How to Prep for ‘The End of the Tour’: An Expert’s Guide to Everything David Foster Wallace


If you love David Foster Wallace (and like, who doesn’t, right?) you’ll know that a film about him, The End of the Tour, is about to hit theaters nationwide. Although, as a friend of mine recently complained, “casting Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace is like casting the guy from Modern Family as Vincent Van Gogh” — that is, visually similar but tonally incoherent — the film has gotten great early reviews, and Segel’s performance has been roundly celebrated. So why not spend the time between now and the film’s release getting super geeked out on DFW? After the jump, a sampling of what to read and watch before you see The End of the Tour — or just for a good ol’ literary time.

Read: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky

When geekily preparing to watch a film about a beloved writer, one must obviously begin with the source material — which in this case was not written by Wallace, but rather David Lipsky, a Rolling Stone reporter who interviewed the author over five days, and who, after Wallace’s death, turned that experience into a surprisingly riveting book.

Read: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Well, obviously, again: it’s Wallace’s masterpiece. But particularly because the film, like the book on which it is based, takes place at the end of Wallace’s massive tour promoting the book, so some knowledge of it — particularly its nuanced exploration of the meaning of entertainment and enjoyment — would be useful, not to mention generally mind-blowing. And, er, you better start now. Check out Infinite Summer for help.

Watch: Rereading David Foster Wallace

Required viewing for any Wallace nerd is this recording of a panel from the 2012 New Yorker Festival. D.T. Max, whose biography of Wallace had just come out, moderates a discussion with Mary Karr, Mark Costello, Deborah Treisman and Dana Spiotta. It’s worth watching for the complex energies swirling between these speakers alone (Max comes off looking like kind of a jerk). At the end, Karr reads part of a poem she wrote, addressed to Wallace after his suicide. I was in the audience for this; it made me cry. You might also read Karr’s Lit, which talks a bit about his place in her life.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, D.T. Max

Speaking of D.T. Max — jerk or not, he has written the only full-on biography of David Foster Wallace. You can’t really call yourself a Wallace Geek if you haven’t read it.

Read: “Federer as Religious Experience” (republished as “Federer Both Flesh and Not”), David Foster Wallace

In the aforementioned video, Wallace’s longtime friend Mark Costello explains “the Federer piece was the last time [Wallace’s] ass left the chair, as he used to put it… he no longer felt his butt in the chair; it was transcendent…[afterwards] he couldn’t write, and he couldn’t find another reason to stick around.” If this was his last great achievement, at least in his own mind, it’s certainly worth reading, whether you care about tennis or not.

Read: “Farther Away,” Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen had, to put it mildly, a complicated relationship with both David Foster Wallace and with his death. Some take this essay as raw and beautiful. Some take it as accusatory and ethically questionable. Read and decide for yourself.

Read: Wallace’s Fiction syllabus from Pomona College

Because it’s amazing (this is my favorite of the many Wallace syllabi floating around out there — you can, with a small amount of Googling, get yourself versed in quite a number of his classes). And because, like the other stuff on this list, it gives you something of an insider view into him. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up the books on his reading list. Just saying.

The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Wallace loved this book. And there’s no better way to understand a man who loves reading than to read the things he does. It’s like examining the seeds to learn about the plant.

Watch: “Calamity Song,” The Decemberists

Because Michael Schur is a bigger David Foster Wallace fan than you will ever be. When you watch this video, which dramatizes Eschaton, the famous war game played by the students of Infinite Jest‘s Enfield Tennis Academy, you’ll really wish that Schur would use those film rights. Also watch “Partridge,” the episode of Parks and Recreation loaded with Infinite Jest references.

Read: Bough Down, Karen Green

This beautiful little book, written by Wallace’s widow, is so many things: poem, collage, elegy, memoir, magic spell. It’s a lament that is also a love song. It’s a meditation on grief after the death of a loved one — grief that doesn’t exactly resolve, but just refracts, and at least in this book, is made beautiful.