It was in Sardinia, at a literary festival called Isola delle Storie, or Island of Stories, when the epiphany hit. The setting was the rather unpromising confines of a local butcher shop. Unpromising only because piles of tongue, chunked horsemeat, delicate parcels of animelle, or sweetbreads, and spongy lengths of tripe coiled like garden hose don’t normally provide insights into Italy’s patent mix of unseriousness and high cultural style. Also, this wasn’t Italy but Sardinia, which exists in a proud, somewhat uneasy relationship with the mainland and with the outer world generally.

But the epiphany happened anyway, taking place after I ordered my pork chop. The butcher, thick-fingered, with a large, suety white face and stumps of teeth, raised his cleaver high in the air, paused, and then slowly lowered it to the table. He leaned forward and smiled shyly. A light of refinement came over his features. I was expecting him to remark on my strange Italian accent. But instead he asked calmly, “Is David Foster Wallace really all that good?”