Wednesday, September 14, 2011

David Foster Wallace on Roger Federer: A "Director's Cut"

I have been spending some of my browsing time at the still-newish, still-figuring-it-all-out Grantland.  For those unfamiliar, Grantland is the brainchild of Bill Simmons to create a new space for long-form journalism on sports and popular culture, plus a healthy dose of Web 2.0-oriented materials (including a podcast network, blogs, and my personal favourite, a weekly feature called "The YouTube Hall of Fame").  Perhaps my single favourite initiative at Grantland, though, is the "Director's Cut," which is being edited by Michael MacCambridge.  Director's Cut offers a re-publishing of a widely-respected piece of sport journalism and then, like on a DVD-commentary, uses footnotes to allow the author to be interviewed (by MacCambridge) alongside the essay.  The first one of these, a 1980 feature by Tony Kornheiser for Inside Sports, was fascinating in no small part because the author has stopped writing (he does television and radio for ESPN) feeling he is out of words, that his literary gun has no more bullets in its chamber.  And when I say "fascinating," I also mean "terrifying" as the essay that is printed alongside the footnotes is full of wit, insight, respect for the subject (Nolan Ryan, then of the Houston Astros) and for the reader, and it all seems so effortless. And then "it" went away.

As good as the first instalment of this feature is, it is the current incarnation, a re-publishing of DFW's essay on Roger Federer (from 2006) that I would urge anyone reading this to go visit and read immediately.  (And then perhaps  read the Kornheiser instalment, too, if only for the chance to see the 1980 Houston Astros' uniforms one more time.  Shudder.)  Besides being deeply influenced and inspired by Foster Wallace, I think this particular essay is a master class for all storytellers, especially those of us who struggle with the challenge of conveying our sense of amazement, wonder, and excitement with our subjects to our readers without becoming hackney abusers of exclamation points, the word "amazing,"or, heaven forbid, emoticons.  (Good lord, re-reading that previous sentence makes me want to yell at some kids in the neighbourhood for being on my lawn and playing their music too loud.)  MacCambridge cannot interview DFW, of course, but he contextualizes the essay's making and publication with some fresh new information and perspective.  For DFW-junkies, that alone makes the Grantland feature a must-read.

Anyway, please go read that essay.  It is amazing.