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David Foster Wallace and three sheep

What Did David Foster Wallace Read? A Glimpse Into His Personal Library


The University of Texas at Austin has revealed which books David Foster Wallace possessed.

Unlike other personal possessions, books are surrounded by an enigmatic and random aura, especially for those who confer a special quality on them, a unique identity. “Habent sua fata libelli:” “Books have their own fate,” Terenciano Mauro said, and any reader knows it. Books have the capacity to make us believe that our encounter with them was a result of fate, as if, despite them not being a unique document, what we read in them appears to have been written just for us. Which is perhaps from where the fascination with the “personal library” comes from (and which is now impossible to not associate with Borges).

If those who make their living by writing were, as is true in almost all cases, great readers, what will we not find on their shelves and in their bookcases? The treasured books, the prized ones, the ones that were gifts from others, the ones they read with attention and also the inane ones that simply accumulated.

Recently, the Open Culture website published an article about the library of David Foster Wallace, which is housed at the University of Texas at Austin. From a glance, which is what we usually get when we glimpse the library of another, these are some of the titles to be found, according to improvised categories in that same review:


Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League, Cleo Birdwell

Anarcho-Hindu: The Damned, Weird Book of Fate, Curtis White

Animal Portraits, Walter Schels

Anti-Story : an anthology of experimental fiction, Philip Stevick

Borges, A life, Edwin Williamson

The Colossal Book of Mathematics: Classic puzzles, paradoxes, and problems: number theory, algebra, Martin Gardner


Older brothers

Against Interpretation and Other Essays, Sontag, Susan

Americana, Don DeLillo

Blindness and insight : Essays in the rhetoric of contemporary criticism, Paul De Man

Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West, Cormac McCarthy

The Bluest Eye, Morrison, Toni.



The American Heritage dictionary of the English language

A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner



Amerika, Franz Kafka

The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, François Rabelais



The Culture of Narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations, Christopher Lasch

Dead Elvis: A chronicle of a cultural obsession, Greil Marcus


In total, Foster Wallace’s library contains 321 books that, as we can see, cover different genres, interests and functions and more, and almost always with the surreptitious purpose of serving writing, to feed it – as if to demonstrate that reading is, if not his only food, one of the most important.

The complete catalog can be found here.

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