Log out
My profile and settings
My bookmarks
Comment history
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
today
This verification token has expired.
today
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
today
Your account has been deactivated. Sign in to re-activate your account.
today
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
today
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
today
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
today
0
0
Back to profile
Comment Items
You have not left any comments yet.
title
in reply to
name
description
Saved Posts
You haven’t bookmarked any posts yet.
“Limbitless is working to change the way the world thinks about artificial limbs.”
learn more
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Sign up
Personal Information
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Cancel
Save
Address
Cancel
Save
Email and Notification Settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Send me Gates Notes survey emails
On
Off
Send me the weekly Top of Mind newsletter
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Interests
Select interests to personalize your profile and experience on Gates Notes.
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Account Deactivation
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process.
If you would like to permanently delete your Gates Notes account and remove it’s content, please send us a request here.
Infinite Genius
A literary master serves up a winner
I loved this book on tennis as much for the writing as its insights into my favorite sport.
|
0

When it comes to books, it’s pretty rare that I get intimidated. I read all kinds of books, including ones that only the harshest college professors would assign. And yet I must admit that for many years I steered clear of anything by David Foster Wallace. I often heard super literate friends talking in glowing terms about his books and essays. I even put a copy of his tour de force Infinite Jest on my nightstand at one point, but I just never got around to reading it.

I’m happy to report that has now changed. It started last year when I watched “The End of the Tour,” a great movie with Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg that takes place when Wallace was on the road somewhat reluctantly promoting Infinite Jest. The movie made Wallace seem so damn interesting, and it really humanized him for me. In addition to shedding light on the nature of his literary genius, it also foreshadows the depression that led him to commit suicide in 2008. Recently, I also watched an amazing video of Wallace’s famous 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. It is one of the most moving speeches I’ve heard in a long time.  

Then this past May, Library of America came out with String Theory, a short volume of Wallace’s essays on tennis. The book gave me the perfect opportunity to give Wallace a try, because I really enjoy tennis. I gave up tennis when I got fanatical about Microsoft. (During those intense years, my only exercise was running around the office and jumping up and down.) I’m now back on the court at least once a week and have built a pretty solid game for a 61-year old who can’t hit a lot of winners from the baseline.

I would say to anyone who likes tennis as much as I do, you have to read String Theory. You’ll take away insights that go way beyond what you get by reading the typical article in a tennis magazine or listening to a color commentator on TV. In this respect, the book reminded me of John McPhee’s classic Levels of the Game, about Arthur Ashe’s 1968 U.S. Open victory, and The Blind Side, Michael Lewis’s brilliant book about the evolution of the game of football.

Wallace is insightful about the sport partly because he was a very good junior player when he was growing up in the late ’70s, using his brilliant math mind to understand and play all the angles on the court. His personal experience gave him a lasting appreciation for the physical and mental gifts you need to be truly great.

As much as I loved the book for its insights on the game, I loved it just as much for the writing itself. I now understand why people talk about David Foster Wallace with the same kind of awe that tennis fans use to talk about a Roger Federer or Serena Williams. Wallace’s ability to use language is mind-blowing. He’s an artist who approaches a canvas with the exact same oil paints everyone before him has used and then applies them in breathtaking new and creative ways.

The first thing you have to get used to with Wallace is his non-linear expository style. You just have no idea where Wallace’s mind or story will go next, like a great tennis player who never telegraphs a shot. An essay that starts out describing his childhood tennis competitions in Illinois will flow into fascinating eddies on calculus, geometry, meteorology, and engineering. Fortunately, almost all of his narrative digressions are both fascinating and surprisingly easy to follow, even when Wallace uses lots of footnotes. (Even some of the footnotes have footnotes!)

When I was putting off reading Wallace, I assumed his writing would be pretentious. I was wrong. Yes, there are lots of words you’ll have to look up online. But even with all the SAT words, Wallace just doesn’t sound like he’s trying to prove he went to a fancy college. For every reference to Aquinas or Wagner, there’s a reference to Beavis or Danny DeVito.

I came away with the sense that Wallace felt compelled to bend language like a metal spoon not to show off his supernatural ability but simply to allow him to capture all the keen observations his mind was constantly making. It’s almost impossible to illustrate this idea with a single passage of his writing—so I encourage you to pick up String Theory or one of his other books and see for yourself. But I can give you at least a hint of what I’m talking about. Here’s a passage from a review of Tracy Austin’s memoir, which was less about the book than about our unrealistic expectations of our sports heroes: 

Real indisputable genius is so impossible to define, and true technē so rarely visible (much less televisable), that maybe we automatically expect people who are geniuses as athletes to be geniuses also as speakers and writers, to be articulate, perceptive, truthful, profound. If it’s just that we naively expect geniuses-in-motion to be also geniuses-in-reflection, then their failure to be that shouldn’t really seem any crueler or more disillusioning than Kant’s glass jaw or Eliot’s inability to hit the curve.

With the fancy words, English-major allusions, and winding sentences, it’s the opposite of the elegantly simple language of Hemingway. But it’s no less articulate, perceptive, truthful, or profound. That’s why I’m now on a big Wallace kick. I still haven’t read Infinite Jest, at a whopping 1,079 pages, but I know I’ll get to it. Because this troubled genius, who died way too young, was the real deal.

Read this next
NEXT
Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
In order to comment you must be a Gates Notes Insider. Please sign up or log in to continue. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 2 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Report
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel
Thanks for visiting the Gates Notes.
We'd like your feedback. Yes, I'll take the survey No thanks
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
SIGN UP
Already joined?
Log in
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
Already joined? Log in
LOG IN
SIGN UP
Use your social account:
Or sign up with email:
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Why are we collecting this information? Gates Notes may send a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. Additionally, some campaigns and content may only be available to users in certain areas. Gates Notes will never share and distribute your information with external parties.
Bill may send you a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. We will never share your information.
Sign up
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Street address
City
postal_town
State Zip code
administrative_area_level_2
Country
Data
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

BACK
Forgot your password?
Enter the email you used to sign up and a reset password link will be sent to you.
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. Please continue to the log in page.
Log in
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
This email is already registered
Finish
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
You're in!
You're in!
Please check your email and click the link provided to verify your account.
Didn't get an email from us? Resend verification email
Upload a profile picture
Choose image to upload
Uploading...
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Email and notification settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Select your interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Finish
Confirm Account Deactivation
Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent