I recently read…

…”String Theory,” a collection of David Foster Wallace’s articles about tennis.

Besides having written one of the most (deservedly) acclaimed novels of the last 50 years, Wallace was a good regional (and so-so Div. IV) tennis player. His volume-concluding “Federer Both Flesh and Not” has been considered, with Updike’s “Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu,” one of the great pieces of sports journalism, scaling (like Roger Federer and Ted Williams) beyond genre into genius, into art. The other efforts in this book — on Wallace’s “career” on mid-western courts, on Tracy Austin and the disappointments of athletes’ autobiographies, on the then-journeyman, now-coach Michael Joyce, and on a particular U.S. Open, esp. the economic aspects thereof — are rewarding, each in its own way, as well.

Wallace seems incapable of presenting sentences for print that are not eye-opening, smile-inducing, and/or mind-bending. His understanding of the game is deep and his insights into its play novel. His player portraits apply admiration (mostly) and malice (occasionally) as Sargeant applied pigment. The inventive curiosity of his mind leads Wallace away from the clichés, sentimentality, and sheer repetitiveness that burdens most sports writing into explorations that are fresh and dangerous both on and off the tournament grounds. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized he hadn’t reported (or I’d missed) how Federer’s match came out, and it hadn’t mattered.