Aug 20 2016

Book: String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis

I love tennis. I love David Foster Wallace. And I needed a book on the couch day after a gruelingly long week where I started feeling better and then was flattened this morning by a few spoons of my yogurt and peach breakfast.

String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis was the second book I read today (the first was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – more on that in another post) and it was delightful.

DFW was a tennis player and a pretty good one, especially as a junior player. If you’ve read Infinite Jest, you know that in addition to playing tennis, he is uniquely remarkable in how he writes about it.

String Theory was a collection of five prior long essays (or whatever the long essay equivalent of a novella is) about tennis. The first is about his childhood tennis experience titled Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley. Next is a delicious, curious, and sad essay titled How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart. The meatiest story is the third one titled Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness. I could have read this one twice and still not milked all the juice out of it. I paused after it and got some pretzels to munch on.

Having been to the U.S. Open a half dozen times, I completely identified with Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open. And the I remembered reading the last essay – Federer Both Flesh and Not – when it was published in 2006 as Federer as a Religious Experience in The New York Times PLAY Magazine. It used the Federer / Nadal Wimbledon 2006 final as the backdrop for its focus on Federer.

Once again, the footnotes are often better than the essay/story, as DFW lets his hair down (such as it was) and really lets loose on what is going on – unfiltered – between his ears.

I loved this book. If you are a tennis player or fan, do yourself a favor and get String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis (it’s only in hardcopy and worth reading the old school non-digital way.) If you are a DFW fan, you’ve probably already read it (if you haven’t, prioritize!)


Also published on Medium.