They just didn’t get it — book editor of David Foster Wallace

Love him or hate him, most people think the writer David Foster Wallace was a great writer. Personally, his non-fiction writing was my favorite. He wasn’t just a novelist, short story writer, or journalist; he did it all. (You know DFW committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46, right?)

This week the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas announced their acquisition of the David Foster Wallace materials, including books, letters, manuscripts, and notes. If you go to the New Yorker web site you can see a few interesting selections from the archive, that includes this paragraph from a letter Michael Pietsch, the book editor of Infinite Jest [ link] (published at 1088 pages and 2.6 pounds), sent to DFW.

I’m still hoping there are ways to make the novel much shorter, not because any one piece of it isn’t wonderful but because the longer it is the more people will find excuses not to read it. On the attached pages I’ve suggested chapters and scenes that maybe can come out without killing the patient.

Pietsch also suggests cutting “many, many” of the notes that make the novel so interesting and original. Looking at the letter Pietsch sent you can see the notes DFW wrote on the letter, including the circle around the above paragraph with a big question mark. My interpretation of that is, as if to say, “what? Don’t you get it, this book is supposed to be big. It’s supposed to consume some readers.”

Pietsch wrote about his experience editing Infinite Jest, but honestly, I’m not sure if it squares with DFW’s impulse to question that paragraph.

It’s easy to look back now and judge the suggestions Pietsch made then, but I wonder how he feels about his work as editor of Infinite Jest after reading the letter he sent and Wallace’s notes on it.