You wouldn’t run a marathon without stretching beforehand. And perhaps the mammoth tome that is Infinite Jest ought not be your first exposure to David Foster Wallace.
DFW’s shorter works are collected into a number of bound volumes:
- A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1998)
- Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays (2007)
Single (albeit lengthy) essays
- Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present (with Mark Costello, 1997)
- Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (2004)
- This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)
Much of his writing is also freely available on the web. Here is a smattering:
- It’s hard to know what Gourmet Magazine had in mind when they dispatched Wallace to the Maine Lobster Festival, but Consider the Lobster–an 8,000 words treatise (complete with footnotes) that grapples with the ethical quandary of boiling sentient creatures alive for the sake of culinary enjoyment–was probably not it.
- Also found in the Consider the Lobster anthology, Host is Wallace’s examination of talk radio and one of its most prominent practitioners.
- After his untimely death, Harpers Magazine made several (all?) of the David Foster Wallace pieces that had previous appeared in their pages available as PDFs. Of particular note are Shipping Out (rechristened “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” when published in book form), in which Wallace chronicles the week he spent on a luxury Caribbean Cruise, and Interviews with Hideous Men, which served as the foundation for his subsequent collection of the same name.
- In The View from Mrs. Thompson’s, Wallace recounts his experiences on September 11, 2001.
- Wallace gave the Commencement Address at Kenyon College’s 2005 graduation ceremony. A transcription of the speech is currently available here.
- The story Incarnations of Burned Children is brief, and mercifully so. While wonderfully written, I do not recommend reading it if you have, have been, or have ever known a child.