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Considering Wallace: celebrating David Foster Wallace on his birthday

in Nonfiction by

Wondering what all the fuss is about, a reader new to the work of David Foster Wallace might wonder if the latest collection of essays by the author—Both Flesh and Not, now out in paperback—is a good place to start. Wallace (1962-2008) was lucky enough to have commercial and critical success both in his chosen field (fiction) and, shortly thereafter, as a nonfiction gun-for-hire. There are common themes and preoccupations in the fiction and the essays: tennis, precocity, the rewards and pitfalls of entertainment, mathematics, philosophy, etc. One of the reasons for this genre-porousness is Wallace’s earnest style. Discussions of the philosophical underpinnings of, say, children toiling at pro-level sports come across similarly in both his fiction and essays on the…

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