Today, for the first time, I went to Strand Bookstore in New York City. "Over 18 miles of books!" It's a huge bookstore and they have everything, but still, I think they're counting end-to-end.
For the most part, the pilgrimage went about how I thought it would--I shuffled around, peeking at the back covers, flipping through, sometimes teary-eyed, handling everything. I have to touch all the books so it takes a while. An hour in, there was a crazy goon in the back of the store, hunched, lodged into the literary criticism aisle I needed, just looking crazy and coughing on everything, mouth hanging open, arms unnecessarily long. As I picked up the Gonzo he hobbled over and picked up a Gonzo, breathing down my neck and right in the middle of my pilgrimage! Jesus. Could you just... could you stop being a hobo for a minute!? I'm making a nerdy dream come true here and I'm pretty sure you're farting right now.
I was going to call it quits then, but decided to check out the rare books floor first. I cruised around pretty quickly, only handling a Cartier jewelry book and a $900 fashion design book before I headed for the exit. But next to the elevator, in a case, I saw it! This first edition, inscribed copy of Infinite Jest. And I really wanted it, even though it was $400. If he hadn't killed himself, you could have just gone to the college where he taught and talked to him. Now it's all celebrity suicide situation and his stock is way up because now there's a finite number of these artifacts out there.
People getting more famous after death...
I thought about how Kafka, who had only published a little in his lifetime, left his friend Max Brod strict instructions to burn all his papers upon his death. But when Kafka died, the dude published everything instead--including The Trial and The Castle and all the parables. Or... John Kennedy Toole who never published anything before he killed himself. And then, years later, his mom submitted his manuscript for Confederacy of Dunces, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Wallace was different. He understood his success, even if it couldn't make him happy or fulfilled. He knew he would be considered a great man.
Bashfully, like the youngest nun on the team, I snapped this pic and slipped out.