Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BC2012: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Late last month I read an interview with Rhett Miller of the Old 97's where he said Wallace was his favorite author. A few days later I was at The Book Cellar trying to find a book to fulfill my "buy one book locally" commitment, and I found this collection of essays (fans probably will say I should have bought Infinite Jest instead, but I know I'm unlikely to read fiction -- Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl is still gathering dust on my "to read" bookcase, and I love Klosterman*). Overall, this book was challenging to read. I've always prided myself on having a reasonably broad vocabulary, but Wallace's clearly was broader**. I also found his style difficult to get into; I had to push myself to get through the early chapters. Here's my take essay by essay:
  1. This essay recounts Wallace's experiences playing junior tennis in the winds of east-central Illinois. He grew up near Champaign-Urbana, where I was born, which is the main reason I soldiered through the essay.
  2. I nearly quit reading a dozen times during this long, dense meditation on television and fiction writers. However, I loved the part where he described an episode of St. Elsewhere that heavily referenced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and explained how intertwined the two shows were (for starters, both were created by Moore's production company).
  3. Wallace writes about a visit to the Illinois State Fair for an East Coast magazine. This is where the book started to turn around for me. Although I've never been to a state fair, I've been to enough county fairs to identify with the author's observations. This is the book's second best chapter.
  4. This mercifully short book review didn't make a lick of sense to me.
  5. Here Wallace watches the filming of a David Lynch movie, which leads to an in-depth review of Lynch's body of work. I've never seen a David Lynch movie, but after reading almost 70 pages about him, I feel like I have.
  6. This is another essay about tennis, this time about a professional player at the Canadian Open. Although I have little interest in the sport, I still enjoyed this one. I think Wallace was starting to grow on me.
  7. It takes Wallace nearly 100 pages to describe his experiences on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, but wow, I loved this essay! It is informative and frequently hilarious.
For those keeping score, I really liked three (3,6,7), kind of liked two (1,5), didn't get much out of one (2), and found one incomprehensible (4).

* OMG, Klosterman is the new Ethicist for the New York Times Magazine ! I had no idea, though in my defense I was on vacation when they announced it. It sounds like the perfect gig for him.

** I say "was" because Wallace committed suicide in 2008.

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