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A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

Written by David LipskyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Lipsky


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: April 13, 2010
Pages: 304 | ISBN: 978-0-307-59244-6
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype

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On Sale: April 13, 2010
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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


first day
david’s house
tuesday before class
in the living room, playing chess
his dogs slinking back and forth over carpet
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
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 just leaving it alone.
Because it’s toxic to them and it’s toxic to me. That class is my
uh—I’m there to learn, not to talk about my own stuff. And I’m
there . . . when I’m teaching, I’m there as a reader, not a writer. And
the more—it’s extremely unpleasant, the more, uh, the more I’m
there in a kind of writerly persona . . .
There’s this weird scam in creative writing workshops that
somehow the teacher’s gonna teach you how—they’re gonna be
able to teach you how to do exactly what it is they do. Which is why
these programs try to pack themselves with the best- known and
most- respected writers. (“Wraters”) As if how good a writer you
are and how good a teacher you are have anything to do with each
other. I don’t think so. I know too many really good writers who are
shitty teachers, and vice versa, to think that. I think that the teaching
. . . well, the teaching has helped my own writing a lot . . . So
maybe I don’t think that anymore. But the writers are often interested
in preserving as much of their own time as they can.
[Hums while he plays chess: not tremendously good at chess; strong,
however, at humming.]
Well, that really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me, did it?
Shit. All right, we’ve got time for one more move each and then
we have to leave. I’ve got to brush my teeth.
I took the job for the health insurance. [Illinois State University]
[Bathroom cabinet: lots of tubes of Topol. (He’s a smoker.)
Dogs: Drone is “A provisional dog, he just showed up once while
we were jogging,” they took him on.]
Some kind of weird, “I’ve made a terrible mistake with my life, I
need to be selling insurance in Oshkosh” sort of feeling. [We’re talking
about John Barth, and other writers who’ve gotten in trouble. A
sudden in- the- wrong- place sense. An anxiety he felt before Infi nite
Jest.] I think that happens to a lot of writers.
[Went to Arizona State University. Edward Abbey was there . . . Robert
Boswell helped him more than anybody . . . ]
I was so in thrall to Barth I just knew it would be sort of a grotesque
thing. [Why he couldn’t and didn’t go to Hopkins. He patterned the
longest part of his second book after Barth.]
• • •
in car, my rented grand am
en route to class
This is the thing—you’re gonna have to sit around, you can’t even be
in the office, because I’m gonna have to yell at a lot of people. I have
to cut it short: just because we’ve gotta get up at five in the morning.
This is what’s fucked: it’s that, these poor kids, I haven’t been
around for two weeks. And they all are gonna have various deals to
discuss. [So sensitive about all performance] I’m usually a much
better teacher than this. I swear to God.
Like doing readings?
You were good.
Thanks. Tower Books—that’s not one I was particularly pleased with.
I get so nervous beforehand, and the nervousness is so unpleasant,
that that’s what I dislike. And I don’t think my stuff reads out loud
very well. And I think I come off looking like a maniac. Mainly I’m
doing what they blew up to larger type size. I give like one or two
readings in colleges a year. I gave ’em ten things and they blew up
five of them.
I read something (“sumpin’ ”) different at Tower just because
this unbelievably cute girl from Spin magazine was there, and she
didn’t want to hear the same thing twice, so I totally trashed the
plan. (He laughs.) And I never saw her again.
[The writer Elizabeth Wurtzel was at David’s KGB reading—a kind
of Brezhnev- and- Pravda- themed bar in Lower Manhattan. She was
standing right up front. We turn out to both know Elizabeth.]
I don’t know how Elizabeth—Liz got like the best seat in the house,
using skills I think only Elizabeth has. Ah, she’s real nice. She’s a
good egg. Good egg.
When you’re eighteen, you realize that—there’s also a part of us
that wants to be the president. And there’s also a part that wants to
fuck every attractive person of the gender of our choice. I mean, you
know . . . Just, I think she’s gotta be more—it’s not an accident that
she’s depressed all the time. I don’t know. Maybe I just project all
kinds of weird stuff onto her . . .
• • •
david’s class
class: “advanced prose”
[Doesn’t want a tape. Is comfortable with note- taking.]
Fluorescents, desks, steel wastepaper cans, boot smell, sweater
smell, clock on wall, big table that David doesn’t sit much behind.
Fifteen students. Women sit, as at an old- line synagogue, slightly
apart from men. David wearing Fryes, blue bandanna. Carrying Diet
Dave has noticed some surprising student errors this week.
Dave: Before we start, let’s do a moment of Grammar Rock.
They laugh. He’s the ideal, the professor you hope for: lightning
writer, modern references, charming and funny and firm.
The students know another thing: he’s become, their
bandanna- wearing teacher, during these past three weeks a suddenly
celebrated man. And they want somehow to acknowledge it.
Student 1: Done being famous yet?
Dave: (Blush smile) Two more minutes.
Kid from back, suddenly: I knew him well, Horatio—a man of
Infinite Jest . . .
Dave: OK, you’re allowed one reference.
Quick chatter about his media appearances. It’s exciting; a piece of
their private life—this room and class—has gone suddenly public.
Student 2, female: I love the way the Trib described your office.
Student 3, female: Did you wind up, like, next to Dick Vitale and
Hillary Clinton?
Dave says he got real nervous on the fl ights, kept picturing grave
etc., from tour.
Student 4: Just put pepperoni and mushrooms on my Tombstone.
(A take- out, grocery pizza sort of joke.)
Dave: The words “pop quiz” is what’s good about that.
They talk about his magazine photos. Dave blushes more.
Dave: I didn’t think, I didn’t think—you can see my smiling maw. I
thought, “Really? Is that me?”
Dave fishes out a Styrofoam cup after pawing through two wastebaskets,
for someplace to put his chewing tobacco. Is also drinking
a Diet Pepsi.
Class begins with a jump from celebrity into the supernormal,
the administrative.
Dave: Office hours next week. Bring light reading material, if you
have to wait in the hallway.
Begins work on student stories.
Dave: (Offering Very Sensible advice. Lots of jobs for fiction, you
have to keep track of twelve different things—characters, plot,
sound, speed.) But the job of the first eight pages is not to have
the reader want to throw the book at the wall, during the first
eight pages.
He paces around the classroom. Happy, energetic. At one point,
thinking, he even drops into a quick knee bend. Class laughs; they
really like him.
Dave: I know—I get real excited, and now I’m squatting.
First story: by pretty student with a Rosanna Arquette mouth. Dave
on story, always using TV: “I submit, it’s kinda like a Sam and Diane
thing. Or When Harry Met Sally.
Classroom fluorescents flicker on and off, quiet fl ashes. Dave
glances up.
Another story he likes: it’s very open, but needs to be controlled.
“This is just a head kinda vomiting at us . . .”
Less likable story: “This is just a campus romance story.
And to the average civilian, I’ve gotta tell you, this is not that
interesting . . .”
Now at desk. Craning up and down when discussion and story
get him excited.
The student being workshopped is a punkish guy: mohawk,
silver- and- yellow collar.
Dave: It’s really hard to create a narrator who’s alive. Take it from me.
Students: How?
Dave’s advice is a kind of comedy, and makes them laugh.
Dave: To have the narrator be funny and smart, have him say funny,
smart things some of the time.
He makes a flub, says quickly, “Brain fart.”
He stops for a second. Holds steady. “Excuse me, I’m about to
His delivery is darting and graceful: the Astaire quality of good
On the campus romance story. “The great dread of creative writing
professors: ‘Their eyes met over the keg . . . ’ ”
The key to writing is learning to differentiate private interest
from public entertainment. One aid is, you’re supposed to get less
self- interested as you age. But, “I think I am more self- absorbed
at thirty- four than twenty- three. Because if it’s interesting to me, I
automatically imagine it’s interesting to you. I could spend a half
hour telling you about my trip to the store, but that might not be as
interesting to you as it is to me.”
Reminds the class, as it breaks. Notebooks closing, bookbags rising
from floor to desktop. Ruckle noises, kids standing. The week’s
two lessons.
Dave: Never—don’t go there: “Their eyes met across the keg . . . ”
And “What’s interesting to me may not be to you.”
Still in good, buzzed- up mood after. Brings me a water to drink.
Dave: Where would you be without me?
I hope it’s not that same tobacco- Styrofoam cup.
• • •
isu hallway
talking to colleagues after class
“Was it a success?” [Colleagues ask about Infinite Jest tour.]
No vegetables were thrown, so I consider it a success.
I just made enough money to live off it for a couple of years, so
that’s good.
David Lipsky

About David Lipsky

David Lipsky - Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

Photo © Shaune McDowell

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.



“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
 “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.”
—Seth Colter Wallis, Newsweek
“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.”
—Lee Ellis, The New Yorker Book Bench
“The reader goes inside the cars, airports, and big-portioned Midwestern restaurants with the two men and, ultimately, inside Wallace’s head.”
— Stephen Kurtz, The Wall Street Journal
“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.” 
—Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
“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.”
—Billy Heller, New York Post
“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.”  
—Menachem Kaiser, The Atlantic
“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

 “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

“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.”
—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 …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.”
—Maria Bustillos, The Awl
“A gift… The reader, hanging out with Wallace vicariously, gets the sense of jogging along with a world-class sprinter…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
“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…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
“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… 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 Hlywak, Flavorwire
“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
“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,’… 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…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
 “David Foster Wallace was, to many, the writer of his generation… 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
“[Wallace] is lucid, entertaining, self-critical, constantly self-reflective—and to read this book is to meet this personality… these talks changed [Lipsky’s] 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)
“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.”
“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… 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…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
“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
“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.”
 —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“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

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