R.I.P. David Foster Wallace

Today David Foster Wallace would have been 49. I feel a certain connection to him, maybe because we were born the same year and he taught at my alma mater, Pomona College.

It’s tragic that, unable to overcome his depression, he ended his life, depriving his wife of her husband, his students of a great teacher, and of course the literary world of a master writer. And I can’t help thinking that he robbed himself of a future, one that he couldn’t foresee or even conceive of perhaps. I don’t know the specifics of his mental health history—what he tried and didn’t work—and I don’t know for sure that one day he could have lived happily. Although he never wrote about his own depression, it was clear he was well acquainted with it throughout his life.

In his short story “The Depressed Person,” he wrote,

Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic)…None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person’s every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth.
 
I know depression. I know coming to a realization that you can’t imagine going on if it’s always going to feel like this. I understand making a decision—based on all the evidence you have and the life you’ve lived—to end the suffering. But I also know that it’s possible to come out the other side and not only manage but thrive and achieve happiness. I am lucky to have people who love and support me, and I was fortunate that I was able to find the right medication quickly.
 
Maybe I have a touch of survivor’s guilt.

So, David, I am so sorry you were not able to celebrate your birthday today. You continue to be missed.

Read more about David Foster Wallace at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max#ixzz1EczGnozv

there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all these blogs!

there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all these blogs!

Freshly Pressed: Subscribe The best of 399,162 bloggers, 454,793 new posts, 321,464 comments, & 81,782,634 words posted today on WordPress.com.

This is a typical set of huge numbers on the WordPress home site. Here’s another huge number: 900,000—that’s the number of sign-ups WordPress has every month! How is this even possible? I read this in James Huff’s post (http://weblogtoolscollection.com/archives/2010/12/01/wordpress-com-users-increase-drastically-in-wake-of-live-spaces-migration/), which I got to via the blog I’d Rather Be Writing (http://idratherbewriting.com/2011/02/07/the-problem-of-free/), which was mentioned in Nathan Bransford’s blog, which I subscribe to ( http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/02/this-week-in-books).

Then it occurred to me—duh—if my post for a day is 450 words, and there are 81,782,634 words to be read that day just on WordPress blogs, what are the chances that someone will read my humble thoughts on the world? (Well, about 1 in 454,793, actually.)

Which is enough to make me turn off my computer and give up. But then I think about the two people who signed up for my blog last week, and I have a twinge of writer’s hope, which is what I call that unrealistic but necessary feeling that writers must experience occasionally or else throw in the literary towel.

So there are a lot of words, posts, blogs, and even books out there competing for readers, but nobody will read my words if I don’t write any.

Finally—the answers to First Lines, part two!

I realize that I wrote at the end of my post “First Lines, Part two” that I’d give the answers in the next post. And then I got all distracted, first by Valentine’s Day and then by the Post-a-week challenge. So I apologize. Congrats to John Bennett, who got most of them correct and put them in the comments section. (See, if you just thought the correct answers, you get no credit.) Here are the answers:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

 It’s one of my favorites: J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

No, it wasn’t a trick question as someone thought. Virginia Woolf’, Mrs. Dalloway

 

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Okay, I’m willing to admit I’ve never read this book, but I love reading the Bulwer-Lytton contest winners every year, so I had to include it. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford

 

Mother died today.

Not to brag, but I read this one in the original French! Albert Camus, The Stranger (or L’étranger).

 

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

All this happened, more or less.

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

 

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

 

It was love at first sight.

I have to admit that I read and loved this book but had not remembered that this was its first line. Joseph Heller, Catch-22

 

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.

This book has a much better beginning than ending. I admire and revere David Foster Wallace, but the ending of this book actually made me angry. And it’s not just that I’m jealous that he wrote this in college…David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Okay, if you didn’t get this one, I’d be surprised. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Or if you’re referring to the U.K.  edition, as John pointed out, it would be Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.)

I’m taking the 2011 post-a-week challenge!

Okay, I know if I were really committed, I would have taken the post-a-day challenge, but I would feel bad if I missed even one day. And I know I’d miss at least one day. But once a week I can do. Once a week I can make a real commitment.

I’m signing up for The DailyPost, and I hope to connect with other bloggers to help me along the way. If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way. If this is your first visit to For Words, please check out some of my posts and leave me a link to yours so I can check yours out too.

Thanks!

Tanya Grove, a writer for children of all ages, a book enthusiast, and a grammar geek/word nerd. (Or a word warrior when I’m feeling confident!)

Accidental epiphany on Valentine’s Day

I was doing the Decodaquote this morning, as usual, and it was taking a little more time than it usually does. Then I realized that it was Valentine’s Day, which made me think that the word “love” was probably in there somewhere. Once I found love, the rest was easy, and it all fell into place. And I thought: how true–once you find love, everything is easier, and life does more or less fall into place!

First lines, Part 2

Okay, I promised to reveal the book titles that go with the first lines I posted a few days ago.

Call me Ishmael. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour /Draws on apace. Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmen

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

But it was so much fun, I thought I’d do another round, and this time make it a little harder. So try these:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Mother died today.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

All this happened, more or less.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

It was love at first sight.

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Answers will be in next post. But give it a try—nobody could get them all…

What’s in a first line?

Alice in WonderlandAlice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

This is a perfect opening to a book that promises adventure, including of course, conversations.

Some first lines grab the reader and set the mood for the whole book. The really great openings stay with you.

At a recent press conference, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele answered the question, “What is your favorite book?” with the classic War and Peace, by Tolstoy. My guess is that Steele wanted to appear well read by choosing a respectable and critically acclaimed novel, when in fact he hadn’t read it. And he might have fooled his audience if he hadn’t then curiously paraphrased the opening of Dickens’s A Tale of  Two Cities: “The best of times…the worst of times.” Later, he claimed he was just joking around, and “free associating.” Watch and decide for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGHmpuCDLsQ

Although Steele misattributed the quote, as well as change the wording from the original, he did remember (parts of) one of literature’s most famous first lines.

So I leave you with a few first lines to see if you recognize them. (No fair looking them up!) Answers will be in my next post. Good luck!

Call me Ishmael.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour /Draws on apace.

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

How many people would read a book about publishing a book? (Part 2)

So I’m going along in the book, curious to see how this Stephen Markley fellow will end this book about publishing that same book, when I reach the montage section of the book. I didn’t like it. 

Now, it’s clearly marked—”A Narrative-Advancing Montage”—so it’s not like I wasn’t warned. But it comes on page 389, so the author knows that if I’m still reading at this point that I probably trust him as a storyteller, or I at least find his style entertaining enough not to put down the book. So pulling a fast one on me at this point feels like it’s either 1) a bit of a cop-out because he needs to get something across but is already over his page limit, or 2) borderline lazy because he’s getting sick of writing this book and needs to get to the end already. Either way, I’m not fond of reading four pages in italic type. It strains my eyes. And my patience.

Luckily, I’m open-minded, so I continued beyond the annoying four-page montage. And I’m glad I did because if I had put the book down then, I would never have read the Larry Bird anecdote. Which is really quite funny and I enjoyed immensely. Even though I had to read another page in italic type.

Then I get to page 412—the Sarah section. I had almost shut the book for the night, but figured I’d read a little more. The thing is, once you start reading Sarah’s story, you can’t stop in the middle. And the other thing is, you don’t want to be caught somewhere without a box of tissue because here’s where Mr. Markley’s premature memoir totally pulls the rug out from under you. It’s clear from the back flap copy that this is a funny book, a light book—one might almost call it “beach reading.” But I pity the person who blithely takes this book along on a carefree day of fun at the seashore, and then that person reaches the Sarah section having had no warning. Because I defy anyone to read the Sarah section without crying, and nobody likes to cry at the beach where you get sand in your eyes when you try to wipe away your tears.

But you get a chance to laugh again because following the Sarah section is chapter 23, “This Book, Published,” and the epilogue, The Wrap-Up.” And you find out that getting a chance to laugh again is kind of the whole point. Somehow Markley is able to pull these loose ends and wild digressions and even Larry Bird all together and make it work. (Except the montage—he could drop the montage and nobody would miss it.)

So even though it’s got a certain amount of humor that I generally relegate to boys—and by boys, I mean most males from 10 to 90—the book’s got heart, and it’s funny.

And really, outside The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Modern Family, there aren’t that many things that can claim both.

How many people would read a book about someone publishing a book?

Publish This Book, a (premature) memoir by Stephen MarkleyI’m in the middle of reading Stephen Markley’s Publish This Book,* which is sort of a memoir of a twenty-something who is trying to get a book published. But not just any book—he’s writing a book about publishing that very book.

Which naturally brings up the question: what is in the book before it gets published if the book is about the book itself getting published?

Once you wrap your mind around the semantics of such a thing and actually consider the possibility, the answer is: a lot. Because what goes into a book before it’s published is 1) the idea, 2) the second-guessing of the idea, 3) the workshopping of the idea, 4) the random stuff that happens along the way of working on said idea, and finally 5) the diving into the idea and never looking back, except for the few instances when the author looks back.  

But looking back provides the history and back story for the current book being written. And face it, looking back is par for the course for many writers whether they are attempting to nail a high-concept book, getting drunk with an old lover, or both.

As mind-twisting and self-conscious as this concept is, I wondered as I began reading it if it could sustain my interest once the novelty of it all wore off. But so far, it’s working. I’ll write part two of this blog when I finish the book.

*Actually the full title is Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold and Published This Very Book.