I do’s gotta be ingenious,
    blah blah blah blah, and bein’ so shut down and miserable for
    three or four years. That it’s worth any amount of money to me, not
    to go there again. And I’m aware that that sounds maybe Pollyannaish
    or sound- bitish. But it’s actually just the truth.
    I was twenty- eight years old, and that means not taking an ad-
    vance for stuff before it’s done. And it’s money well spent as far as
    I’m concerned.
     
    Aware of your fame here?
     
    The grad students are vaguely aware I think.
     
    They must follow it?
     
    I think kids in the Midwest are different than kids on the East Coast.
    I think Time and Newsweek are fairly inescapable. So I think they
    kinda know. I’m sort of so nasty when they start talking about that
    stuff in class that I think I’ve scared them into...
About the Author-
  • 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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 12, 2010
    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.

  • Kirkus

    March 1, 2010
    My Dinner with Andre in a rental car—Rolling Stone contributing editor Lipsky (Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, 2003, etc.) turns in a splintered portrait of the late, great novelist.

    In 1996, the author got the call to drive into the Illinois countryside to find David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) and wrestle a profile of the then-budding cult hero of literature."I'm thirty years old, he's thirty-four," writes Lipsky."We both have long hair." They are (were) also both voracious consumers of culture, from the novels of John Updike (Wallace hates him, Lipsky doesn't) and Stephen King (vice versa) to Saturday-morning cartoons, Steven Spielberg's films and the latest sonic complaints of Alanis Morissette (Wallace loves her, Lipsky not so much) and the bleatings of Sheryl Crow (says Wallace,"made me want to vomit, from the very beginning"). The two set off on a whirlwind, almost-missed-the-plane tour of the ice-encrusted Upper Midwest, a matter of foggy windows, slick roads and Wallace's constant spitting of tobacco juice into various fetid containers. Eventually they wound up at a reading in Minnesota that, if nothing else, illustrates how soul-wearying such things are to writers, especially with the inevitable first question from the audience:"Where do you get your ideas from?" In Wallace's case, the answer is refracted across pages devoted to his wrestlings with depression and mental illness, punctuated by reminiscences of visits to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments. At other times he appears happier, if sometimes mystified by the business of fame and the strange workings of the publishing business—but very much on top of the dollars and cents and at the top of his game as a writer. Lipsky does good work in keeping up with Wallace, but in the end his book is a staccato ramble made tiresome by his mania for pointing out, endlessly, Wallace's Midwestern pronunciations and with one too many digressions on Lipsky's own life.

    Still, a nicely gossipy inside view of a writer's world and a beautiful yet anguished mind.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2010
    When David Foster Wallace went on tour to promote his staggering hit/work of genius "Infinite Jest", reporter Lipsky followed. The resulting several day-long interview was supposed to be for a "Rolling Stone" article that never materialized. Fortunately, a year and a half after Wallace took his own life, Lipsky has published a transcript of the interview in its entirety. The resulting book gives us a glimpse into the mind of one of the great literary masters of the end of the 20th century; a man who had achieved international fame and felt deeply ambivalent about it. But what shines through even more is his deep passion for writing and ideas and his kind, gentle nature. VERDICT Anyone looking to read the musings of a larger-than-life literary figure will be disappointed; instead we get a portrait of a slightly troubled Midwestern man who happened to have a tremendous gift. Many fans of Wallace's writing come to think of him as a friendby the time they have finished Lipsky's moving book, they will undoubtedly feel that even more strongly. Highly recommended.Ned Resnikoff, "Library Journal"

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    April 15, 2010
    On assignment for Rolling Stone, Lipsky hung out with David Foster Wallace and his two dogs in Wallaces Illinois home, then accompanied the newly minted celebrity writer on a Midwest stretch of his 1996 book tour for his meganovel Infinite Jest. Lipskys article was canceled, and now, in the wake of Wallaces 2008 suicide, Lipskys recordings of five days worth of the writers 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 (Absolutely American, 2003) 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 fames 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 Wallaces masterful and innovative books long into the future.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2010, American Library Association.)

  • Lev Grossman, Time Magazine "Lipsky's transcript of their brilliant conversations reads like a two-man Tom Stoppard play or a four-handed duet scored for typewriter."
  • Seth Colter Wallis, Newsweek "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...we have the pleasure of reading two sharp writers who can spar good-naturedly with one another... What we have here is Wallace's voice."
  • Lee Ellis, The New Yorker Book Bench "Insightful... 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 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."
  • Stephen Kurtz, The Wall Street Journal "The reader goes inside the cars, airports, and big-portioned Midwestern restaurants with the two men and, ultimately, inside Wallace's head."
  • Michael Schaub, National Public Radio "Crushingly poignant... It's impossible for anyone who ever fell in love with Wallace's prose not to read Lipsky's account looking for clues... 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...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."
  • Billy Heller, New York Post "Required reading... 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."
  • Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic "Compelling...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."
  • Michael Miller, Time Out "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."
  • Laura Miller, Salon "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."
  • Alicia Rouverol, The Christian Science Monitor "Lipsky is not telling us about Wallace's life: He is showing Wallace living his life...One thing is certain: If you didn't already love Wallace, this book will make you love him...Wallace's 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."
  • Maria Bustillos, The Awl "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 ...You wish yourself into the back seat as you read, come up with your own contributions and quarrels...the wry commentary of the now-mature and very gifted Lipsky, is original, and intoxicatingly intimate."
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A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
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