David Foster Wallace

But, so, what do I read next?

If you’re an avid reader, you are doubtless acquainted with a familiar phenomenon, the thrilling but also potentially problematic process of choosing the next book. I usually have at least two or three going at a given time, but right now I’m working the tax season at a CPA firm, so there isn’t all that much time to read. But I have a 20 minute commute, plenty of time to enjoy an audiobook.

Surprisingly, choosing a book for my daily commute took a while, as can be the case when I want to find just the right book, the right book for the right time, the book that excites me and makes me want to dig in, ASAP.

Sometimes the right book isn’t immediately obvious. In this case it was tricky because my literary commuting companion had to be an interesting read but couldn’t require too much mental effort, given that there are mornings or evenings when my brain is too groggy and mushy, in a zombie-like state induced by staring at screens and tax forms for 10 or 12 hours. At such times I don’t have much, by way of concentration, that I can invest by way of navigating complicated information or a complex plot or too many characters, etc. And it has to be a book that I didn’t need to necessarily sit with for extended periods of time. I needed a read that I could take in small stops and starts of 15-20 minutes at a time.

I was having a hard time coming up with just the right book but had decided to go with James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on The Mountain. I was excited about this decision and had even started the novel but was suddenly struck by a thought. It was a phrase, actually, a “But so.” The phrase But so crosses my mind every once in a while. Strictly speaking, the double conjunction isn’t proper, and you’ll get dinged for it by your editor or proof reader should you submit a piece of writing with a sentence that begins with the But so…unless of course you are writing a piece of serious fiction, literary fiction, where your use of the But so is intentional, a literary device to indicate stream of consciousness thought, perhaps, or as part of a dialog where a character is speaking off the cuff. Such was how I first heard the But so, i.e., I was reading David Foster Wallace.

Since encountering the But so in Wallace’s writing, it lodged itself in my head and every now and again it comes to mind. A few days after choosing the Baldwin book, I had just such a But so moment, which immediately made me think of Wallace, which immediately brought to mind The Pale King, Wallace’s unfinished novel published posthumously, which chronicles the various misadventures of employees working for the IRS – and what could be a better commuting companion than to be able to cruise back and forth to work listening to Wallace talk tax codes and expound on the inner world of OCD accountants, with a heavy dose of sarcasm and satire?

I’ll still keep going on Baldwin. It’s a good audiobook to listen to on hikes, that one good, long hike I get in on the weekends. But The Pale King will be my commuting companion.

Claude Sylvanshine “tended to do his deskwork in a kind of frenzy as opposed to the slow, austere, methodical disposition of truly great accountants…”

The Pale King

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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