This small group of dedicated fans is also a key resource for translators of Wallace’s writing. Members of the list have answered questions and helped with translating challenging passages for Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and German editions of Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction. This is a practice that seems commonplace on the list now, but would be inconceivable in the world of contemporary fiction even forty years ago. For example, were fans of John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse consulted on its Russian or Japanese translations? Before the Internet age, this would be almost impossible to do, but it is also unlikely that a translator would know of a group of John Barth fans and trust their understanding of his use of the language. If anything, the translator might discuss a tricky issue or two with a fellow translator or a Barth scholar at a conference. In terms of how Wallace is perceived around the world, this use of the hive-mind cannot be underestimated. It not only attracts an international population to the list, but furthers the understanding of the most idiomatic and idiosyncratic parts of Wallace’s writing.
However, this gets us closer to the question of what kind of people join the list, and it brings up larger issues about communities and intellectual discourse and group psychology. The list includes English professors, writers, musicians, mathematicians, artists, lawyers, bloggers, women who have deep and abiding crushes on Wallace, and every stripe of over-educated young man dying to talk about “important” literature.
I'm still amazed at how The Grammys enabled music fans to become collaborators in a very real way with the musicians they emulate.
And so we come to my second annual trip out to a Baseball Prospectus book reading.
You know how Intel has rock stars unlike the public's rock stars? It's just as true with a Baseball Prospectus reading. These folks are the nerdiest baseball nerds who ever nerded. And that's why they're great.
Aside from learning that Stephen Strasburg is the highest rated pitching prospect in history--higher than Mark Prior, higher than Kerry Wood, higher than Brien Taylor, higher than anyone--I got to participate in one of the world's great niche language communities. At one point, an audience member mentioned that one of the problems with watching a baseball game on TV was that the camera angles don't allow the viewer to see the route an outfielder takes to the ball, missing completely an essential aspect of the defensive game. Judging just from the information available on TV, we have no idea how circuitous a route he may have taken. At this point, one of the panelists agreed and then mentioned the name Terrence Long. Without elaboration. Everyone chuckled. Here's why this is great: Terrence Long is a fairly obscure outfielder who last played in 2006. He most recently accrued 500 at-bats in 2003. He hasn't been a regular in a long while, and he wasn't all that notable even when he was earning a Major League paycheck. But the audience recognized both who, exactly, Terrence Long is and that his defensive reputation is, let's say, less than stellar. We were having a conversation through references, via a shared body of knowledge. And while Baseball Prospectus can still be depressing as hell, it's totally worth it for the language games I got to play.