What to Read Before the David Foster Wallace Movie, The End of the Tour, Hits Theaters
Joshua David Stein is InStyle's news and features director. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
The trick to a successful biopic? Familiarity with the subject and the subject’s work are not a prerequisite for enjoyment. And there’s much to enjoy about this month's The End of The Tour, the intimate portrait of the writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008.
At its heart, it’s not a story about a successful author (Wallace, played by Jason Segel) or a journalist (David Lipsky, played with ample vocal fry by Jesse Eisenberg) and it’s certainly not a story about a specific work (though the titular title refers to the tour Wallace embarked on after the publication of Infinite Jest). It is, rather, a story about what it feels like to be alone, or rather, what it is like to feel alone. You needn’t read any books whatsoever to relate.
But one of the central premises of the film is that Wallace was a genius. And he was. You can either take director James Ponsoldt’s word for it, or you could work through the brick of a book that is Infinite Jest. I would recommend the latter, but because, at over 1,000 pages, it is lengthy—probably the longest book you’ll ever read—I’d start reading now.
If that seems too big an ask, thankfully DFW was prolific. Infinite Jest is an American dystopia and you’ll find that reflected in two of his other works which are much shorter: "Shipping Out," easily the best essay on cruise ships ever written, which he wrote for Harper’s magazine in 1996; and "Consider the Lobster," a very famous, very astute essay about a lobsterfest he wrote for Gourmet in 2004. Both form the cornerstone of two collections of essays, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, published posthumously in 2009. Finally, if you just want the Cliff’s Notes, read the article that became the book by David Lipsky that became the movie, "The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace."
But really, just read the man himself.
The End of the Tour hits theaters July 31.