April 30th, 2009 / 12:27 pm
Author Spotlight & Presses

DFW Praise Compendium

awallace_0929

At the height of my obsession with David Foster Wallace, garnered after reading ‘Infinite Jest’ over several weeks in 2001, an act which literally changed my life, I began going after any and every piece of writing not only of his, but that he had recommended, blurbed, mentioned in interviews, taught, etc. Many of these books also had a profound influence on my brain, including Gass’s ‘Omensetter’s Luck,’ McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ and ‘Suttree,’ Donald Barthelme, and countless others.

During this period I began constructing a list of these texts as I found them. The list, which I remember as being several pages long, is now likely floating somewhere in one of my many expired computers. I was able, though, to find at least what makes up part of the list in an old email folder, and as such it appears below.

I know this is not an exhaustive list at this point, and if I find a later draft of it I will repost: in the meantime, however, if you have any other knowledge of blurbs or etc. (and any that might have occurred later in his life, after I stopped making the list, will obviously be absent) please comment them. Where I could, I tried to include the actual blurbs and/or comments, and in other places just included the names of authors mentioned in passing or other ways.

(It likely should be noted that many of these refs came from the amazing and wonderful interview conducted with Wallace by Larry McCaffery for the Review of Contemporary Fiction, which if you have not yet, you should read.)

Also included is a Reading List from a class Wallace taught on postmodern fiction (I believe), which is a pretty fantastic collection of texts.

Incomplete list is after the break:


*******************

— Books Blurbed by DFW —

Desperate Characters – Paula Fox
* “A towering landmark of postwar Realism….A sustained work of prose so lucid and fine it seems less written than carved.”

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen

Jack – A.M. Homes
* “A moving novel, and a very refreshing one. Jack is such an engaging, attractive human being, it’s a pleasure to believe in him.”

Thirst – Ken Kalfus

Wittgenstein’s Mistress – David Markson
* “A work of genius . . . an erudite, breathtakingly cerebral novel whose prose is crystal and whose voice rivets and whose conclusion defies you not to cry.”
* “’W’s M’ is a dramatic rendering of what it would be like to live in the sort of universe described by logical atomism. A monologue, formally very odd, mostly one-sentence ¶s. Tied with “Omensetter’s Luck” for the all-time best U.S. book about human loneliness. These wouldn’t constitute ringing endorsements if they didn’t happen all to be simultaneously true — i.e., that a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.”

How to Breathe Underwater: Stories – Julie Orringer

Tourmaline – Joanna Scott
* “the absolute cream of her generation”

The Acid House – Irvine Welsh
Dogwalker – Arthur Bradford
Big If – Mark Costello
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

The Middle Mind – Curtis White
* “Cogent, acute, beautiful, merciless, and true.”

??
Susanna Moore
William T. Vollmann

dfw

— Books Recommended by DFW in Conversation —

Halls of Fame: Essay – John D’agata
The Lost Scrapbook – Evan Dara

Omensetter’s Luck – William H. Gass
* “Gass’ first novel, and his least avant-gardeish, and his best. Basically a religious book. Very sad. Contains the immortal line “The body of Our Saviour shat but Our Saviour shat not.” Bleak but gorgeous, like light through ice.”

Angels – Denis Johnson
* “This was Johnson’s first fiction after the horripilative lyric poetry of “Incognito Lounge.” Even cult fans of “Jesus’ Son” often haven’t heard of “Angels.” It’s sort of “Jesus’ Son’s” counterpoint, a novel-length odyssey of mopes and scrotes and their brutal redemptions. A totally American book, it’s also got great prose, truly great, some of the ’80s’ best; e.g. lines like ‘All around them men drank alone, staring out of their faces.’”

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce

Steps – Jerry Kosinski
* “This won some big prize or other when it first came out, but today nobody seems to remember it. “Steps” gets called a novel but it is really a collection of unbelievably creepy little allegorical tableaux done in a terse elegant voice that’s like nothing else anywhere ever. Only Kafka’s fragments get anywhere close to where Kosinski goes in this book, which is better than everything else he ever did combined.”

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
* “Don’t even ask.”

Suttree – Cormac McCarthy

There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning to Do – Michael Ondaatje

The Shawl – Cynthia Ozick

Donald Barthelme (esp. The Balloon)
A.S. Byatt
Robert Coover
J. Cortazar
Don Delillo
Mary Karr
Phillip Larkin
Manuel Puig
George Saunders
William T. Vollmann

DFW’s Syllabus Texts

Speedboat – Renata Adler
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
In Watermelon Sugar – Richard Brautigan
Play It as It Lays – Joan Didion
Desperate Characters – Paula Fox
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
The Man Who Loved Children – Christina Stead

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140 Comments

  1. Brooks

      DFW:
      OK. Historically the stuff that’s sort of rung my cherries: Socrates’ funeral oration, the poetry of John Donne, the poetry of Richard Crashaw, every once in a while Shakespeare, although not all that often, Keats’ shorter stuff, Schopenhauer, Descartes’ [David Foster Wallace’s Bookbag] “Meditations on First Philosophy” and “Discourse on Method,” Kant’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic,” although the translations are all terrible, William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus,” Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Hemingway — particularly the ital stuff in “In Our Time,” where you just go oomph!, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick — the stories, especially one called “Levitations,” about 25 percent of the time Pynchon. Donald Barthelme, especially a story called “The Balloon,” which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver’s best stuff — the really famous stuff. Steinbeck when he’s not beating his drum, 35 percent of Stephen Crane, “Moby-Dick,” “The Great Gatsby.”

      And, my God, there’s poetry. Probably Phillip Larkin more than anyone else, Louise Gl&uumlck, Auden.

      What about colleagues?

      There’s the whole “great white male” deal. I think there are about five of us under 40 who are white and over 6 feet and wear glasses. There’s Richard Powers who lives only about 45 minutes away from me and who I’ve met all of once. William Vollman, Jonathan Franzen, Donald Antrim, Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody. The person I’m highest on right now is George Saunders, whose book “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” just came out, and is well worth a great deal of attention. A.M. Homes: her longer stuff I don’t think is perfect, but every few pages there’s something that just doubles you over. Kathryn Harrison, Mary Karr, who’s best known for “The Liar’s Club” but is also a poet and I think the best female poet under 50. A woman named Cris Mazza. Rikki Ducornet, Carole Maso. Carole Maso’s “Ava” is just — a friend of mine read it and said it gave him an erection of the heart.

  2. Brooks

      DFW:
      OK. Historically the stuff that’s sort of rung my cherries: Socrates’ funeral oration, the poetry of John Donne, the poetry of Richard Crashaw, every once in a while Shakespeare, although not all that often, Keats’ shorter stuff, Schopenhauer, Descartes’ [David Foster Wallace’s Bookbag] “Meditations on First Philosophy” and “Discourse on Method,” Kant’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic,” although the translations are all terrible, William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus,” Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Hemingway — particularly the ital stuff in “In Our Time,” where you just go oomph!, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick — the stories, especially one called “Levitations,” about 25 percent of the time Pynchon. Donald Barthelme, especially a story called “The Balloon,” which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver’s best stuff — the really famous stuff. Steinbeck when he’s not beating his drum, 35 percent of Stephen Crane, “Moby-Dick,” “The Great Gatsby.”

      And, my God, there’s poetry. Probably Phillip Larkin more than anyone else, Louise Gl&uumlck, Auden.

      What about colleagues?

      There’s the whole “great white male” deal. I think there are about five of us under 40 who are white and over 6 feet and wear glasses. There’s Richard Powers who lives only about 45 minutes away from me and who I’ve met all of once. William Vollman, Jonathan Franzen, Donald Antrim, Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody. The person I’m highest on right now is George Saunders, whose book “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” just came out, and is well worth a great deal of attention. A.M. Homes: her longer stuff I don’t think is perfect, but every few pages there’s something that just doubles you over. Kathryn Harrison, Mary Karr, who’s best known for “The Liar’s Club” but is also a poet and I think the best female poet under 50. A woman named Cris Mazza. Rikki Ducornet, Carole Maso. Carole Maso’s “Ava” is just — a friend of mine read it and said it gave him an erection of the heart.

  3. Brooks

      DFW:
      OK. Historically the stuff that’s sort of rung my cherries: Socrates’ funeral oration, the poetry of John Donne, the poetry of Richard Crashaw, every once in a while Shakespeare, although not all that often, Keats’ shorter stuff, Schopenhauer, Descartes’ [David Foster Wallace’s Bookbag] “Meditations on First Philosophy” and “Discourse on Method,” Kant’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic,” although the translations are all terrible, William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus,” Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Hemingway — particularly the ital stuff in “In Our Time,” where you just go oomph!, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick — the stories, especially one called “Levitations,” about 25 percent of the time Pynchon. Donald Barthelme, especially a story called “The Balloon,” which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver’s best stuff — the really famous stuff. Steinbeck when he’s not beating his drum, 35 percent of Stephen Crane, “Moby-Dick,” “The Great Gatsby.”

      And, my God, there’s poetry. Probably Phillip Larkin more than anyone else, Louise Gl&uumlck, Auden.

      What about colleagues?

      There’s the whole “great white male” deal. I think there are about five of us under 40 who are white and over 6 feet and wear glasses. There’s Richard Powers who lives only about 45 minutes away from me and who I’ve met all of once. William Vollman, Jonathan Franzen, Donald Antrim, Jeffrey Eugenides, Rick Moody. The person I’m highest on right now is George Saunders, whose book “Civilwarland in Bad Decline” just came out, and is well worth a great deal of attention. A.M. Homes: her longer stuff I don’t think is perfect, but every few pages there’s something that just doubles you over. Kathryn Harrison, Mary Karr, who’s best known for “The Liar’s Club” but is also a poet and I think the best female poet under 50. A woman named Cris Mazza. Rikki Ducornet, Carole Maso. Carole Maso’s “Ava” is just — a friend of mine read it and said it gave him an erection of the heart.

  4. Brooks

      you’re welcome

  5. Brooks

      you’re welcome

  6. Brooks

      you’re welcome

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  8. Jonny Ross

      re: Blood Meridian, “Don’t even ask.”

      yes!

  9. Jonny Ross

      re: Blood Meridian, “Don’t even ask.”

      yes!

  10. Jonny Ross

      re: Blood Meridian, “Don’t even ask.”

      yes!

  11. Jonny Ross

      wait, i mean, exactly

  12. Jonny Ross

      wait, i mean, exactly

  13. Jonny Ross

      wait, i mean, exactly

  14. Bobo

      He’s namedropped Pauline Kael as one of his favorite writers on more than one occasion, can’t remember the where/when. If I remember correctly, the gist of his praise was that she was really underappreciated not as a critic but as an amazing writer.

  15. Bobo

      He’s namedropped Pauline Kael as one of his favorite writers on more than one occasion, can’t remember the where/when. If I remember correctly, the gist of his praise was that she was really underappreciated not as a critic but as an amazing writer.

  16. Bobo

      He’s namedropped Pauline Kael as one of his favorite writers on more than one occasion, can’t remember the where/when. If I remember correctly, the gist of his praise was that she was really underappreciated not as a critic but as an amazing writer.

  17. MarcoKaye

      He also blurbed for “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World” by Lewis Hyde.

      DFW’s quote: “No one who is invested in any kind of art can read ‘The Gift’ and remain unchanged.”

  18. MarcoKaye

      He also blurbed for “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World” by Lewis Hyde.

      DFW’s quote: “No one who is invested in any kind of art can read ‘The Gift’ and remain unchanged.”

  19. MarcoKaye

      He also blurbed for “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World” by Lewis Hyde.

      DFW’s quote: “No one who is invested in any kind of art can read ‘The Gift’ and remain unchanged.”

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  21. Patrick

      You left out the books from this syllabus:
      http://comp.uark.edu/~ccarera/DFW_Syllabus.pdf

      The books are:
      J.M. Coetzee (apparently pronounced something like COAT-see-UH) Waiting for the Barbarians
      Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs
      Matthea Harvey, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of Human Form
      Tony Hoagland, What Narcissism Means to Me

  22. Patrick

      You left out the books from this syllabus:
      http://comp.uark.edu/~ccarera/DFW_Syllabus.pdf

      The books are:
      J.M. Coetzee (apparently pronounced something like COAT-see-UH) Waiting for the Barbarians
      Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs
      Matthea Harvey, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of Human Form
      Tony Hoagland, What Narcissism Means to Me

  23. Patrick

      You left out the books from this syllabus:
      http://comp.uark.edu/~ccarera/DFW_Syllabus.pdf

      The books are:
      J.M. Coetzee (apparently pronounced something like COAT-see-UH) Waiting for the Barbarians
      Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs
      Matthea Harvey, Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of Human Form
      Tony Hoagland, What Narcissism Means to Me

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  25. Sam Thielman

      Also worth nothing, on “The Best of PG Wodehouse” from the Modern Library:
      “Pricelessly funny and mean.”

  26. Sam Thielman

      Also worth nothing, on “The Best of PG Wodehouse” from the Modern Library:
      “Pricelessly funny and mean.”

  27. Sam Thielman

      Also worth nothing, on “The Best of PG Wodehouse” from the Modern Library:
      “Pricelessly funny and mean.”

  28. Mattbucher

      A blurb he gave for Antonya Nelson (his classmate at Arizona):
      “I have been a Toni fan ever since I read a story of hers called ‘The Salad’ on my second or third day of graduate school. I read her newest collection so fast the pages are singed.”

      Another Antonya Nelson blurb:
      “Perfect…very strong, very fine, funny, dark, and smart. Antonya Nelson has clearly transcended the writer-to-watch stage: she’s a writer to be enjoyed and learned from, now.”

      A blurb for a best of PG Wodehouse anthology:
      “Timelessly funny and mean.”

      A blurb for Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World:
      “Hyde is one of our true superstars of nonfiction.”

      A blurb for Storytown by Susan Daitch:
      “This is an important collection by one of the most intelligent and attentive writers at work in the U.S. today”

      A blurb for Colin Harrison’s (his editor at Harpers) Manhattan Nocturne:
      “Totally enjoyable on all levels–the best piece of postmodern noir since James Ellroy’s “Big Nowhere”.

      I believe he also blurbed Leyner’s My Cousin My Gastroenterologist (before dismantling it in E Unibus Pluram).

  29. jpicco

      Didn’t he recommend Mark Leyner somewhere? Possibly in one of the Supposedly Fun Thing… essays?

  30. jpicco

      Actually, maybe he was more critical of Leyner and more flattering toward Pynchon and Barth.

  31. GiovanniGF
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  34. Dave

      How/where/when exactly did he mention Evan Dara?

  35. A D Jameson

      He often spoke well of it at ISU.

  36. A D Jameson

      The impression I always got was that DFW—and a lot of other people—were pretty keen on Leyner in the 80s, then gradually cooled on him throughout the 90s.

      Lots of forgotten recent literary history in this NY Times article.

      Also relevant?

  37. A D Jameson

      He often spoke well of it at ISU—a lot of folks there did. The first time I visited Dalkey, Greg Howard told me to read it, so I asked for a copy when I went downstairs to FC2’s office. (At that time, Dalkey and FC2 were housed in the same building, if you can believe it.) Curt White has also always spoken highly of it; I believe he was one of the ones who got it published, though I never knew the full story. (Apparently Evan Dara is a pseudonym? But don’t quote me on that.)

      Speaking of Curt, The Middle Mind, very worth reading.

  38. A D Jameson

      Fucking Disqus. First my original comment disappeared, now it’s here twice.

  39. mimi

      that’s Disqus-ting! no wunder you sound rattled

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