Hi there! I always enjoy the David Foster Wallace quotes you post, yet I've never read anything of his other than his This Is Water speech. I'm not sure where to start. What would you recommend for a DFW newbie? A novel, essays, short stories? I'd love your thoughts. — Asked by recycledsoul

Depending on how brave you are, I would suggest just diving in to Infinite Jest, but one of his short story collections would be easier. I also really love his non-fiction collections, especially Consider the Lobster.

Maybe it’s not metaphysics. Maybe it’s existential. I’m talking about the individual US citizen’s deep fear, the same basic fear that you and I have and that everybody has except nobody ever talks about it except existentialists in convoluted French prose. Or Pascal. Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we’ve lost one more day that will never come back and our childhoods are over and our adolescence and the vigor of youth and soon our adulthood, that everything we see around us all the time is decaying and passing, it’s all passing away, and so are we, so am I, and given how fast the first forty-two years have shot by it’s not going to be long before I too pass away, whoever imagined that there was a more truthful way to put it than “die,” “pass away,” the very sound of it makes me feel the way I feel at dusk on a wintry Sunday—… And not only that, but everybody who knows me or even knows I exist will die, and then everybody who knows those people and might even conceivably have even heard of me will die, and so on, and the gravestones and monuments we spend money to have pour in to make sure we’re remembered, these’ll last what— a hundred years? two hundred?— and they’ll crumble, and the grass and insects my decomposition will go to feed will die, and their offspring, or if I’m cremated the trees that are nourished by my windblown ash will die or get cut down and decay, and my urn will decay, and that before maybe three of four generations it will be like I never existed, not only will I have passed away but it will be like I was never here, and people in 2104 or whatever will no more think of Stuart A. Nichols Jr. than you or I think of John T. Smith, 1790 to 1864, of Livingston, Virginia, or some such. That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we’re all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine, in fact, probably that’s why the manic US obsession with production, produce, produce, impact the world, contribute, shape things, to help distract us from how little and totally insignificant and temporary we are… The post-production capitalist has something to do with the death of civics. But so does fear of smallness and death and everything being on fire.
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

I get it. I didn’t blink at first when I read Keim’s words. I smile instinctively when I see a hit. The pirates of Seattle’s secondary routinely amaze me. I have come to love a good road-grading offensive line. I see it and I respond to football instinctively. I feel it. It taps into some dark and thrilling part of me, the sight of those magnificent athletes trying to make contact or elude it. I wish I could say that feeling is harmless, that it allows for a release of my most dangerous instincts without putting me in contact with actual danger, that it allows me to desire dominance without turning me into some kind of would-be dictator. Watching football connects me to friends and to strangers. It helps me lose myself in something bigger, something almost transcendent. It reminds me of my father, and of afternoons spent outside in the backyard learning to throw a spiral. The acrobatics of the best make me catch my breath in awe. It is just so much fun to watch.

I wish I could say that it is a substitute for violence, that it releases and diffuses that domineering, competitive instinct latent in human nature, and leaves us with some measure of self-respect — some awareness of courage and strength. But I think I’m lying to myself. Because when I’m honest, I can see that within the culture of football, as a woman, I’m not respected. The women I see are cheerleaders, sideline reporters, WAGs. I hear men talk, and I know that when they use the word “girl,” it’s shorthand for something weak.

Tickets are expensive. It’s hard to draft that novel, hard to get the band together, hard to learn how to shoot a movie. Tickets are expensive, especially the risky ones, but they’re infinitely worth buying. So buy a ticket, buy a ticket, buy one.
Mark Edmundson, “Glorious Failure”
We go through our lives building up understanding and wisdom, accumulating knowledge and experience. And that’s great. But the real question is, What are we going to do with it?… In the end, life isn’t about potential – it’s about realization. It’s not about accumulating power and choice: it’s about what you do with your power, and how you live with the choices you’ve made. One day we each have to stop thinking about who we’re going to be and face up to who we are.
Strongly spent is synonymous with kept.
Robert Frost
TAFT
GET IN HERE THIS INSTANT
THE BOYS IN THE WAR DEPARTMENT ARE LETTING ME USE THEM TO RECREATE THE BATTLE OF SAN JUAN HILL
AND WE NEED YOU TO PLAY SAN JUAN HILL

Dirtbag Teddy Roosevelt

I love history jokes the most.

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see; but it was the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: ‘This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here.’
But deafened him with thunder and confused with lightning:
—The maniac hero hunting like a jewel
The rare ambiguous monster that had maimed his sex,
The unexplained survivor breaking off the nightmare—
All that was intricate and false; the truth was simple.

Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats at our own table,
And we are introduced to Goodness every day.
Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults;
he has a name like Billy and is almost perfect
But wears a stammer like a decoration:
And every time they meet the same thing has to happen;
It is the Evil that is helpless like a lover
And has to pick a quarrel and succeeds,
And both are openly destroyed before our eyes.

For now he was awake and knew
No one is ever spared except in dreams;
But there was something else the nightmare had distorted—
Even the punishment was human and a form of love:
The howling storm had been his father’s presence
And all the time he had been carried on his father’s breast.

Who now had set him gently down and left him.
He stood upon the narrow balcony and listened:
And all the stars above him sang as in his childhood
‘All, all is vanity,’ but it was not the same;
For now the words descended like the calm of mountains—
—Nathaniel had been shy because his love was selfish—
But now he cried in exultation and surrender
‘The Godhead is broken like bread. We are the pieces.’
And sat down at his desk and wrote a story.

W.H. Auden, “Herman Melville”

Filed under: poems that wreck me

smithsonianlibraries:

About a year ago, we posted a gif of hover whales. This, however, was our original creation—at the time too big for Tumblr but now able to be posted.
from Suggestions to the keepers of the U.S. life-saving stations, light-houses, and light-ships; and to other observers, relative to the best means of collecting and preserving specimens of whales and porpoises. By Frederick W. True.
All those fall afternoons were the same, but I never got used to them. As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of the day. The blond cornfields were red gold, the haystacks turned rosy and threw long shadows. The whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed. That hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero’s death - heroes who died young and gloriously. It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of day.
Willa Cather, My Antonia
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