Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

Rate this book
In this exuberantly praised book — a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner — David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.

353 pages, Paperback

First published February 12, 1997

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

David Foster Wallace

127 books11.3k followers
David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live." Readers curled up in the nooks and clearings of his style: his comedy, his brilliance, his humaneness.

His life was a map that ends at the wrong destination. Wallace was an A student through high school, he played football, he played tennis, he wrote a philosophy thesis and a novel before he graduated from Amherst, he went to writing school, published the novel, made a city of squalling, bruising, kneecapping editors and writers fall moony-eyed in love with him. He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive in the contemporary world, accepted a special chair at California's Pomona College to teach writing, married, published another book and, last month [Sept. 2008], hanged himself at age 46.

-excerpt from The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky in Rolling Stone Magazine October 30, 2008.

Among Wallace's honors were a Whiting Writers Award (1987), a Lannan Literary Award (1996), a Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction (1997), a National Magazine Award (2001), three O. Henry Awards (1988, 1999, 2002), and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.


Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
17,761 (45%)
4 stars
14,850 (37%)
3 stars
4,833 (12%)
2 stars
1,193 (3%)
1 star
572 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,024 reviews
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,193 reviews1,814 followers
January 8, 2023

Un’esperienza religiosa

Cosa significa tenere una racchetta da tennis in mano, cosa si può fare ma anche creare colpendo una palla con la racchetta da tennis, lo sforzo la fatica la genialità e l’arte di questo sport. Chi lo ha spiegato e raccontato meglio di David Foster Wallace? Qui, ma ancora meglio in quell’altro suo breve saggio su Roger Federer come esperienza religiosa.
Lo stesso Wallace praticava questo sport in modo notevole, a livello agonistico. Due, o quattro combattenti, la racchetta come strumento, ciascuno metà del campo, una rete a separare gli avversari (ché di avversari si tratta) senza mai venire a contatto. Metafora della competizione sociale e professionale, della lotta della vita.

E neppure troppo sotto, l’analogia tra tennis e scrittura letteraria: entrambi giochi solitari, fondati sul talento e sull’estro, attività basate su piccoli colpi, agilità improvvise e eventi minuscoli che cambiano il corso di un’intera partita, o di un romanzo. Per David Foster Wallace (e Federer) il tocco (lo stile) è tutto.
Sui sei ‘pezzi’ qui raccolti, due sono sul tennis.
Uno (magnifico) è dedicato a David Lynch, il suo cinema e la morale americana.
Altro brano magnifico è quello sull’influenza della televisione sugli scrittori americani.
Con il reportage sulla fiera in Illinois, reportage olfattivo scritto col naso (mucche, cavalli, galline, granoturco…) siamo dalle parti di quello mitico Considera l’aragosta: è l’America rurale, quella repubblicana.
E poi una disquisizione sulla “morte dell’autore.”

Il tutto immerso nella sua solita salsa a base di intelligenza e ironia, sorrisi assicurati, umanità ed empatia, e la sensazione che il proprio personale acume si espanda a ogni pagina (purtroppo è solo una sensazione).

Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews167 followers
December 22, 2020
I used to think I was pretty smart. I did the "gifted" program in elementary school, took advanced classes in high school, went to college, graduated with honors. Watched critically acclaimed films, read critically acclaimed novels, even took in the occasional play. Smart stuff. But mere months after graduation, I was plagued with worry and self-doubt. If I was really so smart, why wasn't I going places? Why did I feel so lost, so aimless, so adrift in adulthood? Why was I just "getting by" and no longer exceeding expectations?

Fact is, once you leave the safe harbor of formal schooling, there simply are no more expectations. There are no more instructors to impress, no more audiences to wow. The carefully constructed world of education turns out to be a lie, a proxy, a hall of mirrors. It's a sickening sensation that can very well drive you crazy, when you realize that you have to go it alone out there, by the seat of your pants, with no road map and no grading scale and no external carrots or sticks to motivate you or keep you on task.


This guy. This fucking Wallace guy. This guy who shows up and makes it all look easy, who writes circles—make that rectilinear perimetrics—around the competition. Sharp, precise, entertaining and thought-provoking. Crisp, clean, expansive.

I want to write like that. I want to BE like that.


Wallace and I have a lot in common. Both raised in Illinois, both spent time in Arizona. Both burdened with anxiety and substance abuse issues. Both overactive in the mind, always wondering and forever worrying what everything is about.


Wallace and I have nothing in common. He made big waves, I made not a splash. He became the voice of a generation, I am but an echo of other people's opinions.

He used his fame to hit on women. He stalked, he threatened, he objectified. I'm happily monogamous (at least, I am now - my ex-wife surely would say otherwise, and she'd be right).

He killed himself, I'm a suicide survivor.

I don't want to live like that. I don't want to BE like that.

He wrote books, but I brought flesh and blood children into this world. He inspired thousands superficially, I have two little ones to raise and provide for and love more deeply than anything. So I can't begrudge him his success, since we really weren't playing at the same game after all - and where our experiences DO overlap, by some accounts I'm the one who's come out ahead.


Wallace is a mirror and a cautionary tale. A tremendous talent, to be sure, but also a grave warning that talent isn't everything. An extraordinary success, but a reminder that the greatest success is found in mastering the ordinary. What Wallace does is to examine a small subject in minute, nitpicking detail (tennis, grammar, luxury cruise trips) and expand it to contain the whole universe of human experience. He is good at this, better than anyone else I'm aware of, and this skill is on display here with shocking clarity.

5 stars. Nearly perfect essay-writing from a grossly imperfect man.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,372 followers
October 31, 2013
Oh David. I miss you with a plangency that belies the fact that I never met you, never would have. You were and are and will always be such a serious force in my life.

I've read this two or three times, and a few weeks after DFW died I picked it up again, almost on a whim. I'd been having trouble finding something to sink my teeth into—I rejected Anna Kavan, William Vollmann, and Fellipe Alfau in short order—and I kind of pulled this book without thinking about the timing, refusing to consider myself one of the jumpers-on, someone needing desperately to reread an author right after his sudden, shocking death. I mean, I've read all his books before, right? So I should be able to revisit them whenever I want, without feeling like a scenester wannabe.

I didn't remember much about this one, except a weird snippet about playing tennis in a tornado. So try to picture my shock, in the early pages of the very first essay, when I came upon this:

On board the Nadir — especially at night, when all the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased — I felt despair. The word's overused and banalified now, despair, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture — a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It's maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it's not these things, quite. It's more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I'm small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It's wanting to jump overboard.

Cut to me, hair blowing crazy in the wind outside my apartment, with a cigarette in my hand and tears streaming down my face.

So, you know, I don't know what to say. It really was very hard for me to get through this reading without feeling like a stupid bandwagon-jumper. It really was very hard not to notice all the despair slyly threaded throughout these essays, intermixed with the jokes, the seriousness, the brilliance. But even while doing all that noticing, I kept second-guessing and scolding myself for overemphasizing something that only now seems true, in retrospect. I mean, if he'd come out of the closet recently instead, everyone would be piecing together "clues" from his oeuvre about his homosexual tendencies, you know?

I'm having trouble explaining this, but I guess I have a serious problem with how the soul-baring-ness of the autobiographical writer leads to this tacit agreement that readers can poke their noses "between the lines" to figure out more than the writer is telling. But then WTF, these things are actually there! Right? I just kept looping myself around and around, not feeling comfortable with anything I thought about anything.

So whatever. This book is ungodly fantastic, the fact that he is gone is so goddamn devastating, the whole thing is beautiful-awful but mostly just fucking awful.

If anyone is still reading or cares, here are some thoughts on the individual essays.

The title essay and "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" are spectacular. Hilarious too, which is something we sometimes forget about DFW, given how super serious & intellectual he is.

In "Greatly Exaggerated" he is so fucking smart that I couldn't even read the essay, because I am not, and never will be, his intellectual equal.

"E Unibus Pluram," on the other hand, was incredibly smart but also (for the most part) accessible to us mere mortals, and was incredibly interesting, if sadly a bit dated.

"David Lynch Keeps His Head" was a nice middle ground: incredibly obsessive-nerd-y, but it made me desperately want to watch Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks again.

I only read about half of the Michael Joyce essay because my attention span for tennis (especially its accompanying statistics and arcana) is pretty short.

"Derivative Sports in Tornado Alley" was plaintive and sad and the most 'personal' (maybe?!?!?!) of the essays, and though it was the one that stuck with me the most on my first read of this book, this time I think the images of the bovine herds of fat sweaty Mid-Easterners stuffing their faces with funnel cake and hot dogs at the State Fair will remain in my head for a long while.

God I am so depressed.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,258 followers
January 23, 2013
he picked up a book. he read the book. it was him all over. the best version of himself! and the worst.


what is postmodernism, really? is it a way to understand the world, to define the world, to separate yourself from the world... when you are actually a part of that world? a part of the so-called problem? you want to put a layer between you and the world. you are so much apart from it, right? an unwilling participant in all of those repulsive patriarchal and terminally corny signs and signifiers, things that disgust you, it's not fair, just because you happen to have the misfortune to be born straight & white & male and, as they say, privileged. you need the distance, the alienation, the angst of being someone, something, anything, apart... because you know you are different. right? you just know it. you enjoy things and yet you don't enjoy them, you enjoy not enjoying them, your layer of hipster irony protects you and maybe fulfills you. and you will never admit that. you self deprecate, in your own egotistical way. you are the boss of you; no one can take that away. everything is so corny and full of bullshit, surely they must see that. and yet there must be truth there, if you look for it. you tell yourself that. you write a book, a great book about life and love and living and loving, etc. you write a book, or imagine yourself writing a book. it is not this book. this book is all about the unimportant things, the annoying things, the fake shit and all the bullshit. does it satisfy you? not really. so you read a book. you feel better. let the irony take over, it comforts you. you are not angry, not angry at all. you laugh at all that fake shit, all the bullshit. angry is a hot emotion. you don't feel those, at least not anymore.


you go to a movie set. Lost Highway. you try to keep an open mind but it is all fake, it is all bullshit. there are too many assholes in the world! and yet the director at the center of it all is not fake, he is not bullshit, he's not an asshole. does he understand something about life that you do not? what does he understand, what does he know? you want to know. he is just being himself, and you don't understand that. or maybe you do. it all makes you deeply uncomfortable.

you go to a fair; you go on a cruise. both are depressing. but funny! the kind of funny that you can only sheepishly admit. perhaps you are a part of the problem; it is people who look just like you who created this world that you despise. you try to enjoy the fair. you try to enjoy the cruise. you take enjoyment from your lack of enjoyment. you write a book, a collection of short works, at times even a "personal narrative". that's the phrase, right? you personally inject yourself into the narrative, into this ridiculous world. you feel better! but not really. fuck this life. fuck this earth. there is only one way to live in this life and that is through the glass of irony, a postmodern form of protection, the strongest barrier, it will protect you, just breathe, you know you can do it, it's not so bad,

Photobucket .

my name is mark. i'm not white, not really, only half-white, does that count as white? i don't feel white, however that feels. i am bisexual, no really. i veer gay if that it makes it easier to swallow. oh and i wasn't born in this country, this U.S. of fucking A. and hey, what's money? i've never had it; i'll never get it. and who the fuck is David Foster Wallace? i dunno. he's some dude that everyone jacks off to, apparently.


i have a friend named Benji - a golden lad (at least in my mind; i look at him through the lense of my very first impression, forever ingrained). he is nothing like DFW. once he talked about how he doesn't see race or class or sexuality, because he's never had to. he was raised by good progressives; he was raised to love life. nice life! he talked about how he wished everyone could be like him, not white or straight or a guy or from money or whatever, but able to look at things like they were and not let all the bullshit get them down, and so just live. not assign guilt or blame, just to understand, or try to, and then move on. not judge. you know, it should be easy, life should be easy, why isn't it? i listened to him say these things and i thought i wish. i wish i could be that way. you are so naive, Benji. i fucking hate you. i fucking love you. DFW is the opposite of Benji. and yet, and yet... is the difference merely a question of awareness? of critical distance? i can't imagine being a person like Benji, being that blithe. now Benji could enjoy a county fair, an awful cruise, he could enjoy it without irony i think. certainly without that underlying feeling of sadness and, yep, i won't pretend, without the condescending irritation at the futility of all these fucking gestures, the fake shit and the bullshit, the power imbalances, the need to make form equal meaning. i love Benji but i'm not sure i understand him. so why do i understand David Foster Wallace? he is nothing like me. he is like Benji. straight white male; money: not a problem. what do i have in common with David Foster Wallace? nothing. the idea is ludicrous. and yet, and yet... why do i read him and feel like i am reading my own thoughts, right there on the page? my own thoughts, staring back at me.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,233 followers
March 26, 2011
This, my first experience reading David Foster Wallace, disabused me of a few prejudices that in retrospect seem shamefully naive, one of which being that objects of the American Media Hype Machine are necessarily mediocre. I believed that there had to be something vapid or cheap or sensationalist about things or persons that become loci of the intellectual-creative “next-voice-of-our-generation” ballyhoo. It’s tough not to be cynical. The whole zeitgeist of our times is cynicism, aloofness, a disdain of sensitivity bordering on neurosis (and I mean a healthy, cultured sensitivity, one nurtured in restraint and consideration and taste, not an emo-ish “horticulturally cultivated five o’clock shadow thick glasses staring pensively over a latte and word document always always in public in sight of the pretty girls” sensitivity). Fight Clubs, Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Geniuses, American Psychos,... if these are the voices of our times let me be an anachronism. In my narrow-mindedness, I lumped DFW in with these other bright young things, figuring he was another spoiled product of moneyed, media-saturated, hipper-than-thou America, wielding an a priori standoffishness as crutch and sword. It’s what I’d come to expect of popular entertainment as a whole. I don’t mean Harry Potter/Girl with the X tattoo lit. (stuff that is immensely popular but actually has redeeming factors and is based in a solid tradition of plot, earnest character development, involved drama, etc.), but stuff that was supposed to represent the intellectual undercurrents of what it is to be a living mind in America in the early twenty-first century; you know, edgy stuff. McSweeney’s has some funny t-shirts, but in the end all the irony can be fucking despairing. Contrived coolness, ultraviolence representing god knows what, involuted sexual obsessions as supposed comment on middle-class repression and ennui or some nonsense, solipsistic unearned first-person memoiric explorations of “what-am-I-in-this-crazy-work-a-day-world”- it keeps on piling up to a vomitous apogee, and I find myself saying “fuck it” and reading Proust or Walser or Pessoa or Flaubert just so I can fucking breath, just to feel someone expressing something honest and with an unmanufactured posture.

Enter DFW. I can’t comment on Infinite Jest (a book for another day, when I again have surplus hours to give to a tome, hopefully soon), but A Supposedly Fun Thing... cuts through all of my above complaints like a glowingly-hot knife through butter. It has come to be the ubiquitous descriptor of Wallace, that he was “a decent guy”, and from what I can glean from this collection of essays the shoe fits (and is there really a higher compliment?)... but in addition to his essential decency (involving empathy, kindness, a bullshit detector always set on 11, the keenest eye for a telling detail I’ve encountered in books of my times), it is the way he subsumes the alienating, cheapening aspects of our culture into his vast intellect, deconstructs them into their vital parts, analyzes their components, and restructures them into a completely non-ironic, funny-as-hell, and enlightening statement about what it is to be a human being. And my god, the humor in this book! Never before have I bitten my lip to bleeding so many times attempting to restrain outright bursts of mad laughter reading this in public. And it’s consistent. And underneath the laughter is that certain lattice within modern humor at its best form (and I’m thinking of like Louis CK here, or Mitch Hedberg, or Bill Hicks) where the laughter is ringing above a potential abyss, and that humor and the transformation of creeping despair into something luminous are the only ways of redeeming contemporary things and ideas from utter degradation and fitting them back into the lineage of a culture of thorough humanist examination. Calling DFW “the last humanist” is tempting, but then I’d be falling into the same traps of cynicism these essays made me believe it is possible to free ourselves from.

Good readers go into books looking for an honest, unique interpretation of some facet of genuine experience; over the years I have found myself searching farther back into other cultures and other eras very distant from mine for that kind of fulfilling, rounded perspective. What A Supposedly Fun Thing... has shown me is that while it is still an essential component of a dedicated humanist to understand the history of thought and expression, especially in the face of the dulling, warping aspects of rudderless progress and an increasingly fragmented reality, that there are outposts of sincerity, of good-nature, representatives of the “decent guys” of the creative temperament, hard at work, chewing on the problems that haunt us, me, you, this very day, dealing with the stuff of our every days in terms that elevate them above the every day (DFW, in this book alone, elevated tennis, state fairs, David Lynch, television, a week-long cruise, the athlete, to the realm of eternal motif). They’re just working a lot harder, being driven down tougher paths, having to fortify their honesty and sensitivity and steel themselves in the face of fragmentation to a greater degree. DFW disabused me of the notion that I have to look outside of my own times for some hero of the candid, the honest, the unique, and I think he would have considered that some sort of success.

On a more depressing note, I understand now that the media hype that at first so turned me off to the David Foster Wallace machine was in a great part due to his suicide. Suicide makes everything more momentous, gives a retrospective ur-meaning to all the aspects of a life, imposes an immediate posterity on a creative human being’s works. I can’t fathom what it would have been like in 2008 had I known his work, but I can sense the immense loss to our times that his passing has meant. I mean, imagine looking forward to more Harper’s experiential essays, a complete Pale King, more laughter, more insights. Overly sensitive souls run the risk of being so sensitive that all they feel is pain, and the weird and baroque regimen of drugs Wallace was on somehow did not dull this sensitivity, this awareness (and in some perverse way made him even more representative of our times). As I said before, really insightful humor runs right along an abyss of terror, things that uplift keep a dialogue with things that destroy us, they inform and expand awareness in the other. Somewhere early in the titular essay of this book, Wallace goes on one of his famous footnote-digressions, which also happens to be quite representative of his sense of humor and mode of observation, about the despairing phenomenon of “The Professional Smile”. I’ll quote it at length:

”...the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry... You know this smile- the strenuous contraction of circumoral fascia w/incomplete zygomatic involvement- the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signifies nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair? Am I the only person who’s sure that the growing number of cases in which totally average-looking people suddenly open up with automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical complexes and McDonald’ses is somehow causally related to the fact that these venues are well-known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile?

Who do they think they are fooling by the Professional Smile?

And yet the Professional Smile’s absence now also causes despair. Anybody who’s ever bought a pack of gum in Manhattan cigar store or asked for something to be stamped FRAGILE at a Chicago post office or tried to obtain a glass of water from a South Boston waitress knows well the soul-crushing effect of a service worker’s scowl, i.e., the humiliation and resentment of being denied the Professional Smile. And the Professional Smile has by now skewed even my resentment at the dreaded Professional Scowl: I walk away from the Manhattan tobacconist resenting not the counterman’s character or absence of goodwill but his lack of professionalism in denying me the Smile. What a fucking mess.”

I’m confident David Foster Wallace was never giving us the Professional Smile.
Profile Image for Books Ring Mah Bell.
357 reviews262 followers
June 10, 2010
This summer I got this book from the library. I started on the cruise ship story and soon realized I would want my very own copy to dogear, underline, and do other dirty booknerd things to.

David Foster Wallace, you are (were) genius! I think I may be in love with you! I love your footnotes- footnotes that range from a simple "duh!" or "!" to 2 page long footnotes that have footnotes themselves. Not a lot of authors could get away with that, but you, my love, can.

As I stated, the first part of this book I read was "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do again". What a delectable read! Your gift for detail - so rich, crisp, clear, hilarious, delicious, repulsive, INCREDIBLE! I'm so smitten with you it's unbelievable. I'd leave my husband for you! (1)

I never in my days wanted to go to a state fair, but I willingly went with you in this book and was amazed. Without your guidance through the fairgrounds, I would have never gone. And without stepping foot there, I could smell the livestock, the sweaty masses of people, the greasy food. Your detail rocks my world. Your amazing observations... you make me tingle! And I enjoyed the hell out of my trip to the fair. Thank you.

I could kiss you, DFW! (2) Instead, I'll read everything of yours I can get my hands on! Then, I'll push it on any of my friends and family until they are sick of me raving about you! And, once I have read everything you wrote I'll read them again! and again! (3)

Yet, in all these stories there's this underlying stench of depression and loneliness that truly breaks my heart. Maybe, having been visited by the black cloud of depression myself, I "feel" you more. (4)

I'm so very sorry you left the world.

I'm so very glad you left us with something amazing.

(1) only if my husband left me first (1a)
(1a) and if you weren't dead.
(2) but I can't because you are dead, you sonofabitch!
(3) because your punk ass had to commit suicide and there will be no more DFW stuff out there, you jerk! (3a)
(3a) I find this depressing as hell, thank you very much! (3b)
(3b) Not because you care, David Foster Wallace, because you are dead. (3c)
(3c) Now I'm mad at you! (3d)
(3d) But I still love you.
(4) Oh, and feel you I would... if you were still breathing!
Profile Image for Steven Medina.
204 reviews936 followers
November 18, 2020
DNF. Definitivamente los ensayos y las autobiografías no son para mí.

En el fondo tenía el presentimiento de que esto iba a pasar. No puedo juzgar este libro porque he leído muy poco y tampoco puedo hacerlo porque el error ha sido mío, al forzarme a leer algo que sabía que no me gustaría. Mis experiencias con este género nunca han sido buenas, y generalmente no logro llegar a la mitad del contenido en estos textos; textos, que me disgustan porque me aburren y me dan la sensación de que estoy perdiendo el tiempo; pero también, porque pienso que los ensayos son usados para que el autor intente a la fuerza, convencer al lector de sus ideas. Sí, obviamente habrán ensayos donde no, pero da la casualidad que en los cinco que intenté leer anteriormente ese fue uno de los factores comunes: En cada uno de ellos se reiteraba la misma idea muchas veces, esto, para que nuestro subconsciente la aceptara forzosamente. No me gusta que usen sus propias vidas o sus ideas, para sugerir lo que debemos hacer con nuestras vidas. Cada uno debe encontrar su propio camino, no perseguir el decretado por los demás.

En cuanto a lo poco que leí reconozco que el primer capítulo sí me interesó, pero fue debido a que se contaba sobre el tenis y sobre la historia de un joven que en su niñez fue muy bueno en este deporte, al aprovechar su inteligencia para usar los factores externos a su favor: El viento, los defectos de la cancha, etc. Sin embargo, al crecer esos trucos dejaron de servirle porque los demás tenían mayores capacidades físicas y empezaron a vencerlo fácilmente. Este fragmento, más que gustarme, me recordó mi vida porque eso mismo me ocurrió con la velocidad. En mi infancia fui el niño más bajito pero más rápido de todos, pero cuando pasaron los años yo no crecí tanto como los demás y entonces todos se volvieron más rápidos que yo, pero debido a la potencia que les ofrecía su cuerpo desarrollado. Pero a pesar de ese buen inicio abandoné la historia porque no soporté el siguiente fragmento que me pareció eterno, donde se hablaba sobre la televisión y la cultura popular americana. Si fuera de Estados Unidos y entendiera todas sus referencias quizás lo toleraría, pero que me cuente sin explicarme sobre series, personajes y capítulos que jamás he visto en mi vida me pareció muy fastidioso: Sin mentir, me dormí sentado en la mitad del capítulo. Cuando desperté, leí páginas al azar, saltándome el orden, y noté que de ahí en adelante todo el libro era igual, así que no encontré motivos para continuar este libro. Lo importante fue que lo intenté.
Profile Image for Stephen M.
137 reviews621 followers
December 8, 2012
A Definitely Awesome Thing that I’ll Most Certainly Read Again

Full disclosure: I felt the smallest twinge of disappointment as I read these essays; (not because of the quality therein—there’s hardly any disappointment to be had there—but because it dawned on me that Infinite Jest, a book that I had spent the better part of February and March, slaving over and worshipping, was not in fact some work of genius that grew out of the side of DFW’s head and broke off one night in a fit of divinely inspired creativity, but actually that IJ was a long, arduous work that came about as a result of years of writing and rewriting as DFW honed his craft, those winding, serpentine sentences that wrap around massive stores of information and unravel beautiful narratives covering every conceivable minutiae of a given situation, the footnotes that drag you underneath the surface of a sentence and reveal the inner-workings of a cruise ship’s maintenance crew or the social status of each individual at his dinner table and upon resurfacing from the footnote, you carry the weight of all the new information upon the sentence that you once left and when you reread the sentence, this new knowledge that you have enlivens the significance of a glance or another character’s tick; the footnote delves into that subconscious baggage that we carry around everyday that inform our judgements and preconceptions about every person and thing we encounter throughout life thus when I realized that these styles were worked towards upon reading A Supposedly Fun Thing that I’ll Never Do Again, Infinite Jest became somewhat less special in being the only book that I’ve read to have all of DFW’s stylistic tics). Thankfully, the disappointment wore off quickly. I came to appreciate the style that DFW worked so hard to hone. These essays are a display of the development of the IJ style. The footnotes become more and more involved as the essays progress. First there are only a few innocuous notes, simply to elucidate a small point, until the final titular essay in which the footnotes are used without restraint in full DFW-short-story-length-footnotes that intrude mid-sentence.

These essays may be the best way to come to know DFW (or at least the persona he projected). I think it sheds some light on why he has become so beloved among new generations of readers. It’s easy to come across like a pompous ass in your writing, especially if you’re a freaky genius like Dave Wallace was and you use rambling, run-on sentences and use info-dumping footnotes. It would be easy for any one of these essays to come across as the inflated pontifications of an over-educated intellectual, but there’s something about DFW that is lovable and endearing. Although it too often consumed him, it helped that he was so self-deprecating. It gave his genius the checks and balances that a lot of other genius authors lack. Thus it lessened the extent to which he cared about his (otherwise) rampant ego. He is¹ hyper-self-aware and it comes across in long descriptions of every imaginable bit of sensory detail. In his David Lynch essay, he essentially transcribes the entire rough cut of Lost Highway into a section of the essay. Apparently he found it insufficient to merely give a plot summary and instead divined the entire script, shot list and set decoration from what must have been several viewings of the rough cut.

Occasionally his writing is tedious. There were times when I got antsy. I wanted him to get to the point and cut through all that detail and rambling. He even prefaces one of his paras by saying that “this probably will be cut by the editor but. . . (insert a few pages of details)”. But any time that it became too much to handle, or when I got too bored with his work, there would be some turn of phrase, or a particular observation that would make me fall head over heels in love again. This collection is essentially “everything that Dave is into and thinks about on a day to day basis”. And for so many authors, this would be excruciating to read, boring as all hell, but listening to DFW ramble on about his interests is revelatory. How did so much intelligence and sensitivity end up in one person? He was in a class of his own.


(As I stop fellating him² and attempt at some type of objectivity)

Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley

Very interesting piece. Thus begins DFW’s style of experimental non-fiction. This piece is more image and metaphor centered than would be your typical “tell the facts” style of non-fiction. There are a glut of insights into tennis, especially DFW’s own style of play which consisted of his adaptation to his environment (marked by heavy winds of the mid-west) and used it to his advantage (perhaps developing some personal motif about his chameleon-like literary experimentations of his early work). Thus when he began playing tennis indoors on nice courts, he had no inclement weather with which to use to his advantage. Ends with a cartoon-like description of being caught in a tornado while playing and smashed against the chain link fence. It is mostly devoid of the IJ trademark stylistic ticks and is almost strange to read an entire Wallace essay without footnotes.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

This is an introduction on DFW’s thoughts about television and the strange way in which it is consciously aware of itself while dolling out the usual advertisement and banal sit-coms. This may or may not be dated given the rise of the internet (about which I wished so much that DFW could have written) and given that I hardly watch any tv (besides Bronco games on sunday) it didn’t have as much of an impact than would otherwise. I’ve also more or less known about all the ideas within the essay via all the interviews I’ve seen of DFW. It’s good to have all his thoughts about television in one place.

Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All

This is where DFW gained serious notoriety as a non-fictionist (and I’d almost say as a writer period, given that the majority of people who’ve read DFW have read his non-fiction as opposed to tackling the mammoth Jest; tis a shame). This is Dave at his most funny. Esquire has commissioned him to write a piece on an Illinois State Fair in bumfuck nowhere. The rural, right-wing, conservatives (which heavily populate the American mid-west) function as a comedic shooting-gallery for DFW’s socially awkward journalistic persona, describing each rural Illinois denizen with simultaneous wit and discomfort that it’s hard to hold the book still while howling in laughter.

Greatly Exaggerated

Here, Mr. Wallace flexes his erudition and reviews a piece of lit theory that criticizes the post-modern death-of-the-author theorists like Derrida, Barthes, et al. At this point it becomes clear that this collection of essays is more of a grab-bag of his musings and interests and opposed to anything with clear structure or links. But this is all wonderful, because it seems as though he was one of those people who had several, disconnected interests and but studied each one of them exhaustively. He brings all his knowledge of literature theory to bear upon questions of authorship and structuralism. A great insight into some of his attitudes towards these topics.

David Lynch Keeps His Head

Another item on the list of things that make David-san tick, the work of David Lynch. This essay is one part exposé of a trip to the set of Lost Highway, one part cataloging of all things “lynchian” and one part defense of the body of Lynch’s work against ignoramuses, critics and otherwise. This essay has everything that one could love about DFW in one continuous piece of writing: awkward social interactions; acute observations of human beings in their natural habitat; self-deprecating humor of the gut-busting and tear-inducing variety; brilliant musings on aesthetics and the state of pop-culture; and a passionate discussion of medium of film, its capacity to influence the audience���s mind like no other medium. If you only want to read one essay, read this one.

Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Profession Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness

To be honest this essay was the least interesting. In his interview with Charlie Rose, he talks about this essay in particular. He says that the project began with his interest in the up and coming Michael Joyce and his career, but of course, the essay ended up being about himself. And although, of course, you end up writing about yourself in every writing venture, in this instance, it detracted from the piece instead of adding to it. In other essays, especially the titular one, DFW’s persona makes it hilarious and relatable but here, it drags the essay in two directions, one side pulling toward Michael Joyce, and the other pulling towards DFW’s digressions and personal asides. There’s a healthy balance to be had—in fact all of writing seems to be a balancing act. I sometimes wonder how DFW pulls it off, given how long-winded he can be. But here, it is apparent that it doesn’t always work in ever instance. What can you do? It makes me like him even more because it shows he’s human. Not a robot but a ghost.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

My opinions of this piece are scattered about this entire review, because it is, in many ways a culmination of all the pieces that come before it. It is the culmination of DFW’s style, as we know it from IJ, as well as a culmination of his thoughts and ideas as a writer. But it’s still worth noting a few things. First, I’ve heard of accusations that DFW made up the people (not just changed their names) that are in this piece. I first wonder how one would ever know that—actual interviews with the people themselves?—but even more important, who cares? If your main concern is the literal content of this book, or the literal content of any book for that matter, and your main concern is the truth values of the author’s statements, then I’m sorry to say you’ve sorely missed the point of this book and the point of reading (literature reading at least). The interactions with other people in this piece do not even take up most of it. It is DFW’s own internal state and his musings on all that is going on around him. What’s important is the way in which DFW uses this socially-awkward, hyper-sensitive persona to write a devastating critique of american consumerism. He (the persona and author) has/d this uncanny ability to deconstruct any situation. His self-awareness is not just focused inward, but outward too. There’s hardly anything that flies over D’s radar, hardly anything that he isn’t consciously aware of and analyzing. What average person would notice and reflect upon the time intervals upon which the maids clean his room? DFW did. He also (in a section that earns multiple “lol”s in the absolute literal sense of the phrase) tests the maids’ cleaning habits by leaving his room at random times during the day and noticing the exact amount of time it takes for him to be gone until they clean. He notices the fact that it takes exactly 30 minutes (no more and no less) for the maids’ to begin straightening his room. This leads him to reflect upon the absurd, possible ways that the boat could ever know how long any of its tenants are gone, and more so, the kind of hegemonic rulership the maids must be under to maintain such constant vigilance to clean. He compares and contrasts their working conditions to his own pampering and toddler-like state that he’s been thrown into on this cruise. He notices the strong disconnect between the servers and those that are served. This illustrates the stark divide between the two classes of people, how one become like pampered, spoiled children and the other are stiff, unemotional alienated workers. See what we’re dealing with here? Any other person would shrug off such observations, effectively cutting off his or her ability to reflect at all on the frightening implications of such capitalistic excess. This ought to be a wake up call for any person with such introspective, hyper-sensitive tendencies. For a great deal of such sensitive, analytical people are racked with insecurities due to the propensity for constant self-judgement and analysis. We should know and appreciate the fact that those people are an essential part of a society if it is to be aware of itself and change itself for the better. There must be people like DFW, lest it continue to walk blindly, unaware.


¹unsure whether to use the present tense “is” to refer to the narrative persona of DFW, the de facto tense usage of any literary paper to immortalize the author via that mysterious, vaguely defined persona of the text or whether to use the past tense “was” to refer to DFW the person, who tragically passed away and thus referred to in the past tense. I suppose the present tense will do, not only to stay true to lit paper norms but also to dupe myself (on some unconscious level) that he is actually still alive and his death is some illuminati conspiracy because actually he’s currently being held captive in some underground government facility, commissioned to write confidential reports of the government’s most clandestine operations, the first of which was a disaster, as the report was some 100 pages over the maximum limit, and included a particularly long digression on the correct MLA method of citation of confidential military reports, as presented in sub-clause 23a of an already over-long footnote.

²barely capable of keeping my gushing love for him under wraps here. I have come to be known as the "DFW" guy at the local bookstore. And in fact, upon my visit to pick up this book, it provided the fodder for small talk with the attractive girl at the register. We shot the shit about DFW, literature and writing and the conversation ended with me taking her number, as well the book, home with me. And but so in typical DFW socially awkward fashion, we have only managed since then to effectively "out awkward" one another upon every encounter, half-starting conversations, repeating questions, and running into one another just after having said goodbye; it's good to know that I can live my life in all ways Wallace, including failed propositions for dates, cringe-inducing attempts at conversation, and protracted sessions of post-hoc self-deprecation.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,221 followers
February 23, 2022
There are two essays on tennis. And I suspect his perspective on tennis is unique in the history of the world. It's when he's examining the micro mechanics of tennis that you realise just what a rare and perilous place his delicately tuned mind was. And just how interwoven are madness and genius.

He goes on a cruise and makes it seem like a dress rehearsal for a nursing home. A tightly formulated series of happy clapping rituals. Your desires not only anticipated and micromanaged but formulated for you. Rebellion would be required daily to genuinely have a good time. Not necessarily a bad starting state of mind when you awake of a morning. One thing's certain, a cruise would provide great material for a comic novel. For one thing it contains elements of a dystopian world. I'm surprised no one has ever written this novel. JG Ballard?

An agricultural fair provides a good deal of comedy. But his comedy is generally kind, rarely cruel. And boy is he brilliant at making you laugh!

There's an essay on television in which he argues it's futile to feel superior to television because television only pretends to be stupid. One of its directives to help its audience feel superior which is a feeling people like. I wasn't familiar with any of the programmes he mentions so a lot of this essay went over my head.

(I'm still mostly locked out of my account and can't make or reply to comments. Apologies.)
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,117 followers
August 8, 2011
Goodness gracious. As much as I revere Wallace’s fiction—his attempt to rescue American culture from the despairing morass of self-aware ironical knowingness—his nonfiction is in another league. The sheer cinematic exuberance, the “floating eye” quality of these pieces is breathtaking and wonderful, bringing the reader as deep into each experience as is textually possible, and as close to Wallace as we can be on the page.

His fiction has a ‘surgical’ quality, much like J.G. Ballard or Will Self (whose own essay style mirrors Wallace’s, though proves less compelling than his fiction), more bound up in high-wire intellectual games which only connect when the reader is complicit in the clevernesses at the heart of these stories, or serve to undo the story by adding meta-layers more about fiction writing itself. (And so metafictional by proxy. An example would be the story ‘Incarnations of Burned Children,’ which on a deeper reading is a story about narrative position/POV, not the heartrending events depicted within. So despite his work going for direct emotional shocks, it is largely trapped in the cranium).

So in this essay collection, by making the focus tangentially on Wallace himself as filtered through the Illinois State Fair, a revolting cruise ship, or a tortured TV consumer, the work has a deeply personal and directly emotional feel, and although not as ambitious as his attempt to depict the grand throbbing alive-ness of life as in Infinite Jest, the work shines and sings with a more reader-friendly humour, brio and natural warmth, as well as the stylish feats of intelligence and logical probity that is his trademark. Phew.

An essential text for any serious reader of contemporary essays.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,277 followers
October 23, 2016
I have felt as bleak as I’ve felt since puberty, and have filled almost three Mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me.

By far my favorite review of this book—and one of my favorite reviews on this site—is Geoff’s energetic paean. So I find it somewhat ironic that, setting out to write my own review, I am forced to begin with the opposite moral: do not trust the American-hype machine. This is not because everything popular is bad, nor because of any Orwellian or Adornoesque suspicions of mass manipulation. This is, rather, for the very simple reason that inflated expectations can make even genuinely joyful experiences a touch disappointing and, thus, embittering.

DFW is a sublime illustration of this. Few authors on this site, if any, can compare with the gratuitous amount of praise heaped upon them by book-worms and casual readers alike. I mean, for Pete’s sake, in one review there’s even a photoshopped image of DFW’s face edited onto Jesus’ body (an impressively literal example of idolatry). And because I had the enthusiastic voices of so many fellow readers in my head as I opened the first page, I couldn’t get myself to stop thinking the same thought: “So this is what everybody’s raving about?!”

And the other unfortunate consequence of this superfluity of praise, besides giving the experience itself a tinge of discontent, is that now I feel a bit defensive about my opinion, as if not joining this chorus makes me a sinner. Perhaps I am? But listen; let me be clear from the get-go: I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It’s just I have some emotional baggage to deal with. Bear with me.

This book is a collection of essays Wallace wrote during the early half of the nineties. In terms of both subject-matter and quality, it’s a mixed bag. Some are forgettable or worse; and some are fantastic and hilarious. These essays, however, all share distinctive traits and, in my opinion, serious flaws.

Let me get the most obvious flaw out of the way first. Every essay is too long. I’m surprised any editor let Wallace get away with such meandering, such overabundance, and such aimlessness as one finds here. He pursues tangents, includes needless details, and generally opines about everything which passes before his eyes. I know it would feel like bloody murder to cut lines from such a talented writer. But every good writer knows, at least in the back of her head, that writing is ultimately for the reader, not the writer. The entire profession of editing exists because of the all-too-human tendency to forget this. This general too-much-ness (to use a Wallacism) often gives his writing a lack of focus and power, turning what should be an act of communication into an info-dump.

Another flaw, which I admit is a bit petty of me to rag on, is his unnecessary orthographic trickery. Here’s an example: “The net, 3.5 feet high at the posts, divides the court widthwise in half; the service lines divide each half again into backcourt and fore-.” The language in this sentence strikes me as deliberately annoying and ugly. For one, the word “widthwise” is awful; and by saying “backcourt and fore-,” he forces the reader to perform a mental operation to get the sentence’s meaning—and an unsatisfying mental operation, too. And besides, this sentence is explaining what a bleeding tennis court looks like, the sort of thing you can safely omit. There’s stuff like this throughout, phrases and abbreviations which struck me as serving no purpose except to be intentionally irritating.

A much deeper flaw is with some of the ideas he puts forward. The whole point of his essay about Michael Joyce, the tennis player, is that practicing to be a professional athlete requires so much time it ends up warping you—which is pretty obvious, if you ask me. And I cannot find a better way to sum up his book review about the “Death of the Author” except to say that it was intellectual masturbation to very dull porn. But this lackluster theorizing was most apparent in his essay about television, in which he argues that irony is becoming pervasive, suffocating, and dangerous. Not only has this concern been rendered obsolete because of technological advancement—an option which he explicitly rules out—but besides that, I can’t help but find Wallace’s battle-cry to “risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs,” a bit feeble, as if breaking out of your twenty-something cage of irony is a heroic struggle.

All this is DFW at his worst—pretentious, show-offy, faux-profound; in other words, that annoying guy in a turtleneck who lived down the hall in your college dorm. (That was me in my dorm, in case you're wondering.)

But DFW at his best is another creature entirely. He’s friendly, interesting, funny, and insightful. He’s charming—the sort of guy I’d love to have a beer with. In fact, DFW can be downright addictive; by the time I got near the end of this book, I couldn’t put it down. I was stifling laughter on the metro, and interrupting my girlfriend repeatedly to make her read a funny passage. She liked these, too, and didn’t even mind when I did it again two minutes later.

DFW is at his best in two essays in this collection: his trip to the State Fair and his trip on a luxury cruise-line. They’re similar works, both involving the socially awkward, delectably nervous, highly oversensitive, somewhat misanthropic, thoroughly overeducated DFW entering an environment which caters to none of these qualities. In these situations, DFW is pushed to find humor in his situation; and this search leads him to insights, both about his environment and himself. His is the kind of humor that functions both as comedy and as philosophy, providing perspective, analysis, and interpretation, leading you to acceptance of yourself and your place in the world.

What also sets these works apart is a keen anthropological eye. Details crowd these pages, lined up into lists, tucked into corners, jammed into footnotes. And although many of these details are unnecessary, and some are simply distracting, most are delectable and delicious. “The very best way to describe Scott Peterson’s demeanor is that it looks like he’s constantly posing for a photograph nobody is taking.” DFW combines a journalist’s curiosity with a neurotic’s oversensitivity and a novelist’s voyeurism. The result is a man exquisitely attuned to his environment.

To sum up, I’ve decided I like the guy, and I think he’s a fantastic writer. My only regret is that I met DFW with expectations inflated to the size of the Hindenburg, which caused me constantly to measure him against the literally godlike person he was described to be. And the real shame is that, baring some youthful inability to figure out which details of his life are worth writing down, he strikes me as a humble, decent, and honest person—not the kind of person who’d want to be known as a Goodreads God. It’s a shame he’s gone.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,359 reviews794 followers
September 17, 2014
One of my more obsessive habits on Goodreads involves comparing books with others. If you're one of my friends, chances are I've clicked the little button on your homepage an average of three times, sometimes more if you have a particularly large library (looking at you, Hadrian/Kris/& co.) Throughout my nearly two weeks of reading this book, the prim and peppy 'currently-reading' would show up next to a record number of gleaming five stars, up near the tippy top if listed in order of rating.

In short, I am amongst good company.

It's been nearly three years since I added Infinite Jest into rank and file, almost one since I pulled the beast out of the depths of one of the massive university libraries. I read it at school, I carted it back home for the holidays, and finished in the kind of stricken rhapsody of composition that I've been chasing ever since. Said ever since included coming to terms with IJ's reputation, replete with tales of pretentious woe, ballads of fiendish glee, and the moribund crossroads between the two embodied in the form of hipster lists. It's likely that I held off for so long on coming back to DFW for fear of finding out that I really hadn't adored all that much, and it was the internalization of all that hype both laudatory and inverse that had prompted that overwhelming favoritism.

I needn't have worried.

Of course, this isn't IJ, and trust me when I say that that particular megalodon is not safe from a future reread. However, it is DFW, and this collection of nonfiction has plenty of dots connecting over to the more fictional bents: math, tennis, debilitating awareness of self, and that keen eye of tangential cross sections of life and literature that raises the age I currently live in to something not quite art, but interesting enough to hold its own against the sea of classics and other eclectica that usually fills my escapist needs.

In other words, DFW liked a lot of the things I do, and wrote about them in such a way that makes me likes liking them, which doesn't happen so often when your main interests include engineering-level calculations, sociocultural treatises, and hardcore critical theory of fictioning. The best part of DFW is he can carry across all that in a manner both big-worded and esoteric, taking the subject seriously in the complex systems rather than the ivory tower sense of the word. For example, he convinced me to try out David Lynch without ever straining my interest levels or coming off as an asshole, an achievement greatly added by his obvious enjoyment of the guy's movies. DFW may have had some extremely heavy interests, but all that academic jargoning and/or molasses with a noticeable veneer of 'you're sure you're good enough, punk'? Nada, zero, zilch. Poof. Did I mention he's hilarious, in ways ranging from erudite to funny as fuck filth? Let me say it again.

And that retention of his. I am a firm believer in his '500,000 bits of discrete information' statement, as well as his ability to contextualize anything, anywhere, at any speed seen fit. The sections in the titular essay succeeding an overindulgence in caffeine are especially demonstrative, but only by a hair. It's this hypersensitive intake valve combined with a strong desire to share that's resulting in my not giving DFW crap for throwing out the 'politically correct' word and being so white and male and American in general. Not everyone has my viciously obsessive interest in social justice, so I will simply state that he's aware when it counts and move on.

Besides, that Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction essay? Genius, in the 'my life makes so much more sense right now' gist of the word. Accuse me of favoritism, but that little piece of work made up for every niggling twinge and then some.

Finally, there remains the fact that I discovered DFW and his writing after September 12, 2008. What writings there are now are all the writings that remain for my future readings. Thus, I have decided to ration my DFW intake for one work per year, a cycle that began with IJ and will last not nearly long enough.

Here's to you, David Foster Wallace. I'll never meet you, but I will remember.
Profile Image for Janet.
144 reviews60 followers
February 20, 2023
I’d like to add a new category to GR called ‘read enough’ – for those books that leave you staggering to your feet wiping the blood from your mouth conceding defeat. You know the gap between to-read and read. Amazingly enough I actually finished this book but only because the final 100 pages were footnotes followed by footnotes to his footnotes. Are you kidding me?

This is a collection of essays covering everything from playing tennis in the tornado belt to television and its relationship to U.S. fiction to the 1993 Illinois State Fair – the other essays were beyond my comprehension and may as well been written in Farsi. I haven’t been this restless since I had to repeat Algebra II in summer school.

Holy mother of Abraham Lincoln but Wallace is a long-winded pretentious sack of sh*t – he knows a lot and he’s determined to impart every last atom of it and after that he’s going to explain it all again in a slightly different way every bit as pedantic and boring with even more obscure references. DFW you win – I can’t keep up with you.

Two of the essays – the one about the state fair and the other about cruise ship travel are much more accessible – these are the pieces that other reviewers have described as hilarious but with pathos. FYI, DFW, most of us feel tiny and a trifle insignificant when we stand in a desert or meadow gazing up into the starry night – really are these feelings more poignant when poised at the deck rail of a high end cruise ship? Is loneliness even harder to bear when on an all-expenses paid trip? His humor? Not irony but an elitist’s musings on lesser fortunates – say, Midwestern fairgoers – funny but cringe worthy in its mean-spiritedness.

By the reviews on GR DFW is an absolute God. Convince me! Until then he’s a depressive with a wry wit and superiority complex who looked down to show his inferiority to his nameless rabble of victims.

Profile Image for Ana Cristina Lee.
662 reviews269 followers
November 2, 2021
En este ensayo DFW analiza el concepto de diversión y recompensa, asociado al turismo de masas, tomando el caso de un crucero por el Caribe. A medio camino entre el periodismo y el ensayo, nos relata su experiencia como pasajero, que ya viene resumida en el título - pedazo de spoiler :)

Analiza - es más, radiografía - cada detalle, cada objeto, cada actividad, la actitud del personal de a bordo y de los pasajeros, sus propios sentimientos, en resumen: todo. Y siempre desde una perspectiva poco convencional y llena de humor, una mirada sardónica que pone de relieve todos los absurdos del ocio masivo y, por elevación, de la estructura social. En realidad, tengo la impresión de que desde su punto de vista, cualquier evento puede quedar reducido a cenizas, lo cual nos proporciona una lucidez que puede llegar a ser excesiva. DFW es demoledor, pero te hace reír tanto y escribe tan bien que leerlo es una paradójica delicia. Aunque te esté caricaturizando a ti, a tu modo de vida y a todo lo que te rodea.

El barco estaba tan blanco y limpio como si lo hubieran hervido.

El tema fundamental no es sólo el crucero en concreto, sino el concepto mismo de ocio en nuestra sociedad, como un bien de consumo crucial que debemos adquirir a toda costa, para 'compensarnos' de nuestros esfuerzos, porque es algo que 'merecemos'. El turista se convierte así en una especie de niño malcriado y desconsiderado, que siempre exige más y al que se embrutece con un exceso de lujo y 'cuidados'. El resultado según DFW es:

Contemplar desde una gran altura a tus compatriotas caminando como patos con sandalias caras por puertos azotados por la pobreza no es uno de los momentos más divertidos de un Crucero de Lujo 7NC. Hay algo ineludiblemente bovino en un turista americano avanzando como parte de un grupo. Hay cierta placidez codiciosa en ellos. En nosotros, mejor dicho. En puerto nos convertimos automáticamente en Peregrinator americanus, Die Lumpenamikaner. La Gente Fea.

Este turismo de masas es también un agravio a los países más pobres y DFW relata anécdotas sobre los trabajadores que sirven a los turistas en el barco en condiciones de quasi esclavitud.

Quien esté interesado en la obra de DFW pero le dé respeto empezar con obras más extensas, este breve ensayo es una buena puerta de entrada a su filosofía y a su escritura. Es lo que me sucedía a mí - gracias Hy por la recomendación, ha sido una muy buena lectura!
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews899 followers
November 21, 2008
Judging from the traffic tie-ups you see, I’m not the only one who slows down to gape at a car crash. The temptation would be even greater somewhere like Beverly Hills with a Ferrari involved. I suppose reading this book would fall under a similar rubric: gawking at a star betided by tragedy.

By nearly all accounts, mine and the MacArthur’s included, DFW was a genius. This is all the more obvious given the essay format—-a good way to highlight his gift.* He saw big pictures, as his social commentary and cultural critiques made clear. He could also drill down to subtle human quirks which, though remote, are still recognizable (after he pointed them out). I’m sure his genius extended beyond my comprehension of it, too, especially with his more philosophical musings.** Though one of his goals was to lead readers to “aha” moments of insight, he never talked down to anyone to get there.

The subjects were varied, covering topics like tennis (as a regionally ranked junior player he knew the sport well), television, the Illinois State Fair, literary theory, and cruise ship excursions. You get the feeling he could write about anything, though, and it would all be brilliant. He could vary his tone, too, alternating between professorial, sardonic, insightful, and funny. I guess in popular parlance you’d call him a hipster, but he seemed a little less edgy and a little more caring than others of that ilk. Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t even try to categorize such a multifaceted and unique individual.

One passage in the book struck me as particularly good. From what I’ve seen, it was one of his recurring themes. It has to do with irony and irreverence as a rhetorical mode. Turns out, fun as it may be for a time, he views it all as ultimately unfulfilling. With an ironist’s repertoire of criticism and destruction, there’s rarely anything constructive to “replace the hypocrisies it debunks.” Consistent with that, in an interview I just read he spoke disparagingly of all the arch, pomo attitude there is these days.

So why did he do it? To be honest I really didn’t read this looking for clues. It’s hard not to think of his fate, though, when he talked so honestly about despair, and fighting the urge to throw himself off the ship that he otherwise wrote so playfully about in the title piece. I suppose depression and bad chemistry were the clinical reasons, but it’s natural to wonder what within his outlook he might have revealed to tip his hand. Did he simply think too much and in increasingly inward ways? Was he too keenly aware of how different he was? Even his friends may not know. What I do know is that they miss him. That includes friends he never met; those he connected with through his works.

*We might also conclude that the essay format is a way to see the curse of his genius, too, with hints of alienation in a world of average intelligence and a hyper-awareness of flaws including his own.

**When an essay jumps right in saying that “In the 1960s the poststructuralist metacritics came along and turned literary aesthetics on its head by rejecting assumptions their teachers had held as self-evident and making the whole business of interpreting texts way more complicated by fusing theories of creative discourse with hardcore positions in metaphysics,” you know you’re in for a challenge.***

***You get really used to footnotes in a DFW essay. Maybe it’s just the way a really smart person’s mind works—-they can go on for hours with the asides their active noggins flit to, discursively disrupting the linear flow but in interesting ways. You get a lot of long sentences with him, too (I say hoping it's without irony as I flatter him with imitation in yet another nested aside).
Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,338 followers
August 5, 2007
David Foster Wallace is one awesomely smart guy. This is both his greatest strength and his potential Achilles heel as a writer. Personally, I will read anything this man writes, because I think he is a true genius with a rare sense of compassion, and a hilarious sense of humor. Even when his writing falls victim to its own cleverness, I still find it worthwhile - perhaps because one senses that the writer is a true mensch (not something I feel when being dazzled by the cleverness of a Dave Eggers, for instance).

Oh hell, I want to be seated next to DFW on a long transpacific flight subject to major delays, OK? I have an enormous intellectual crush on this man. And when I cavil, it is done out of love, pure and simple.

But when discussing this book of his, caviling would simply be out of place. It contains two of the funniest essays I have ever read in my life (the descriptions of his experiences on a cruise liner and at the state fair, respectively). I think you should buy your own copy, because I certainly am not going to loan you mine.

Added on edit: so, I've noticed that goodreads seems to order books listed by review according to the wordcount of the reviews in question, from longest to shortest. A result of this has been that my negative review of DFW's ill-starred "Everything and More" shows up ahead of my 5-star review of this collection. This pains me enormously, as I really admire this writer's prodigious talent immensely - even his occasional misfires beat the pants off many a less talented author's best efforts. So I am shamelessly adding this paragraph in a transparent effort to game the system - the desired result being that my positive review of this quirky, talented author show up before the negative review.

I am guessing that the preceding paragraph will have been sufficient to accomplish my devious ends, so will curtail my empty babbling here. Let's see if I'm right in this conjecture.
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
November 26, 2012

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is a brilliant collection of "essays and arguments". This collection was published in 1997 exactly one year after Infinite Jest and is comprised of articles previously published from 1990 to 1996 in several different publications. His topics are tennis, television, a state fair, literary theory, David Lynch, and a luxury cruise. It doesn't matter if you are especially interested in these things or not, because you will be!

1. Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley (1990)
http://www.keenzo.com/showproduct.asp... [Harper's, "Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes", 1992.]

Wallace writes that he was "a pretty untalented tennis player" and "could hit a tennis ball no harder or truer than most girls in my age bracket." But, "I was at my very best in bad conditions." And then he goes on to describe those bad conditions in detail.

2. E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction (1990) http://jsomers.net/DFW_TV.pdf [The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993.]

"...if Realism called it like it saw it, Metafiction simply called it as it saw itself seeing itself see it. This high-cultural postmodern genre, in other words, was deeply informed by the emergence of television and the metastasis of self-conscious watching. And (I claim) American fiction remains deeply informed by television..."

3. Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All (1993) [Harper's, "Ticket to the Fair", 1994.]

Observations at the Illinois state fair.

"I suspect that part of the self-conscious-community thing here has to do with space. Rural Midwesterners live surrounded by unpopulated land, marooned in a space whose emptiness starts to become both physical and spiritual. It is not just people you get lonely for. You're alienated from the very space around you, in a way, because out here the land's less an environment than a commodity. The land's basically a factory. You live in the same factory you work in. You spend an enormous amount of time with the land, but you're still alienated from it in some way. It's probably hard to feel any sort of Romantic spiritual connection to nature when you have to make your living from it."

4. Greatly Exaggerated (1992) [Harvard Book Review, 1992].

A review of Morte d' Author: An Autopsy by H. L. Hix, which, surprise, looks at the "death of the author" argument.

"For those of us civilians who know in our gut that writing is an act of communication between one human being and another, the whole question seems sort of arcane. As William (anti-death) Gass observes in Habitations of the Word, critics can try to erase or over-define the author into anonymity for all sorts of technical, political, and philosophical reasons, and 'this "anonymity" may mean many things, but one thing which it cannot mean is that no one did it.' "

5. David Lynch keeps his head (1995) http://www.lynchnet.com/lh/lhpremiere... [Premiere, 1996.]

On the set of Lost Highway; a profile of Lynch.

"An academic definition of Lynchian might be that the term "refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former's perpetual containment within the latter." And "For me, Lynch's movies' deconstruction of this weird "irony of the banal" has affected the way I see and organize the world. I've noted since 1986 that a good 65% of the people in metropolitan bus terminals between the hours of midnight and 6:00 A.M. tend to qualify as Lynchian figures—flamboyantly unattractive, enfeebled, grotesque, freighted with a woe out of all proportion to evident circumstances.""

6. Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness (1995) http://www.esquire.com/features/sport... [Esquire, "The String Theory", 1996.]

Yay! more tennis.

"I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables. Given a net that's three feet high (at the center) and two players in (unrealistically) a fixed position, the efficacy of one single shot is determined by its angle, depth, pace, and spin. And each of these determinants is itself determined by still other variables—for example, a shot's depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball's height over the net itself determined by the player's body position, grip on the racquet, degree of backswing, angle of racquet face, and the 3-D coordinates through which the racquet face moves during that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings. The tree of variables and determinants branches out, on and on, and then on even farther when the opponent's own positions and predilections and the ballistic features of the ball he's sent you to hit are factored in. No CPU yet existent could compute the expansion of variables for even a single exchange—smoke would come out of the mainframe. The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then only unconsciously, i.e. by combining talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art".

7. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again [Harper's , "Shipping Out", 1996.]

Wallace goes on a cruise and discovers that "there is something about a mass-market luxury cruise that's unbearably sad."

One of his acquaintances on board is a spoiled teen named Mona, who has the "tiny delicate pale unhappy face of a kind of corrupt doll". Could this be her?

These essays are fun, sad, tender, snarky, intellectual, strange, ordinary. Flawed and perfect. Always entertaining, and always human.

Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,940 followers
January 26, 2018
Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect: on board the Nadir—especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased—I felt despair. The word’s overused and banalified now, despair, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture—a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death. It’s maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it’s not these things, quite. It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I’m small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.

I have many quotes to share. Beautifully written, thought-provoking quotes. Clearly (such a cliche, but it's true), it's not the writer's fault, it's me. I really loved a couple of essays (amazing insights, beautiful language) but I simply couldn't connect with the rest of them. Again, I felt like a complete outsider, something that has happened to me before with other foreign writers. I may be gaining a couple of fervent enemies with this, but I really don't see the point in saying that I loved the whole book when I actually didn't.
So, those almost four stars were given according to what I felt while reading those particular essays (standing ovation to "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"). They were THAT good.

March 2, 14
* Also on my blog.
Profile Image for Matt.
94 reviews310 followers
February 23, 2009
For some strange reason back in junior high school we were allowed a brief recess after lunch. The problem here is that there was very little to do during this recess. Here are the three activity choices that I remember:

1. Mill around on the concrete like inmates always do in "the yard" on those prison television shows.
2. Play a game that one of my fellow scholars evidentally invented that involved a mob of guys bouncing a tennis ball off of a wall and trying to nail each other in the testicles with said ball (Uh...yeah...that one always puzzled me too).
3. Play tennis on the courts adjacent to school.

I chose option number three, mainly because several of my buddies fancied themselves as tennis pros in training. Being a gawky, uncoordinated twelve year old and taking up tennis was probably not the best layed plan in hindsight. I also seemed to have anger management issues that only showed up on the court. The only explanation there is that I must have internalized those film clips of John McEnroe throwing one of his famous tantrums and somehow reasoned in my candy-addled kid brain that this was how tennis was supposed to be played.

The final straw came on the day when I got so mad that I hurled my $2.98 racket at the sky in a high arch. The racket went over my opponents and the fence and bounced twice off of the top of it's head in the grass before coming to rest. I still remember the satisfying "wiff wiff wiff" sound that the racket made when I launched it, but GOOD GAWD I can't believe that I did not kill someone. Somewhere between the release and the bounce I suddenly realized that I hated tennis. In fact I loathed the sport with a passion, and that was the end of that.

So what the hell does that story have to do with this book? "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." contains two articles on the subject of tennis, as this sport was evidentally one of Mr. Wallace's youthful passions. I was less than enthused about this fact upon beginning this book, going so far as to think that those articles might even be a deal breaker. Ultimately, I was completely mesmerized by both of these pieces.

This was my first reading of DFW, and this book proved to me that he was a writer of awesome talent and intelligence who could probably tackle the most boring subject matter and find an angle to make the piece insanely interesting. He doesn't so much write about a subject but instead performs an autopsy on it in a very thorough and precise manner while somehow refraining from an overly belabored writing style.

There is also a certain naked honesty contained in these essays. In "David Lynch Keeps His Head", Wallace does not hesitate to lambaste the filmmaker over what could be considered past artistic miscues, yet this piece still made me want to run out and watch a few David Lynch movies for the umpteenth time. DFW does not exclude himself from his own critical eye either. The title piece revolves around a magazine financed luxury cruise trip taken by Wallace where he shares several social faux pas that he commits onboard the ship. These include such things as brushing off the pre-cruise instructions to bring a tux for formal meals and the resulting disdainful looks that he receives from the geriatric guests when he shows up wearing a tuxedo t-shirt along with an unplanned spit-take when he realizes that he has just put caviar in his mouth.

Probably my two favorite essays in this book are "E Unibus Plurum: Television and US Fiction" and "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All." "E Unibus..." is probably the best cultural critique of television that I have ever read up to this point. "Getting Away..." explores the phenomenon that is the rural state fair. As someone who has "enjoyed" more than my share of these rural fairs growing up, I can say without a doubt that he completely nailed the whole bizarre spectacle. Now there's some subject matter for your next film, Mr. Lynch.

I'm usually very curmudgeonly in awarding a book that magical fifth star, as my personal perameters dictate that the book must fundamentally change my life or alter my understanding of the world in order to score that elusive star. This book may not have achieved that, but it did explode my previous notions of what could be accomplished in the realm of the non-fiction essay. It is also entertaining as hell. There is yet another reason for the five star rating that is of equally questionable validity...

A long time ago in a writing class far, far away I remember an assigned reading involving two marginal authors discussing the writing game. The more seasoned author shared the insight that writers should always just write what they know, as the reader is merely reading in order to get to know the author better anyway and ultimately every human just yearns for that connection and nothing more. I remember this so vividly because I thought that idea was essentially complete bullshit. "I'm into it for the ideas...man." Now this book has to come along and cause me some serious cognitive dissonance. It's all there: the over-analyzed social awkwardness, the off-kilter jokes, and the observations of common human ritual that can only be achieved by an outsider. I could totally go out for drinks with this guy every night. Of course he would intellectualize me under the table, but I would pick up the tab to cut down on the disparity. Unfortunately, however, that ship has sailed.

Profile Image for Liam O'Leary.
485 reviews120 followers
April 21, 2021
2021 Update:
*small soapbox rant*
I've moved my rating from 4 to 5, as I'm starting to feel like I shouldn't 'downrate' writing I find excellent, innovative and necessary, just because I think it has a limited audience. I'm starting to trust my own opinion more because I'm starting to distrust the popular public opinion, and so my reviews from 2021 onwards are going to cater more to whoever likes what I read, rather than to what I think the general public will actually read.

Following the death of Harold Bloom, I am now beginning to question the sociopolitical factors affecting how we appreciate fiction and regard classic fiction. We are living in an age where educators are shunning classics and literary fiction as a genre for political/cultural reasons (#disrupttexts), leading to younger adults doing the same. We now have an all-time low of adults reading at all, and a declining number of people reading anything other than YA/Fantasy/NA. Postmodern writers like DFW might not be accessible, but it absolutely does not mean they are not relevant and important to the time we are living in.
*ok rant over*

Small thing I forgot to mention, is that reading this shortly before a marketing survey about brand advertisement for an academic journal made the interviewers HIGHLY interested in what I was saying. It was funny, I paraphrased E Unibus Pluram and they started focusing more on my comments than other interviewees, despite the fact I'd never used the service.

2017 Reflection:

Rating Breakdown & Summary

1. Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley =5/5 #3.
About DFW's tennis years.

2. E Unibus Pluram =5/5* #1. *Highly recommended*
About the psychological effects of TV and advertisement.

3. Getting Away from... =3/5 #7.
About a (boring) town fair.

4. Greatly Exaggerated =4/5 #6.
About an academic perspective of the role of the author.

5. David Lynch Keeps His Head = 4/5 #4.
About visiting the set of Lost Highway.

6. Tennis Player Michael Joyce's... = 4/5 #5.
About interviewing a cool tennis guy.

7. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again =5/5 #2.
About being on a cruise ship.

Easier to read style to read than in Infinite Jest as these were journalistic pieces meant for magazines. The title is a bit silly, as DFW doesn't really ever make any arguments but he does write very well about what might at first seem to be non-noteworthy observations. 5/5 quality all-round, perhaps even better than his fiction quality. I've given this 4/5 as I would not recommend this to just any reader. DFW's personality is so deeply embedded in all the writing and I can see how this may be unenjoyable for some readers (especially in essay 3). DFW is so good at writing that you the parts you will dislike here are just the parts of him that you dislike. I found myself not enjoying the fair essay because he was scared or allergic to almost everything.

E Unibus Pluram is probably the best essay I have ever read to date, and I would highly recommend picking up the collection just to read this essay to become consciously aware of the role of TV and advertising. There are quotes from it on the separate listing for it on GoodReads that will give you a good idea on why I am so heavily recommending it.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,031 reviews2,386 followers
July 2, 2016
I've read one DFW book - The Broom of the System - and I didn't much care for it. (Though I recently read that the author himself didn't like that one, so - vindication!) Imagine my amazement at how much I enjoyed this collection of essays. There's some clever and insightful commentary here. Wallace even managed to make a subject I have zero interest in - tennis - fascinating. (Well, truthfully, by the second article on the sport, my fascination was dwindling.)

Amid the forced joviality of a cruise ship vacation, Wallace notices There is something bovine about an American tourist in motion as part of a group. A certain greedy placidity to them. Us, rather.

and that

Men after a certain age simply should not wear shorts, I've decided; their legs are hairless in a way that's creepy; the skin seems denuded and practically crying out for hair, particularly in the calves. It's just about the only body-area where you actually want more hair on older men. Is this fibular hairlessness a result of years of chafing in pants and socks?

My favorite essay detailed a visit to the Illinois State Fair where Wallace was less than impressed by the carny folk. Here he brings on the snark big time:

The operator's 24 and from Bee Branch Arkansas, and has an earring and a huge tattoo of a motorcycle w/ naked lady on his triceps. He's been at this gig five years, touring with this one here same company here.


All the carny-game barkers have headset microphones; some are saying "Testing" and reciting their pitches' lines in tentative warm-up ways. A lot of the pitches seem frankly sexual: "You got to get it up to get it in"; "Take it out and lay 'er down, only a dollar"; "Make it stand up. Two dollars five chances. Make it stand up." In the booths, rows of stuffed animals hang by their feet like game put out to cure. One barker's testing his mike by saying "Testes." It smells like machine grease and hair tonic down here, and there's already a spoiled garbagey smell.

Hmm . . . some things are best experienced through the pages of a book. So very glad he's done these "fun" things so I won't ever have to do them. Though, I could actually go for a funnel cake right now.

I may have to give this man's fiction another go.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,548 reviews602 followers
September 9, 2018
By the end of this book, I had the same feeling that David Foster Wallace had about cruise ships in the title essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing, I’ll Never Do Again.” On the surface, AMAZING, but by the end, just wanted to get out.

Wallace writes dazzling, brilliant sentences, paragraphs, pages. Yet I had the same problem with all of these essays. I started each one being hugely impressed, but as I continued, felt clobbered, smothered, exhausted by the over-the-top excess of his verbiage. And then I was compelled to skim until I was struck by another dazzling paragraph. I don’t know how to rate this book since my experience ranged from 1 star to 5 stars. This was not a mediocre collection but I’m giving it 3 stars.
Profile Image for Madeleine.
Author 2 books867 followers
October 10, 2012
My woefully late introduction to David Foster Wallace came earlier this year when I noshed greedily on “The Broom of the System,” which humbled and fascinated and tickled and impressed the ever-loving shit out of me to the point where I only gave it four stars because the guy wrote it when he was younger than I am now and I have it on good faith that his later works are even better.

Reading this made me feel a lot of things -- the way it eased my unshakable sense of being lonely in a totally cliched existential sort of way that I feel like I maybe should have grown out of by now being one of the biggies; most of said feelings were staggeringly positive -- but the most persistent and lingering one was this quiet sadness. The dates imprinted on a lot of these pieces (the early to mid-‘90s, not one predating my exit from elementary school) are just long ago enough to start taking on the sheen of gauzy quaintness that I'm beginning to understand and is plain fucking weird while also being an unpleasantly vague reminder that since time stops for no man, death comes for everyone. (Interestingly, the offerings herein don't come off as dated -- cell phones as shiny new things that only the elite few possess! the rise of irony in popular culture! the advent of the internet! Rather, they serve as one big time capsule for a great mind reacting to really strange times. It was so weird (and rad as hell, too) to read about a very smart and very aware adult reflecting about a present I can only recall from a child's long-ago vantage point.)

And it was thinking like that, in the moments I stopped reading this collection to process the range of thoughts it reflected, the ideas it proposed and feelings it gave rise to because I was so dazzled by how DFW made me care about things I’d never had two shits to rub together in regard to before, how he had a wicked knack for turning a simple observation into an unobtrusively significant moment, how he didn’t so much observe as understand the intangibles that were the driving forces of these pieces, that just made me sad that someone with a unique grasp on the human condition and inner workings of everything isn’t around to keep pointing out the unassuming but ever-present imperatives of absolutely all the things, including the pants-shittingly terrible experience that is putting oneself at the mercy of (or simply considering) a Midwestern state fair's death-trap carnival rides. And that I didn’t know to mourn DFW's passing until much later, leaving me to feel like my newly hatched enthusiasm for his brilliance is somehow insincere in its belatedness, however genuine I know it to be.

It also forced me to (very unwillingly, because my brain stops at this station a lot and I kind of hate it, even if it is something made of pure conjecture) think about what terms would drive me to check out early, too. Such things are worth mentioning because someone as willing as DFW was to look deep inside everything's inner workings to find their true meaning, to me, deserves the same kind of respectful concern. Rather than turning me off entirely, though, that train of thought made me even more willing to take DFW's careful deliberations to heart and try to see things as he does in the pieces comprising "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."

I know it sounds like a cop-out but each one of these essays and arguments brings something different to the table, which made it hard for me to decide whether or not I have a favorite piece in the collection. But I also don’t think that’s fair because each of the seven pieces has a different intention. (Get ready for the oncoming wall of text!)

It’s terrifying to see the dangers of mindless consumption via television’s manipulation addressed almost two decades ago -- the way advertisers always knew how to create a selling image for a blindly consumer-happy, image-obsessed American audience, the way societal conventions change television archetypes every so often, how all alternative trends eventually become bastardized into some mass-produced dross -- and fascinating to retrace the path of Metafiction's influence on today's entertainment in “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction." The nod to New Journalism in “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” and the way DFW turns his experiences and observations at the ’93 Illinois State Fair into something bigger and more universal than it appears while capturing what exactly makes it such a unique beast should sound cynical and self-involved but doesn't. “Greatly Exaggerated,” or deconstructing a literary trend that is all about deconstructing previously accepted literary trends, was the headiest of the pieces; if I thought my ever-growing love for postmodernism in all its flavors was the only thing that made me appreciate the piece, then I would have entirely missed the points of both “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” (DFW’s own forays into high-school tennis, the success of which he owed to a mental rather than athletic prowess that he seems unnecessarily apologetic about, the way someone who’s really good at something but is humbled rather than bolstered by it is) and “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” which does address all those things (and more!) in relation to Joyce’s unflappable straightforwardness and tennis philosophy and has quite a bit to say about the nature and sacrifices of professional athletes and other applicable-to-everyone’s-lives truths. “David Lynch Keeps His Head” may have began as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the birth of "Lost Highway” but winds up examining Lynch’s catalog and pinpointing all the ways he thoroughly messes with American moviegoers’ expectations and gets labeled as “sick” or “inaccessible” because of it (let me tell you something, “Mulholland Drive” made a hell of a lot more sense than it had any right to after reading this, which kind of freaked me out). Lastly, the piece that shares its title with this collection, a dissertation on the crises, implications and microcosmic representations of the id’s insatiable demand to get back the fuck into the womb for the relief of helpless indulgence via the luxury of Caribbean cruises, might just be the most thought-provoking and metaphorically successful vacation piece ever wrought. Ever.

So, yeah, there’s some varied stuff here but commonalities do emerge. One of the other things I'm liking best about DFW's stuff is that I absolutely have to read every single word and perform a few mental gymnastics to accommodate both the accessible-but-high-minded assertions and the asides that layer his writings with brilliance: It creates a kind of focus that has helped me retain more of his works than more simply written fare. Intentional or not, that same kind of keen attention appeared to be what DFW wanted to coax from his readers, imploring the audience to go forth and value the little things for their unique place in the world in order to better understand (or deconstruct, if you like) and appreciate them. Because nothing is just one thing: Everything comprises lots of unnoticed little things, and appreciating that makes it all worth the effort.

DFW infuses all of his topics with the same careful dissection (and flurry of pitch-perfect, lovingly applied ten-dollar words, which deserves mention for being delightful in its own word-nerd right), approaching an understanding devoid of all judgement, which is what appealed to me the most about this collection. It's so hard to approach a topic without bringing any sort of preconceived notions to the table -- like, DFW acknowledges the possibility of being perceived as an East Coast snob throughout his state-fair peregrinations, negating the impression of such a thing (to the reader, at least) with his conscious honesty -- but none of that lives here. There is no depressed acceptance of the way things are in his intellectual explorations; instead, he finds a way to break down the necessary humanity behind everything, bringing them to a wholly sympathetic, neutral at worst/misunderstood necessity at best sort of light. He analyzes social situations with a mathematical precision, offering a rational discourse instead of a detached report. He wants to pick things apart to achieve not reductive meaningless but sincere realization and factual certainty of a thing's nature and composition and intent.

In this way, he's a champion of eliminating the false veneer of fantasy that shrouds so many unattainable-by-normal-people things in seductive mystery -- that also drives the average Joe to the depths of jealousy and deluded despair. Breaking down the misconception that lies between the behind-the-scenes reality and the polished final dream, looking behind the curtain to understand the hard work and sacrifices of those in the public eye (writers to an extent but mostly film-industry professionals and celebrity athletes) makes them less scary, more systematic, and far, far less enviable.

One of the hallmarks of a genius, to me, is the ability to inspire curiosity and critical thinking in others, which is exactly what this collection does. I don't care if I'm betraying my terminally uncool tardy-to-the-party over-eagerness in this review; I do, however, care that DFW made me give an earnest fuck about tennis. Twice.
Profile Image for Tara.
434 reviews19 followers
August 30, 2017
3.5 stars, but I’m rounding up due to DFW’s description of his bout of overly-efficient-room-cleaning-induced paranoia, which was featured in an essay on the in(s)anity of travelling aboard a luxury cruise ship. I’ve had nearly the same suspicions myself at hotels in the past, though I do tend to thrive on low-grade paranoia as a general rule. At any rate, it was good to know I’m not the only one who has been unnerved by this sinister phenomenon. I definitely find Mr. Wallace more relatable than ever after reading this collection…a semi-agoraphobe after my own heart! Room-cleaning excerpt included below:
“Because after a couple days of this fabulous invisible room-cleaning, I start to wonder how exactly Petra knows when I’m in 1009 and when I’m not. It’s now that it occurs to me how rarely I ever see her. For a while I try experiments like all of a sudden darting out into the 10-Port hallway to see if I can see Petra hunched somewhere keeping track of who is decabining, and I scour the whole hallway-and-ceiling area for evidence of some kind of camera or monitor tracking movements outside the cabin doors—zilch on both fronts. But then I realize that the mystery’s even more complex and unsettling than I’d first thought, because my cabin gets cleaned always and only during intervals where I’m gone more than half an hour. When I go out, how can Petra or her supervisors possibly know how long I’m going to be gone? I try leaving 1009 a couple times and then dashing back after 10 or 15 minutes to see whether I can catch Petra in delicto, but she’s never there. I try making a truly unholy mess in 1009 and then leaving and hiding somewhere on a lower deck and then dashing back after exactly 29 minutes — and again when I come bursting through the door there’s no Petra and no cleaning. Then I leave the cabin with exactly the same expression and appurtenances as before and this time stay hidden for 31 minutes and then haul ass back — and this time again no sighting of Petra, but now 1009 is sterilized and gleaming and there’s a mint on the pillow’s fresh new case. Know that I carefully scrutinize every inch of every surface I pass as I circle the deck during these little experiments — no cameras or motion sensors or anything in evidence anywhere that would explain how They know. So now for a while I theorize that somehow a special crewman is assigned to each passenger and follows that passenger at all times, using extremely sophisticated techniques of personal surveillance and reporting the passenger’s movements and activities and projected time of cabin-return back to Steward HQ or something, and so for about a day I try taking extreme evasive actions — whirling suddenly to check behind me, popping around corners, darting in and out of Gift Shops via different doors, etc. — never one sign of anybody engaged in surveillance. I never develop even a plausible theory about how They do it. By the time I quit trying, I’m feeling half-crazed, and my counter-surveillance measures are drawing frightened looks and even some temple-tapping from 10-Port’s other guests.”
Profile Image for Mala.
158 reviews184 followers
October 16, 2015

Recommended for: DFW naysayers.

This is gourmet meal with all the essential DFW ingredients: sparkling wit, a wicked & self-deprecatory humour, "self-consciously unself-conscious" irony, probing details but as is typical of pricey meals -- in healthy, small portions, easily digestible!
It is also very lovingly prepared in that the essays & opinion pieces here are heartfelt & personal, thus easily relatable.
I open the first chapter- 'Derivative Sport in Tornado Valley', & am stumped! Tennis again! ( it proved to be my bane in IJ). But this time it's different, I am touched by this wryly poignant account of why, despite a very promising start; the writer couldn't pursue a tennis career. Well, tennis' loss was literature's gain!

The next one, 'E Unibus Pluram', one of DFW's seminal essays; examines the dumbing down of American culture via television where an average American family watches telly for an average of 6hrs per day! Turning viewers into "sweaty, slack-jawed voyers" & how for fiction writers tv can never be a substitute for real life.Television's "mirror hall of illusions is both medicine and poison." The same idea is revisited in 'Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko' in 'Brief Interviews...'.
The essay left me with mixed feelings: the very assumption that fiction writers are getting their material from telly-watching is atrocious!
It's like the Lady of Shalott, cursed to view the world outside only as reflected through an enchanted mirror-- you know it can't last - reality can't only be reflected through a glass surface of any kind; whatever be one's social awkwardness, reality has to be confronted first hand. So that's that.

But the next, long essay 'Getting Away from Already Pretty much Being Away From It All', amply made up for it: it took me back in time to the childhood fairs with their rides & endless food stalls. Of course, it was nothing like the Illinois State Fair that Wallace describes here, piling such minutiae into the narrative that the very sights, sounds & even the smells come alive! His "Native Companion" is a hoot! It's a celebration of community living, ironically though, this "community" itself has subdivisions!

Already in a good mood, I was even more delighted to find that Wallace was a "fanatical follower" of David Lynch! How gratifying to see DFW gushing over Lynch just as we gush over him here!  Says he:

"For me, Lynch's movies' deconstruction of their weird "irony of the banal"* has affected the way I see and organize the world. I've noted since 1986 that a good 65% of the people in metropolitan bus terminals between the hours of midnight and 6:00 A.M. tend to qualify as Lynchian figures—flamboyantly unattractive, enfeebled, grotesque, freighted with a woe out of all proportion to evident circumstances."  

Now you know when Wallace tortures his readers by going off at tangents, all those unexplainable strange stories, it's David Lynch's fault! 'Cause true "artists" don't give a damn about what people think about them, they just stay true to their "personal vision".
In a footnote, Wallace even advises men never to date girls with "Lynchian background."!
This opinion piece was so persuasive & detailed that I ended up watching some old favs like Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead & some unseen ones, so make sure you have the movies ready 'cause like me you'll also get sidetracked.

The mini cine retrospective over, I come back to the book-- more tennis follows!
I skip this side dish & turn to the dessert: 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again' —I must make my husband read this one: he is forever pestering me to join him on a cruise ship to Antarctica or some other such godforsaken place! Imagine the vastness of the ocean & where will you run if you don't quite like the experience? (Remember Polanski's 'Bitter Moon'?).
Can there be something as too much of a good thing? Apparently there is - Wallace's sensitive mind rebels against the micromanagement of his time,where you are not only told that you are going to enjoy the experience but also what your reactions are going to be! There is something touchingly naive about his idealism which expects "a personal touch" in the obsessive housekeeping of his cabin, "a business smile" to reach the eyes!
You know such a temperament is programmed to be unhappy: a mind that puts a premium on integrity in not only itself but in everyone that it comes across!
Nathan "N.R." was right- DFW is there in his writings—here is the man in his own words; how much more up close & personal can you get? Grab the opportunity, grab the book.
I guess the 5* rating says it all, still I'll say- wow just wow!

* 'David Lynch Keeps His Head' - 'An academic definition of Lynchian might be that the term "refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former's perpetual containment within the latter". But with 'postmodern' or 'pornographic', Lynchian is one of those Potter Stewart-type words that's definable only ostensively- i.e. we know it when we see it.'
Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
May 14, 2010
Started rereading the titular (va-voom) essay to cheer myself up in migraine malaise. Dear God it's so fucking funny. Quite possibly the best essay ever. The spousal overunit moved into another room with his laptop to do homework because when I tried to read out sentence-paragraphs in acquiescence to the demand of 'What's so funny' I couldn't finish for giggling.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book349 followers
April 9, 2009
This collection of essays contains the two pieces that David Foster Wallace is probably best known for: "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All," his observations on attending the Illinois State Fair, and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," his musings on a week-long Caribbean cruise. Both pieces are truly fantastic reading, entertaining, educational and brilliant all in the same breath.

Since I've often suspected that a mass market cruise would mirror my own personal version of Hell, I related particularly well to his commentary on the emotional underbelly that lurks beneath the shiny surface of the "managed fun" the cruise ship staff does its best to inflict upon its passengers. In the wake of the author's recent suicide, it was terribly sad to read some of his thoughts on the despair this situation inspired in him. At the time he wrote it, however, that despair was balanced out by an astounding sense of humor, and I am still laughing as I reflect upon sections such as the fear he inspired in innocent bystanders during his first skeet shooting attempts and the footnote in which he detailed the numerous breaches of etiquette he managed to make during Elegant Tea Time.

Other topics addressed in this collection include the impact of television on his generation of fiction writers (written long before reality television burst on the scene, leaving me wistfully wondering if he had written anything on that topic before his untimely death—if anyone knows of anything, I'd appreciate being pointed to it), observations on director David Lynch and why his films are so creepily disturbing, commentary on certain points of literary theory that was so far beyond me it came close to making my head explode (fortunately, this piece was short) and a surprisingly fascinating look at the "minor leagues" of professional tennis, those players whose names we never hear but who are the foundation upon which the TV-friendly greats all stand.

My favorite piece in this book, however, is the first one, "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley." It is a meditation on his own early tennis ambitions and how his understanding of math and intuitive sense of Midwestern weather allowed him to progress farther in his playing than his mediocre talent alone would have allowed. There is something so profound about the bittersweet tone of this piece and the intensity of its ending that I suspect it will stay with me for a long, long time.

David, you will be sorely missed.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
November 13, 2015
David Foster Wallace é um GÉNIO!
Tudo o que escreve é revelador de uma Inteligência e Imaginação Ilimitadas.
É assombrosa a sua capacidade de observação, análise e exposição de situações e temas que passariam despercebidas ao comum dos mortais.

Este volume contém oito ensaios - alguns baseados na sua própria experiência como repórter contratado por revistas americanas - e o único discurso que fez para finalistas de um colégio.
É uma experiência única - umas vezes triste, outras divertida - "ouvi-lo falar":
sobre a sua visão da vida;
sobre a sua paixão pelo ténis;
sobre a televisão e a sua influência nos escritores americanos;
sobre o cinema de David Lynch;
sobre a crueldade a que são sujeitos os animais com que nos alimentamos;
sobre o Horror do dia 11 de Setembro;
sobre a pornografia e os problemas "do pau" dos actores;
sobre as viagens de cruzeiro e a forma perfeita (e ridícula) como tudo está organizado para mimar e divertir o viajante.

Um dia não terei mais nada para ler de David Foster Wallace. Talvez porque o mundo dos vivos seja demasiado pequeno para os Seres Superiores...

"Dois peixes novitos vão a nadar e, por acaso, cruzam-se com um peixe mais velho, a nadar na direcção oposta, que os cumprimenta com um aceno da cabeça e diz: Bom dia, rapazes. Que tal a água?
E os dois peixes novitos continuam a nadar durante um bocado e, por fim, há um que olha para o outro e pergunta: Que raio é que é a água?"
Profile Image for Kristi  Siegel.
192 reviews594 followers
March 3, 2010
[image error]
"a Kilroyishly surreal quality"

...I fell for DFW in the footnotes.

How was I to know? I don't read footnotes. When I edited a couple of books, I told the contributors, in draconian terms, that if the information wasn't important enough to include in their main text, delete the footnote; if it was, incorporate it into the main text.

Wallace puts many of his best lines, and a lot of himself, in his footnotes. They form a sort of counter-essay, hunkering below and complicating the essay above. When I initially read the book's title essay, true to form, I skipped the footnotes. I was ready to hurl the book after the chess-match description. Repeatedly, Wallace reminds us what a good chess player he is, and offers up the information that he didn't even start playing chess until he was in his late twenties. Apparently, this late start is more genuine than that of the nine-year-old girl who defeats him. Her talent, somehow genetic and mechanical, is lifeless and urged into motion by her hateful stage mother. I wanted to yell, "Oh shut up, man up, and get over it. The little girl beat your pants off." Of course in the footnote, countering Wallace's seemingly insufferable behavior, is the comment "only Deirdre's eyes and nose clear the board's table as she sits across from me, adding a Kilroyishly surreal quality to the humiliation" (326).

This is funny stuff, and Wallace underscores his appreciation for the absurdity in a later footnote: "103 - I've sure never lost to any prepubescent females in fucking Ping-Pong, I can tell you" (328).

The alternate "footnotes' essay" of the essay entitled "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's..." beats the main essay hands down. As a former, quite crappy, tennis player, I recall watching some of the players he describes, though not Michael Joyce. That ignorance, however, does not lessen the hilarity of footnote no. 18:
Joyce is even more impressive, but I hadn't seen Joyce yet. And Enqvist is even more impressive than Joyce, and Agassi live is even more impressive than Enqvist. After the week was over, I truly understand why Charlton Heston looks gray and ravaged on his descent from Sinai: past a certain point, impressiveness is corrosive to the psyche." (224)

And then there's this razor-sharp snapshot of McEnroe, whom I do recall watching, in footnote no. 30:
John McEnroe wasn't all that tall, and he was arguably the best serve-and-volley man of all time, but then McEnroe was an exception to pretty much every predictive norm there was. At his peak (say 1980 to 1984), he was the greatest tennis player who ever lived--the most talented, the most beautiful, the most tormented: a genius. For me, watching McEnroe don a polyester blazer and do stiff lame truistic color commentary for TV is like watching Faulkner do a Gap ad." (230)

OTOH, Wallace's dissection of a moderately revised Ph.D. dissertation in the essay, "Greatly Exaggerated," is the sort of shooting fish in the barrel, beneath his talents' stuff that I decried in my original review below, and the title essay, though now beloved by me, is still riddled with death - from his description of the preternatural cleanliness of the ship, hiding the inevitable decay, to the disturbingly electric blue Caribbean sky.

However, I'm ready to go back to Infinite Jest, with far more loving thoughts toward DFW, a fellow agoraphobe.

...Unfortunately, I can't read the teeny font in his opus, and the print in the footnotes is even teenier. I'm accepting donations for a Kindle DX, 9.7" display, $489.

* * * * * *
original rant

David Foster Wallace may tip me over the brink. 160 or so pages into his opus, IF, I decided that the book was in jest, infinitely, and I wasn't going to participate in the joke. I've just finished the title essay from his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and while I found much of it engaging, like a high wire act, virtuoso performances engage only so long.

I'm trying to determine why DFW elicits so much irritation. He's only 33 when he writes this essay about his cruise experience, but his death is riddled throughout the narrative. I may be succumbing to what Jean-Paul Sartre said about how, once lived. we read a life backwards (I need to look this up - Sartre wrote this more eloquently).

Despite that bit of poignancy, most of the time I'd like to reach through the pages and slap DFW. His view, so often, is from on high. He looks down from the high deck at the tourists disgorging from the ship to see the sights. He takes such pains not to be one of the ridiculous American tourists he mocks, and yet, he's a little ridiculous himself - primarily camped out in Cabin 1009, with the exception of the moments he takes mental snapshots of the "others" as surely as if he used a camera, which he reminds us at least three times, he does not use, the camera being such a touristy icon and all.

Perhaps it's all this prodigious talent being wasted on taking potshots at the inanity of a cruise trip - while his snarky comments are often dead on accurate and occasionally hilarious; these glossy surfaces must have been child's play for him. He mocks the commercial-essay Frank Conroy produces for the cruise ship, but DFW may be providing only the photo-negative.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,024 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.