MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today we kick off our summer reading series, You Must Read This. We were curious about books that people passionately urge on friends, colleagues and mere acquaintances. All readers have them and so do writers. Those books they just have to share.
David Lipsky is author of Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point and he starts us out with this choice.
DAVID LIPSKY reporting:
If I had to give an alien one book about American Life, it would be A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, or would have been about eight years ago. Now I'd hand over Consider the Lobster. They're both by David Foster Wallace.
When Wallace broke in 1996 with his four-course novel Infinite Jest, his readings felt like rock concerts. Women batted their eyelashes. Men in the back rows huffed, scowled, envied. Since then, he's collected O. Henry and National Magazine Awards for stories and journalism. He's run in The Best American Essays, even in The Best American Sports Writing. He's received a Macarthur Genius Award, which you get for just being a genius. Just by the stats, you'd have to say we'd reached the all-star break of a hall-of-fame career.
Wallace has never done another novel. But the essays in Fun and Lobster - what the author calls experiential postcards - cover food, sports, politics, language. They're a great novel about American life told in segments. Good writing graffitis its perceptions over the world, and it's impossible to get through a day without a Wallace line. There's his work on the despair-inducing Professional Smile. His on-set description of movie director David Lynch has wrecked just about every one of my romantic relationships. Lynch watches, "with a warm and full-hearted interest, sort of the way you look when you're watching somebody you love doing something you also love."
The new book's sharpest pieces are about Senator John McCain, a pornography awards dinner and 9/11, which the author watches with some nice Illinois neighbors. "Part of the horror was knowing, deep in my heart, that whatever America the men in those planes hated so much was far more my America than it was those ladies'." The title piece in Fun about a seven-day Caribbean cruise is simply the best thing I've read in the past 10 years.
When I leave an art museum, the world becomes a series of beautiful, frozen images. Stepping from a movie, my life is full of zip. After reading Wallace, I feel buzzed-up, smarter - I'm better company. Books should be like super-coffee, a wake-up slug to the brain. And David Foster Wallace is a controlled substance.
NORRIS: Our series You Must Read This continues online. There you will find other authors talking about their must-reads. That's at NPR.org/summerbooks.