In 1996, writer David Lipsky spent five days with David Foster Wallace at the tail end of the book tour for his critical and commercial literary sensation “Infinite Jest” for a profile in Rolling Stone.
Twelve years later, Lipsky was asked by Rolling Stone magazine to profile Wallace under much different circumstances: Wallace had committed suicide weeks before. While writing the article, Lipsky uncovered the tapes from his interview, the transcripts of which would make up his newest book on Wallace, “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.”
The Daily Texan spoke with Lipsky about Wallace, the formation of this book and literature’s place today.
The Daily Texan: Your latest book is “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace,” which was released after you wrote a feature after his death in Rolling Stone. So what brought about this book?
David Lipsky: [In the Rolling stone piece] I really wanted to describe why he was alive and I think that is why I released this book. It’s like watching the best of the minds at work. And what his writing is like is like a primer for how to be alive. And so it was very hard that this mind had died the way it did. So I thought the best way to tell his story kind of was for him to tell the story himself. He and I had spent five days traveling around when his book “Infinite Jest” came out. And when I started reading it to do the piece about him in Rolling Stone, it was just clear that this was the best way for the reader to spend time with him, not to have to have a biography where you have to cut to have what other people thought about him. Also, his company for me is very much like his writing: incredibly charming, brilliantly smart and incredibly alive.
DT: Was this interview your last contact with David Foster Wallace?
DL: I actually had one more contact with Wallace. He’s great to be around and I clearly didn’t want to leave. At the end of the book, it’s me trying to find reasons to stay in his house, like I’m reporting what’s in his garage, I’m reporting what’s in his living room. And I clearly didn’t want to go home, but I clearly wanted to leave a foot in his world because a week or two after I came home, I got this big package in the mail and I recognized his return address. I wondered if he’s sending me some great book he wants me to read, or if there’s some terrific thing in there that has to do with him being a writer. And what was in there was my shoe. I left behind one of my loafers. I lift this thing up and there’s my giant size 12 loafer with a little note written on Chicago Bears stationary, and he’d written “Yours I presume?” and he’d drawn a smiley face under it. And that’s the last I heard from him.
DT: Speaking in broader terms, do you think there can still be a capacity for a book like “Infinite Jest,” a book that touches the culture and changes the cultural direction?
DL: Well, it’s an interesting question. I think that there are different kinds of books. The books Stephanie Meyer wrote about Bella and Edward — those have changed certain things. I think that there are a number of ways books can change a culture. It can change the direction of entertainment. Entertainment is this big ocean liner that’s just great to be on and that we move on kind of slowly. Every so often, something comes along that jolts it and makes it move along in a different direction. But yeah, I do think that the way books do it is slower. I think that books suggest to people ways to look at their own lives. They’re more private than movies or TV. They change the way we experience of our lives.