NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

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JOHN POWERS: Writers love to grumble about the popularity of self-help books, yet they, like everyone else, are always looking for someone who will teach them how to live. Just think of all those guys who learned their masculinity from Hemingway or those classy-sounding books with titles like How Proust Can Change Your Life or How To Live: A Life of Montaigne. One who seemed to know life’s secret was David Foster Wallace, whose suicide, oddly enough, only enhanced his stature as a sage. Whether or not he was the most important American writer of his era, he’s the one who inspired the deepest affection in life and who, in death, has come to be seen as something of a literary saint. Even those who don’t actually like his writing like the idea of him — enough so that publishers keep releasing posthumous books. The latest is The Pale King, an unfinished novel about the IRS, boredom and the mind-killing horror of bureaucracy. Skilfully stitched together by Wallace’s editor, the novel has some superb sections — for instance, there’s a tenderly observant story about two young Christians dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Then again, some parts are so dull we assume that, had he lived, he surely would have cut or improved them. It’s a reasonable assumption. Wallace was an amazing writer whose head was exploding with perceptions, ideas, facts — and doubts about those perceptions, ideas and facts, which is why his writing is thicketed with brainy, sometimes hilarious footnotes. Reading him, you feel engaged with a mind that’s engaged with the fundamental question of the modern condition — how to be sane and compassionate in the face of daily life’s often overwhelming craziness. That’s the explicit theme of This Is Water, the text of his acclaimed 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, a small classic of American literature that actually is a kind of self-help book. MORE

SLATE: Most writers are forgotten by the time they’re laid to rest; some lucky ones, in time, claw their way back from down below and don the lonely PaleKing.jpgrobes of literary sainthood. David Foster Wallace, who hanged himself with a belt nearly three years ago, has spent life after death drawing parade crowds on a fast path to beatification. Since Wallace’s suicide at 46, his public star has climbed so high that recent publication of his book-in-progress, The Pale King, threatens to eclipse even Nabokov’s unfinished novel. DFW fans have performed literary acts of faith en masse, in public, and in ever-growing congregations. Two years back, a Web book club called Infinite Summer took on Wallace’s 1,000-plus-page second novel. His newest book, which has no clear ending, has been abridged and read out loud onstage. Wallace archives abound; he has published more volumes since dying than during any two-and-a-half-year stretch of his life. DFW never lacked an eager audience, but he cautioned against playing to the expectations of a literary following. In death, he’s been transformed into the kind of writer that, in life, he would have found deeply suspicious. MORE

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