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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace [Paperback]

David Lipsky
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Jun 2010

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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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (24 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030759243X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307592439
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Although Unfortunately It's Not That Good 22 Jan 2013
A book that's good in parts. "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself" is best when Wallace talks about his then just published novel, "Infinite Jest". Anyone wanting some authorial insight to what the author hoped to achieve with that novel can find plenty of information here. Wallace discuss the why's of "Infinite Jest"'s non-linear narrative, the endnotes, the cuts, the motivations behind the novel and more. There're also very interesting sections where Wallace talks about the nature of literary fiction, what he likes and dislikes, and where he expected it to go in the future.

Those are the goods bits, which are unfortunately balanced out by long sections that much weaker. The personal history that Wallace talks about is interesting but it's presented in a much more coherent manner in Max's biography, "Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story". I realise this was published two years before Max's book but the fact remains that, as of 2012, if someone wants a good account of Wallace's life they're better served reading the aforementioned biography rather than this.

That brings us on to the point of why this book is probably only for Wallace aficionados - Lipsky is just on bad form throughout. To call him "the author" when all he has done (or someone else has done) is transcribe these tapes seems to me to be quite generous. If Lipsky had taken time to write around all the conversation and be more descriptive of the mood, the locations, Wallace's attitude and behaviour, instead of just inserting random asides that seem designed to make himself appear perceptive, then this could have been a very good piece of non-fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing 19 Jun 2011
By Eddie
An incredible insight into the fantastic mind of David Foster Wallace. well worth a read for any of his fans.
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101 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alas, poor Yorick! 18 Mar 2010
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
David Lipsky has done a laudable service for both David Foster Wallace and his readership with this jaunty road-trip/interview/memoir. As Infinite Jest was being launched in 1996 and Wallace was nearing the end of his book tour, Lipsky, a rising name in journalism, followed Wallace through the last week of the tour, the Midwest portion, and recorded almost every word spoken. (The piece was supposed to run in Rolling Stone , but never did. Bad timing due to the untimely death of a rock star and other foibles of the industry.) Lipsky interviewed Wallace without ever being obtrusive or intrusive. He allowed their relationship to form organically, gradually, and avoided a forced fellowship. Rather than a stilted outcome of an interview, this cohered with warmth, wit, warts, a wink here and there, and a wily charm. A salty, chatty Wallace emerges as a captivating and unreliable narrator of his own life.

Lipsky precedes the interview with a mighty potent "afterword," a several page editorial that is also filled with specific facts about Wallace's depression and suicide. I sprung a leak; it was like he died all over again and I had to mourn him once more. It was tender, frank, and genuine. This is also the only section where it is revealed that Wallace had been on MAO inhibiters (an old-school anti-depressant) since 1989, a fact that Wallace chose not to reveal in the interviews. On the contrary, Wallace fairly denied being (currently) on any medication for depression. But, throughout the text of the interview, Lipsky tells the reader each time the author's watch beeped an alarm. It took me a while to put it together--it seemed extraneous to tell us that. But, I think that Lipsky was allowing the reader to connect the dots and draw the arguable conclusion without making any personal statements. Wallace was forthcoming about his depression, and even about his ECT treatments (electroconvulsive therapy). But he was opaque about his current medication regimen. He chewed tobacco almost ceaselessly, drank Coca-Cola like water, and enjoyed the occasional draught beer. And he ate like a lumberjack. (He was 6'2" and robust, athletic.)

Throughout the three hundred pages of this protracted interview, I engaged with the momentum of Wallace-speak. Because his verbiage is unedited, it is sometimes necessary to read his sentences more than once. They are often choked with articles, prepositions and conjunctives that, idiomatically, are natural, but difficult on the page initially. However, I got into the zone and flow. Wallace is an enthusiastic interviewee if erratic at times. He vacillates from agile, amiable, and arch to repetitive and awkward. There are also words that hold a lot of charge for him, such as "continuum." In fact, Lipsky relates looking up that word after he went back to his hotel room, because it was so fundamental to Wallace's formal conception of the psyche.

For the most part, I was illuminated by the book-sized interview. Wallace shares in-depth insights on growing up, his scholarly pursuits, tennis, depression, love, and of course, the process of writing. He discusses (not all at once, but at episodic intervals) the themes of Infinite Jest and the fear that we are in a culture of entertainment addiction. Additionally, Lipsky and Wallace deconstruct movies--from Lynch to Tarantino and several stops in-between. I was delighted that he waxed about my my favorite movie scene of all time--the scene in True Romance between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. They argue and examine literature and gossip a little about other writers and celebrities. Wallace had an almost childlike crush on Alanis Morissette, permeated with a fetching adoration and wonder.

There are about fifty pages in the middle that lost steam. They were repetitive and grinding at intervals and seemed to be placed there in order to add to the "road-trip" ambiance. I got antsy and wanted to move ahead to more luminous discussions.

By the end of the book, I felt closer to understanding Wallace, who yet remains an enigma and a haunting cautionary tale. Unintentionally, I felt a pull toward Lipsky, too. His observations are quick, inconspicuous, and often sublime. I was impressed by his tasteful treatment of Wallace's memory, of his regard for integrity, and his ability to capture the essence of this beautiful and tormented man and phenomenal author.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of the young Lipsky with a great man 5 Aug 2010
By John D Cooper - Published on
Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is essentially a transcript, set into 310 pages of text with minimal editorial work. Nothing appears to have been left out, and little has been added aside from the frequent interviewer's notes, which resemble stage directions in a screenplay. Lipsky also adds a short introduction, a preface, and a sensitively written afterword, all placed at the front of the book. A list of cultural references (movies, television shows, songs, and books) appears at the end of the volume.

The conversations are varied, mostly undirected, and sometimes repetitive, with abrupt transitions between topics and as the time and place suddenly change. The young Lipsky (30 at the time of the interviews, to Wallace's 34) quickly becomes a personality to the reader: what he doesn't reveal about himself in his questions, he reveals in the interviewer's notes. His envy of Wallace's success with Infinite Jest is front and center, as is his mistrust of his subject's generosity and openness. (Wallace, in a mixture of Midwestern hospitality, genuine niceness, and strategy, accepted Lipsky as a house guest and driving partner during the last stages of his book tour.) Whenever Wallace says something complimentary to Lipsky, the interviewer makes a note: Flattery. Trying to win me to his side. Cagily implying that we're equals. Flirting. But it's Lipsky who is infatuated with Wallace, astonished by every flash of humor, each revelation of familiarity with cultural ephemera (the movie True Romance; Alanis Morissette). Lipsky, a New Yorker, is particularly fascinated by Wallace's Midwestern way of speaking. Intermittently, he transcribes in dialect, recording Wallace's "something" as "sumpin'" and "doesn't" as "dudn't." There are passages where Lipsky dutifully removes all the g's from the end of the -ing words. This is tiring and distracts from what Wallace is saying. One wonders how Lipsky would react if someone were always to record his pronunciation of his home town as "New Yawk," assuming he speaks that way.

This isn't the best introduction to the mind and thoughts of David Foster Wallace, which express themselves just as honestly and much more forcefully in his essays and in his Kenyon College commencement speech. Reading this book is like listening to a full-length recording of an opera; unless you already know the opera well, you're better off with a highlights disc. As a fan of Wallace, I frequently found myself irritated by the young Lipsky's suspicion and combativeness in the face of his host's generosity. Lipsky was acting as a good journalist, but as Janet Malcolm pointed out in her book about Joe McGinniss, being a journalist means a certain willingness to misrepresent oneself, and possibly to betray. The best part of this book was the afterword, which (for the first time, as far as I know), tells the story of Wallace's struggle against clinical depression and sets it in context with the rest of his life. The older Lipsky is fair, compassionate, and moving, and makes the powerful point that to file David Foster Wallace in the cubbyhole marked "tormented genius" is a mistake. For most of his life, his disease was well-managed. Certainly the Wallace who's revealed in these five days of conversation doesn't seem more troubled than one would expect of a sensitive person suddenly presented with the weirdness that is universal acclaim. That Lipsky remembers Wallace so fondly, and that Wallace, according to his friends, liked Lipsky in return, reflects well on the interviewer.
51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The boyish wonder 19 Mar 2010
By Adam Dukovich - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Probably the biggest question that you, someone who at least must have a passing interest in David Foster Wallace to be visiting this page, would like answered about this book is: does it deliver the goods? The book is billed as a conversation between the late David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone journalist and novelist. Is it worth reading? I would enthusiastically say yes, even if you haven't cracked Infinite Jest, or finished Consider The Lobster. It's pretty true that you can get a good sense of the sort of person Wallace is by reading his work, but the book gets across a lot of new detail and stuff I wasn't aware of. The conversation is frequently engrossing, and it covers incredibly diverse terrain, including Wallace's very complicated relationship with fame, his interesting thoughts about pop culture and the future of entertainment and books (which are actually pretty optimistic, considering the sheer tonnage of writerly sentiment about the end of civilization), as well as a lot of stuff about Infinite Jest, then brand new, and what he thought the main points of the book were, with some argumentation and elaboration with the author about them. There's a lot about Wallace's drug problems and depression in here, which cannot help but be more than a little sad. Wallace sincerely believed that people just can't ever be completely happy, that there's a restless part of us that can never be satisfied, and while that is a debatable notion I do think it turned out to be true in his case. Lipsky tactfully points out some hints of Wallace's future trajectory along the way, but one can kind of sense that despite the zeal that Wallace had for his work and for quite a bit of life, that the guy had a lot of issues and that writing never completely purged them.

Still, the point of the book isn't to pity Wallace. Through the conversation, Wallace comes across as the person one would expect him to: exuberant, highly intelligent, open, introspective, incredibly silly at times, but all in all a good guy and a real iconoclast. Lipsky makes the incredibly accurate observation that he had never lost touch childhood, and that definitely comes across in the book, as he is capable both of wild-eyed wonder and great anxiety. Just a great person to hang out with for a few hours. Lipsky keeps things moving briskly, and the book is a highly addictive read. I would seriously recommend the book if you're interested in DFW, or, you know, good books.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In response to the criticism of "gawking at genius" 28 Jun 2012
By A fellow with a keyboard - Published on
The most damaging -- but fair -- criticism I've heard about this book came from a 1-star reviewer who said, "When we hear there is a genius among us, we want to see what one looks like. No, we want to gawk at this genius, not unlike a Barnum bearded lady attraction."

The reviewer goes on to say that we only see the persona that DFW used to shield himself from adulation, but that we don't see his real self, and so we don't get any insight into the man or his writing. So beyond being reprehensible for genius-gawking, it's also worthless, the reviewer says.

I agree that there is some genius-gawking inherent in the book, and I even admit that that was part of my reason for getting the book, but to imply that the book is worthless I think is grossly wrong.

I thought there were a lot of valuables details about DFW. Putting them in bullet form won't do them justice, but here are examples:

* his feelings about Infinite Jest vs. the attention that accompanied it
* the way he talked so informally and candidly with Lipsky and even with random waitresses
* his struggles with women
* his fascination with shark statistics
* his dogs
* his smoking and his soda
* his Midwestern-ness
* the music he listened to while writing
* his crush on Alanis Morissette
* his veneration of his editor
* his fear of TV and addiction
* his moral seriousness
* his going out to dance at a predominantly black church
* the way he couldn't contain his curiosity, always turning questions and directing them back to Lipsky.

And it wasn't just a dry biosketch; I actually found parts of it quite moving.

I might even say that this is one of the most important books I've read, just because DFW was on a plane that was so "whole other" that having a richer understanding of who he is -- how he wrote, why he wrote, what his writing meant to him -- helped me see the magnitude of his writing in three dimensions.

DFW said, "There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is _what_ to worship."

DFW's writing is now -- largely thanks to this book -- one of the things I choose to worship. I will not read it on airplanes or around TVs, and I will not read it if I'm even slightly tired or irritable. I have too much respect for DFW to give him anything other than my full attention. Call it genius gawking if you want, but I think it's much more.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My big worry is that I won't enjoy this..." 17 Dec 2010
By Thomas Moody - Published on
Whole books have been written to analyze and understand the complex genius of David Foster Wallace. It's been said, to me, that to really understand Wallace's high octained writing, one must "get to know him" first. So, before undertaking the monolithic and labyrinthine work that marked his short career, Infinite Jest, I determined to "get to know" him as best I could. This work by Rolling Stone writer Lipsky, I've discovered, is a contemporary and important piece of the Wallace puzzle and provides, in a clear work of love and admiration, the motivation I was looking for. At times jumbled and misguided, Lipsky undertook an interview with Wallace in 1997 at the end of the Infinite Jest reading tour, recording their sometimes spacey conversations and feelings for use in a proposed article for the magazine. The article never was written as Lipsky was soon reassigned to "finding heroin addicts in Seattle", but he often went back over these tapes while following the slow downfall of this literary icon. After Wallace was found dead in September of 2008, a suicide that shocked the literary world, Lipsky determined then to go back to these heady days for solace. Realizing that a revelatory work was, in fact, in these transcripts, Lipsky shares them here, warts and all, for all Wallace fans, while adding details of Wallace's death that greatly add to the overall melancholy and sadness that Lipsky and others felt.

This work is at times very hard to read and understand as we get the full Wallace effect in an informal and hurried setting. Lipsky basically provides transcripts of these talks that covered 3 or 4 days in 1997, probing Wallace for deeper meaning on the importance and relevance that fiction writing plays in contemporary society. The answers Wallace provides show the mind and thought processes he went through to formulate cohesive observations, but are at times really fractured and incomplete. Lipsky, however, seems to recognize this as he then provides contemporary insights into these conversations which are meant to show the hyper character and uuber-intelligence that made up the Wallace icon.

In the end it's hard not to love Wallace and feel the total loss and affinity most held for him. Also, it's now clear to see how his life ended in such dramatic and tragic form. Showing an abounding care and absorption for seemingly all things in life, Wallace seemed to worry and stress about everything, even worrying about worrying. Couple this with the revelation that Wallace had been diagnosed as clinically depressed in 1989 and that the meds he took for this (Nardil, an older anti-depressant "tugging a boxcar of side effects") added somewhat to his overall demise, it is clear to me that suicide was certainly a possible outcome. What makes this book work is the knowledge of how it ends..."Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction."

"...Becoming Yourself" is a magnificent introduction into the world of David Wallace and contemporary literature. I would recommend this book, flaws and all, certainly to all his fans, but moreso, to all who would become fans. Read this and watch some of the revealing videos of Wallace on-line and, I'd challenge, you'll come on board also.
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