David Foster Wallace is the great essayist of my generation. If I were smarter and could write better, his is the way I’d like to write. Sontag is sparer, clearer, better — a greater influence on my thinking. But he’s the one who brings me most joy. The vocabulary is so dazzling, anything from Derridean terminology to 1920s slang; the sentences so beautifully structured; the mind so sharp; the sensibility so earnest, well-meaning. There’s a sad kinetic kindness to his point of view that I love. Choosing this over Consider the Lobster means forfeiting the great essay on ‘Authority and American Usage’ and of course ‘Consider the Lobster’ itself. However, this does have the great essay on Lynch originally written for Premiere, the hilarious essay on cruises, and the superb one on the connection between TV and US fiction, so that tipped the balance. Luckily there’s no either/or in life when it comes to reading David Foster Wallace, though critics in love with binaries often make a case of how his non-fiction is vastly superior to his fiction. I have read the first 300 pages of Infinite Jest — I mean to get to the rest before I die — and the scenes of one of the protagonists waiting for his drug dealer are as funny, desperate, accurate, as I’ve ever read. I suppose this exercise is a bit deceptive in that I don’t think one inhabits particular books as much as particular writers: David Foster Wallace is one of mine.