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Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

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Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike's deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person? David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of a vicious presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World's Largest Lobster Cooker at the annual Maine Lobster Festival, Wallace projects a quality of thought that is uniquely his and a voice as powerful and distinct as any in American letters.

Contains: "Big Red Son," "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think," "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed," "Authority and American Usage," "The View from Mrs. Thompson's," "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart," "Up, Simba," "Consider the Lobster," "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" and "Host."

343 pages, Hardcover

First published December 13, 2005

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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.


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Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,338 followers
January 31, 2008
Full disclosure: I have a major intellectual crush on David Foster Wallace. Yes, yes, I know all about his weaknesses - the digressions, the rampant footnote abuse, the flaunting of his amazing erudition, the mess that is 'Infinite Jest'. I know all this, and I don't care. Because when he is in top form, there's nobody else I would rather read. The man is hilarious; I think he's a mensch, and I don't believe he parades his erudition just to prove how smart he is. I think he can't help himself - it's a consequence of his wide-ranging curiosity. At heart he's a geek, but a charming, hyper-articulate geek. Who is almost frighteningly smart.

The pieces in “Consider the Lobster” have appeared previously in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Observer, the Philadelphia Enquirer, Harper’s, Gourmet, and Premiere magazines. Among them are short meditations on Updike’s ‘Toward the end of Time’, on Dostoyevsky, on Kafka’s humor, and on the ‘breathtakingly insipid autobiography’ of tennis player Tracy Austin. An intermediate length piece describes Foster Wallace’s (eminently sane) reaction to the attacks of September 11th. Each of these shorter essays is interesting, but the meat and potatoes of the book is in the remaining five, considerably longer, pieces. They are:

Big Red Son: a report on the 1998 Adult Video News awards (the Oscars of porn) in Las Vegas.
Consider the Lobster: a report on a visit to the annual Maine Lobster Festival (for Gourmet magazine).
Host: a report on conservative talk radio, based on extensive interviews conducted with John Ziegler, host of “Live and Local” on Southern California’s KFI.
Up Simba: an account of seven days on the campaign trail with John McCain in his 2000 presidential bid (for Rolling Stone).
Authority and American Usage: a review of Bryan Garner’s “A Dictionary of Modern American Usage” , which serves as a springboard for a terrific exegesis of usage questions and controversies.

Here’s what I like about David Foster Wallace’s writing: I know of nobody else who writes as thoughtfully and intelligently. That he manages to write so informatively, with humor and genuine wit, on almost any subject under the sun is mind-blowing – it’s also why I am willing to forgive his occasional stylistic excesses. (Can you spell ‘footnote’?) You may not have a strong interest in lobsters or pornography, but the essays in question are terrific. The reporting on Ziegler and McCain is amazingly good, heartbreakingly so, because it makes the relative shallowness of most reporting painfully evident. Finally, the article on usage is a tour de force – when it first appeared in Harper’s, upon finishing it, I was immediately moved to go online and order a copy of Garner’s book (which is just as good as DFW promised).

How can you not enjoy an essay that begins as follows?

Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of US lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a near Lewinskian scale?

....... (several other rhetorical questions) ......

Did you know that US lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?

And which later contains sentences such as:
Teachers who do this are dumb. ,
This argument is not quite the barrel of drugged trout that Methodological Descriptivism was, but it’s still vulnerable to objections.
and – my personal favorite –
This is so stupid it practically drools.

Not everyone will give it 5 stars, but I do.

Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,192 reviews1,817 followers
January 20, 2023

The Lizard King, il Re Lucertola.

Nel 1966 i Doors debuttarono con il disco omonimo.
Un capolavoro. Undici canzoni indimenticabili. Eterne, semplici e raffinate, banali e rivoluzionarie.
Usavano motivi latini (bossanova) e soul, ma poi anche Brecht & Weil, non usavano il basso, almeno in concerto, e a coronare tutto c'era lui, Jim Morrison, insuperabile rettile e crooner.
Fu una rivoluzione.
Tuttora, il disco è fantastico, attualissimo e per tanti versi, ancora anticipatore.

DFW mi ci ha fatto pensare.

In questo libro si parla anche dell’edizione 1998 degli Adult Video News Award. Qui una foto scattata all’edizione #29 del 2012: da sinistra a destra Kaylani Lei, Jessica Drake, Stormy Daniels, Alektra Blue.

Penso che DFW sia stato nella letteratura come Morrison nella musica (moderna? Contemporanea? Rock? Pop? Per me, musica tout court), e le sue opere siano arrivate come arrivò il primo disco dei Doors: metà meteora metà bomba. Un incontro ravvicinato del terzo tipo, che è diventato amicizia.

Quando lo leggo, mi sento come in cima a un faro, e chi mi frequenta sa che ho la passione per questo luogo e architettura e simbolo: con un libro di DFW in mano sono in un posto che svetta su tutto senza ostacoli aperto a 360°.
DFW apre una finestra alla volta, con ogni narrazione (saggio, racconto, romanzo, son tutte narrazioni), allarga l'orizzonte, attraverso il suo punto di vista si riesce a vedere la terra che finisce e là comincia il cielo (per esempio, la sua visuale sull'11 settembre 2001).

In questo libro c’è anche un capitolo intitolato “Alcune considerazioni sulla comicità di Kafka che forse dovevano essere tagliate ulteriormente”.

Altro aspetto molto interessante delle opere del nostro affezionato è che l'argomento che affronta non ha la minima importanza: cosa può interessarci del resoconto di una crociera nei Caraibi, o dell'analisi critica dell'autobiografia di Tracy Austin, per non parlare della minuziosa disanima di un nuovo dizionario della lingua inglese?! Meno di niente ovviamente.

O meglio, errore parziale: all'inizio non ce ne importa nulla ed è giusto - poi man mano che DFW parola dopo parola, rigo dopo rigo, nota dopo nota e pagina dopo pagina, ci assorbe cattura trasforma ammalia, di quegli argomenti lì ci interessa moltissimo e vogliamo che continui a parlarcene.

Oppure, ci interessa semplicemente che ci parli, che si rivolga a noi, perché quello che conta è la sua voce più che le cose che dice.

Il magnifico capitolo intitolato “La vista da casa della sig.ra Thompson” sull’11 settembre, e il fiorire di bandiere americane esposte ogni dove.

Anche perché il fatto che scrivendo si rivolga spesso direttamente a noi lettori, davvero a noi come fossimo persone, adulti intelligenti e degni di rispetto (e non all'astrazione demografica che potremmo rappresentare, e qui uso e gioco con le sue stesse parole) non è un vezzo, è proprio vero: DFW scrive per noi. Per lui noi siamo fondamentali, non si prende mai sul serio ma prende noi lettori dannatamente sul serio.

Forse se continua a parlarci, a interessarsi a noi, prima o poi ci illumina del suo immenso, ci rende un po' più intelligenti colti ossessivi maniacali ironici divertenti brillanti...

In questo libro c’è anche un capitolo dedicato alla tennista Tracy Austin intitolato “Come Tracy Austin mi ha spezzato il cuore”.

Mi piace il suo coraggio, il suo non nascondersi, non tirarsi indietro, il suo mettersi in gioco e in discussione, il suo spaccare il capello in 44, il suo trasformare sabbia in oro...

Un'altra cosa che mi ha colpito è che con DFW ho messo da parte la matita: o sottolineavo e chiosavo tutto, o nulla, come ho subito capito che era meglio fare.

Oh, sì, certo, le note e le note dentro le note sono una meraviglia, parte integrante del testo, niente marginalità – e gli acronimi sono un piacere distillato, la prefazione che lui definisce “facoltativa” è invece esilarante e mette su una gran voglia di sapere il resto, di più, di più, sempre di più, oltre ...

Considera l’aragosta: il racconto della Fiera dell’astice del Maine.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,101 followers
January 13, 2021
Consider The Essay

This is a fine collection of essays. It does not seem to be put together following any particular collective logic, but all the essays seem to be good advertisements to DFW’s intuitively imaginative, explorative and curious writing method. Would need to read more of DFW’s essays to be able to comment on the logic of this particular set of essays inhabiting the same book. It is, however, vintage DFW and hence cannot be rated below 5 stars, even if a couple of essays were so-so.

For practical purposes, everyone knows what an essay (or a book review) is. As usual, though, there’s much more to know than most of us care about—it’s all a matter of what your interests are. 

The first extremely explicit essay on an inside look into the Porn industry turned this reviewer off slightly (being the prude that I am) but from then on it was increasingly easy to figure why so many of my most respected friends have such an intellectual crush on DFW. I have too now, I guess. Or maybe it is puppy love. Hard to know for sure. IJ is such a bad place to first encounter DFW, he is all infinite there (with no restrictions on his interpolative imagination), the finite essays are so much more fun, accessible and lovable and most importantly, imitable (at least in intent, if not in style). The biggest crush-inducer, however, is how many of DFW’s sentences and ideas you actually want to remember and use for yourself. Therein lies the most important reason to fall in love - he is really placing himself at a level that you can aspire towards. Not too difficult, not too complex, but deliciously complex enough to stretch comprehension and understanding. It is not terribly difficult to fall in love from there.

This reviewer acknowledges that there seems to be some, umm, personal stuff getting worked out here; but the stuff is, umm, germane.

As you get into the essays, you will find that the jungle of footnotes and the sub-foot-notes (and sub-sub… well no point in scaring off potential readers) will soon become a veritable tangle. Not to mention the thicket of interpolations - interpolation upon interpolation upon interpolation, ad infinitum. I had read a New York Times piece with a great quote from DFW in reference to his endnotes: "Most poetry is written to ride on the breath, and getting to hear the poet read is kind of a revelation and makes the poetry more alive. But with certain literary narrative writers like me, we want the writing to sound like a brain voice, like the sound of the voice inside of the head, and the brain voice is faster, is absent any breath, and it holds together grammatically rather than sonically."

Not sure if this applies to his fiction as well but, if you happen to miss the footnotes, you would miss half the fun, not to mention half the book.

This reviewer was never able to figure out if DFW is showing off or if he just couldn’t help being a genius. It was a source of constant amazement to observe how DFW uses a review (or any given essay) to explore every pet topic imaginable. It was even more amazing to imagine how his editors let him do that.

In illustration of this amazement:
For it turned out that the more interesting a […] happenstance was, the more time and page-space it took to make sense of it, or, if it made no sense, to describe what it was and explain why it didn’t make sense but was interesting anyway if viewed in a certain context that then itself had to be described, and so on. With the end result being that the actual document delivered per contract to Rolling Stone magazine turned out to be longer and more complicated than they’d asked for. Quite a bit longer, actually. In fact the article’s editor pointed out that running the whole thing would take up most of Rolling Stone’s text-space and might even cut into the percentage of the magazine reserved for advertisements, which obviously would not do.

Surely, you get the drift...

On ‘DFW’: 'David Foster Wallace' is a pretty long name. David, Foster or Wallace, however, by themselves wouldn’t be enough to indicate who you are referring to. Hence it has to be the whole name - David Foster Wallace, which being too long is ‘DFW’ - the best option for fans who want to talk about DFW often enough.

In sum, give DFW any topic and he will conjure out of it the angst of the modern condition, link it with some fundamental disconnect and manage to be completely non-pretentious and genuine while doing that. He suspends your inner cynic. That is genius, whatever else you might say.
Profile Image for Lea.
119 reviews444 followers
August 30, 2023
Have you ever experienced an intellectual fascination so intense that it compelled you to explore every author favored by the individual in question? That is what brought DFW more to my attention, a writer I had previously considered too intricate, masculinely inclined, and postmodern to align with my traditional and feminine sensibilities.

But having read this, there's little room for doubt in my mind that David Foster Wallace was a writer of exceptional talent, his profound intelligence and extensive erudition apparent in his essays. His works exemplify the art of deep thinking, demonstrating an acute awareness of the complexities of the world. He does not only think profoundly and originally, but also widely, horizontally and vertically. Wallace conveys his intellectual prowess without being overbearing, presenting essays that reveal a multidimensional author - brilliant, and captivatingly unpredictable in his choice of subjects of essays. A diverse range of topics in these essays includes pornography (a personal favorite), the works of Updike, Kafka, and Dostoevsky, the life of Tracy Austin, McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive grammar, all the way to the ethics of boiling lobsters alive.

"At the essence of pornography is the image of flesh used as a drug, a way of numbing psychic pain. But this drug lasts only as long as the man stares at the image…. In pornographic perception, each gesture, each word, each image, is read first and foremost through sexuality. Love or tenderness, pity or compassion, become subsumed by, and are made subservient to, a “greater” deity, a more powerful force…. The addict to pornography desires to be blinded, to live in a dream. Those in the thrall of pornography try to eliminate from their consciousness the world outside pornography, and this includes everything from their family and friends or last Sunday’s sermon to the political situation in the Middle East. In engaging in such elimination the viewer reduces himself. He becomes stupid."

His selection of topics suggests a commitment to his philosophy: a great mind can never be bored and it finds fascination in any subject it delves into. His linguistic richness and structural innovation showcase a mind of a genius, able to extract detailed intellectual constructions from banal events, and the binary thinking prevalent in modern society. He might be the one writer who captured the essence of the philosopher’s stone with his writing - his written word can turn anything into gold.

Wallace is not only smart for the sake of being smart, but he is also smart because he cares about the world. DFW's writing is not only articulate and intelligent but also sensitive and subtly emotional. His reflective analysis is characterized by a hyper-reflection and freedom of rambling that might seem inconsequential to others but is precisely what attracts certain readers to his work.

In his works, Wallace communicates his inner world of a melancholic idealist, a tormented truth-seeker who grapples with imposter syndrome, the great plague of all intelligent people, candidly and transparently. Superficially, some might label Wallace as pretentious due to his interpolations, digressions, and pseudo-philosophies - qualities that serve as both strengths and weaknesses. However, dismissing him as such overlooks the authenticity, goodness, and humility that infuse his writing. What sets Wallace apart from classical pretentious intellectual narcissists is his deep-seated concern for the world and sensitivity to what means to be a human. His intellectual self-absorption is balanced by his vulnerability, a quality that lays his emotions bare. While DFW remains the center of his universe, what a universe it is: captivating yet often bleak.

Much like how he analyzed Dostoyevsky, DFW navigates morality without moralizing. He delves into intricate ethical dilemmas without resorting to shortcuts that lead to logical fallacies. He doesn't claim to possess all the answers, instead meticulously examining moral conflicts, sometimes leaving readers with more questions than resolutions, and an underlying existential turmoil. Although deciphering Wallace's political or religious beliefs from his writing might be challenging, his ambiguity and struggle with his own hypocrisy add a vital layer of authenticity to his work.

Wallace's sentiments echo those of a lost soul, passionate about searching for answers but struggling to find them, for himself and for others, with his internal conflict subtly painting his transfixing thought process. His analysis often doesn't reach a synthesis, consumed as he is by unanswerable worldly questions. He feels and thinks too deeply - both his greatest blessing and curse that leads into the abyss of depression.

Wallace believed that the capital Truth resides in free will. However, this realization comes with a heavy burden of perpetual self-assessment, fostering isolation, intense self-absorption, and overwhelming self-awareness. Once you acknowledge that your own flaws are nothing but a result of your own doing, the scope of hyper-reflexivity becomes limitless. Moreover, the responsibility of making crucial decisions that determine your destiny can instill insurmountable pressure to rely solely on yourself.

Irrespective of the topic, Wallace consistently seeks the essence of phenomena. His analysis of contemporary society is fundamentally metaphysical and subversive. He critiques solipsism, arguing that the current social structures breed egocentrism, fear, loneliness, and sorrow. Ironically, DFW himself is profoundly and transparently self-centered in an infinite quest for peace of his own mind.

Wallace's endorsement of self-sacrifice seems rooted in self-interest -the idea that sacrificing oneself is necessary to ultimately save oneself. Despite his genuine desire to care for others, his philosophy revolves around the self, often contemplating the false self and grappling to unearth the authentic one. This creates an individual who is both astute in perception and profoundly isolated, his keen observations of the world leaving him detached.

“Is it possible really to love other people? If I’m lonely and in pain, everyone outside me is potential relief—I need them. But can you really love what you need so badly? Isn’t a big part of love caring more about what the other person needs? How am I supposed to subordinate my own overwhelming need to somebody else’s needs that I can’t even feel directly? And yet if I can’t do this, I’m damned to loneliness, which I definitely don’t want …so I’m back at trying to overcome my selfishness for self-interested reasons. Is there any way out of this bind?”

Wallace left nothing unexamined, even his self-centredness, which transforms his narcissism into charm, avoiding the trap of becoming hollow intellectualization. He embodies the paradox of deeply caring for others while remaining intensely focused on himself.

The versatileness of his writing which at times borders with stream-of-consciousness ramblings does not take away from his recognisability in different essays, his signature wit and style, style only being simplification in an absence of a better word, but more of the personality and charm, his spirit, the sign of the true canonical writer, as he himself describes the great writers, the kind one can recognize within paragraphs. The interpolation is palpable in his work, and footnotes often contain even more profound material than the main text. This isn't accidental; it's an embodiment of his philosophical approach to thought, the pursuit of truth in the overlooked corners rather than the obvious center.
DFW is working at the edge, posing obscure questions about the bizarre, mad world we live in, in an equally bizarre yet innovative manner. It is a wild ride being inside his brain, even for a few essays.

It is rightful to label Wallace a postmodern philosopher, a hero of hypersensitive, mordant, rueful and lonely observers of the world. His writing serves as an exercise in inquisitive, creative, experimental thinking that stretches the limits of comprehension. It testifies to the potency of a brilliant artist's ability to challenge and encourage readers to contemplate in ways they wouldn't otherwise, without access to profound literature.

Consider the Lobster, consider great literature and consider DFW.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,116 followers
May 15, 2011
Outstanding. The closest one can get to triple penetration in essay form.

Each one is a stunner, from the grotesquerie of the Adult Video Awards in ‘Big Red Son,’ the magniloquent ass-handing of John Updike, the sublime pedantry of the modern classic ‘Authority and American Usage,’ the obsessive campaign chronicling of ‘Up, Simba,’ to the staggeringly researched meta-bubbling John Ziegler profile ‘Host.’

All the essays succeed at tying razor-sharp exegeses of American culture to a holy clarity of insight, showing how acutely attuned to the nuances of the human mind Mr. Wallace was. Even among the shorter pieces here: the Bergman-like silence of ‘The View From Mrs Thompson’s’ to the dazzling dissection of Dostoevsky, this is super-stellar belles-lettrism from outer space.

And to top it all, I now feel deeply for lobsters.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,489 reviews2,373 followers
June 28, 2019
I've long been told by so many to read Infinite Jest, but the problem is, an equal amount of people have said it's not worth the bother. For a book so long, I'm not ready to take the risk. I can't comment on his fiction, but this collection of essays was simply A+ material. I would have given five stars just for the piece on the porn industry. The rest too were also mighty fine. I don't use tour de force that often when it comes to books, but this was precisely that.

He's been called a postmodern philosopher, and a genius, and also a sublimely funny writer, and that it's easy to see here. It's funny ha-ha and peculiar funny. Consider the Lobster offers an exhilarating short-cut to the mind of a writer for whom autocastration is a good reason to investigate 'adult entertainment', who swears once a year not to get angry and self-righteous about the misuse of the possessive apostrophe, or the serial comma, and who is happy to devote 3,000 words to Kafka's 'sense of humour'. This collection demonstrates a contemporary American master working at the extreme edge of the literary radar, asking question after question about the mad, mad world in which he finds himself. How else to encompass a book that segues from 9/11, Dostoevsky and Senator John McCain? These pieces, previously published in Rolling Stone, Harper's, Gourmet magazine, and the Atlantic Monthly, explore three main themes: language, literature and US society.

Whilst all, in their own way were great, it's the Piece on the Adult Video News awards, which I found the most memorable. Wallace's ferocious snootiness makes him a fearsome literary critic. There are not many American writers who would relish landing a swinging left hook at John Updike. In the search for the truth about David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster throws up some vital clues. His influences include Tom Wolfe, Flannery O'Connor, Fitzgerald and Pynchon. But above and beyond all these literary godparents, the writer to whom Wallace is more deeply in debt than the current American economy must be Mark Twain, from whom, as Hemingway observed, all American literature derives.

Great stuff!
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
November 28, 2012
What can I say? Another brilliant set of essays.

1. Big Red Son - at the AVN (Adult Video News) Awards. An insightful and amusing look at the porn industry.
For a regular civilian male, hanging out in a hotel suite with porn starlets is a tense and emotionally convolved affair. There is, first, the matter of having seen the various intimate activities and anatomical parts of these starlets in videos heretofore and thus (weirdly) feeling shy about meeting them. But there is also a complex erotic tension. Because porn films' worlds are so sexualized, with everybody seemingly teetering right on the edge of coitus all the time and it taking only the slightest nudge or excuse—a stalled elevator, an unlocked door, a cocked eyebrow, a firm handshake—to send everyone tumbling into a tangled mass of limbs and orifices, there's a bizarre unconscious expectation/dread/ hope that this is what might happen in Max Hardcore's hotel room. Yr. corresps. here find it impossible to overemphasize the fact that this is a delusion. In fact, of course, the unconscious expectation/dread/hope makes no more sense than it would make to be hanging out with doctors at a medical convention and to expect that at the slightest provocation everyone in the room would tumble into a frenzy of MRIs and epidurals.

2. Certainly the End Of Something Or Other, One Would Sort Of Have To Think - book review, John Updike's Toward the End of Time. Here is the upshot, although Wallace is a fan,
Toward the End of Time concerns an extremely erudite, successful, narcissistic, and sex-obsessed retired guy who's keeping a one-year journal in which he explores the apocalyptic prospect of his own death.Toward the End of Time is also, of the let's say two dozen Updike books I've read, far and away the worst, a novel so clunky and self-indulgent that it's hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.

3. Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed
It's not that students don't "get" Kafka's humor but that we've taught them to see humor as something you get—the same way we've taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It's hard to put into words, up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it's good they don't "get" Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door. To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens … and it opens outward—we've been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch.

4. Authority and American Usage
Love, and do what you will - as applied to grammar. This is a very complicated review of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan Garner.
Bryan Garner is a genius because he just about completely resolves the Usage Wars' problem of Authority. The book's solution is both semantic and rhetorical.

5. The View From Mrs. Thompson's

What these Bloomington ladies are, or start to seem to me, is innocent. There is what would strike many Americans as a marked, startling lack of cynicism in the room. It does not, for instance, occur to anyone here to remark on how it's maybe a little odd that all three network anchors are in shirtsleeves, or to consider the possibility that Dan Rather's hair's being mussed might not be wholly accidental, or that the constant rerunning of horrific footage might not be just in case some viewers were only now tuning in and hadn't seen it yet. None of the ladies seem to notice the president's odd little lightless eyes appear to get closer and closer together throughout his taped address, nor that some of his lines sound almost plagiaristically identical to those uttered by Bruce Willis (as a right-wing wacko, recall) in The Siege a couple years back. Nor that at least some of the sheer weirdness of watching the Horror unfold has been how closely various shots and scenes have mirrored the plots of everything from Die Hard I-III to Air Force One. Nobody's near hip enough to lodge the sick and obvious po-mo complaint: We've Seen This Before. Instead, what they do is all sit together and feel really bad, and pray. No one in Mrs. Thompson's crew would ever be so nauseous as to try to get everybody to pray aloud or form a prayer circle, but you can still tell what they're all doing.

6. How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart
A review of the Tracy Austin autobiography, Beyond Center Court: My Story. The book is bad, but hey,
...maybe we automatically expect people who are geniuses as athletes to be geniuses also as speakers and writers, to be articulate, perceptive, truthful, profound. If it's just that we naively expect geniuses-in-motion to be also geniuses-in-reflection, then their failure to be that shouldn't really seem any crueler or more disillusioning than Kant's glass jaw or Eliot's inability to hit the curve.

7. Up, Simba
With John McCain on his campaign bus in 2000. He gives a mini biography of McCain's experience as a POW with gruesome detail, and his refusal to be released without the other POWs,
This gives him the moral authority both to utter lines about causes beyond self-interest and to expect us, even in this age of spin and lawyerly cunning, to believe he means them. And yes, literally: "moral authority," that old cliché, like so many other clichés—"service," "honor," "duty"—that have become now just mostly words, slogans invoked by men in nice suits who want something from us.

8. Consider the Lobster
Wallace covers the Maine Lobster Festival, 2003. Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?
Lobsters don't have much in the way of eyesight or hearing, but they do have an exquisite tactile sense, one facilitated by hundreds of thousands of tiny hairs that protrude through their carapace. "Thus it is," in the words of T. M. Prudden's industry classic About Lobster, "that although encased in what seems a solid, impenetrable armor, the lobster can receive stimuli and impressions from without as readily as if it possessed a soft and delicate skin." And lobsters do have nociceptors, as well as invertebrate versions of the prostaglandins and major neurotransmitters via which our own brains register pain.

9. Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky - A review of Joseph Frank's five-volume Dostoevsky.
The thing about Dostoevsky's characters is that they are alive. By which I don't just mean that they're successfully realized or developed or "rounded." The best of them live inside us, forever, once we've met them. Recall the proud and pathetic Raskolnikov, the naive Devushkin, the beautiful and damned Nastasya of The Idiot, the fawning Lebyedev and spiderish Ippolit of the same novel; C&P's ingenious maverick detective Porfiry Petrovich (without whom there would probably be no commercial crime fiction w/ eccentrically brilliant cops); Marmeladov, the hideous and pitiful sot; or the vain and noble roulette addict Aleksey Ivanovich of The Gambler; the gold-hearted prostitutes Sonya and Liza; the cynically innocent Aglaia; or the unbelievably repellent Smerdyakov, that living engine of slimy resentment in whom I personally see parts of myself I can barely stand to look at; or the idealized and all-too-human Myshkin and Alyosha, the doomed human Christ and triumphant child-pilgrim, respectively. These and so many other FMD creatures are alive—retain what Frank calls their "immense vitality"—not because they're just skillfully drawn types or facets of human beings but because, acting within plausible and morally compelling plots, they dramatize the profoundest parts of all humans, the parts most conflicted, most serious—the ones with the most at stake. Plus, without ever ceasing to be 3-D individuals, Dostoevsky's characters manage to embody whole ideologies and philosophies of life: Raskolnikov the rational egoism of the 1860s' intelligentsia, Myshkin mystical Christian love, the Underground Man the influence of European positivism on the Russian character, Ippolit the individual will raging against death's inevitability, Aleksey the perversion of Slavophilic pride in the face of European decadence, and so on and so forth....

The thrust here is that Dostoevsky wrote fiction about the stuff that's really important. He wrote fiction about identity, moral value, death, will, sexual vs. spiritual love, greed, freedom, obsession, reason, faith, suicide. And he did it without ever reducing his characters to mouthpieces or his books to tracts. His concern was always what it is to be a human being—that is, how to be an actual person, someone whose life is informed by values and principles, instead of just an especially shrewd kind of self-preserving animal.

10. Host - Read it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a... An article on John Ziegler and talk radio.
Whatever the social effects of talk radio or the partisan agendas of certain hosts, it is a fallacy that political talk radio is motivated by ideology. It is not. Political talk radio is a business, and it is motivated by revenue. The conservatism that dominates today's AM airwaves does so because it generates high Arbitron ratings, high ad rates, and maximum profits.

Wallace discusses Consider the Lobster with interviewer Michael Silverblatt.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,356 followers
January 3, 2019
This book reminds me why I love DFW. The erudition, humility, self-consciousness, and truth-seeking are all on fine display here, as is the extremely personal nature of his prose. He's constantly revealing himself while writing about others, even when such revelations are less than flattering, and is openly unsure about the worthiness of such self-revelation, and is also unsure whether this very open unsureness about the worthiness of his self-revelation is itself another layer of unworthy self-revelation, as in: look at and admire me because I reveal all my inner faults! Which is another way of saying what he himself says in one of these essays: that there's no such thing as true altruism, because even when you're being altruistic (or in this case unflatteringly self-revelatory), this is itself a way of garnering praise for yourself, thereby undermining the claim that it's so selfless.

And so the book goes, constantly looping back and forth through a brilliant mind more hyper-aware of itself than just about any other. Which might be incredibly revelatory about the author or might itself might be the ultimate ruse.
Profile Image for Tara.
434 reviews19 followers
December 28, 2018
Consider the Lobster was an admirably consistent—and frequently entertaining—collection of essays by DFW. In my opinion, it was actually even stronger than his A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which was itself certainly no slouch. Thoughts on and ratings for the individual essays can be found below.

“Big Red Son”: 4.5 stars. This essay on the porn industry was peppered liberally with humorous observations and intelligent insights, but really, that industry is so monumentally absurd, the video titles packed with so many terrible puns, that it’s a (vaguely nauseating) laugh riot in its own right. Very funny stuff!

“Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think”: 4.5 stars. I haven’t read anything by Updike yet, but thanks to this semi-acerbic, wholly-persuasive review, I surely won’t start with Toward the End of Time.

“Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed”: 4 stars. DFW managed to elucidate Kafka’s appeal rather well. Most notable quotes were this:
“Kafka’s evocations are, rather, unconscious and almost sort of sub-archetypal, the primordial little-kid stuff from which myths derive; this is why we tend to call even his weirdest stories nightmarish instead of surreal.”

And this:
“The really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle.”

“Authority and American Usage”: This was a rather lengthy, meandering review of a dictionary of modern American usage. It is probably only truly engrossing to hardcore word nerds. I, as it turns out, am not that hardcore. That said, this bad boy ultimately delved into some fascinating aspects of language and ended up growing on me like a fungus, so I can’t in good conscience give it any less than 3.5 stars.

“The View from Mrs. Thompson’s”: 3.5 stars. A brief look at what September 11, 2001 was like for DFW. Not terribly remarkable on the whole, but it did end on a fairly poignant note.

“How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”: 4.5 stars. This was unexpectedly interesting, scoring some great points as to the elusive appeal, and frequent subsequent disappointment, inherent in sports autobiographies.

“Up, Simba”: 4 stars. On the Campaign Trail with John McCain. I’m generally not a huge fan of politics, but DFW’s earnest candor was often quite engaging. He was such a magnetic, captivating writer, though, that he could make nearly any subject come to life.

“Consider the Lobster”: 4 stars. In which our intrepid investigator covers a lobster festival in Maine. His musings on the morality of eating other living creatures were heartfelt and at times rather compelling.

“Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky”: 3.5 stars. This was a little too vivisection-y for my tastes. But then, that’s probably just me. I am quite reluctant to (over) analyze Dostoevsky’s works—I only ever want to live them. He’s my favorite author, and I don’t want to hack his work to bits to find the deeper meaning; it already speaks volumes for itself, searing in its eloquence and profundity, far greater than the sum of its parts.
Profile Image for Bibi.
1,288 reviews3,234 followers
Shelved as 'on-hold-for-now'
July 17, 2017
A reading inspired by Ian, who is presently traipsing across Portugal (whatever, I'm not jealous), because, Lord Byron, I presume.

This is my first foray into the works of DFW. It's unclear at this time if I'll read this in one sitting or at random, notwithstanding, my intent is to review each essay as a standalone.

Big Red Son

Big Red Son is the first of nine essays. What possible contrasts can be drawn between auto-castration, the Hollywood film industry with it's less celebrated but more lucrative twin, the US adult film industry? A hilarious, insightful, birds-eye reporting, documenting the vagaries of porn, and those who live in it.

It's the story no doubt but more than this, it's the raconteur. Wallace is a master word and world-builder, creating vivid pictures, showing the reader, seemingly and without thought, the world far removed from everyday life while, conversely, presenting society's addiction (if the sales numbers are to be believed) to porn. At the end of Big Red Son, it becomes apparent why some men might consider (and have inflicted) auto-castration.

Should I even mention the genius of this author? A self-named snoot, whose lexicon conveys an intrinsic brilliance that will have you calling your parents and gifting them a refund of all tuition fees they'd ever paid? Because, clearly, you must have attended one too many frat parties. Ahhh. But, I console myself with the knowledge that I am not alone in feeling as such.

Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,222 followers
June 14, 2022
More journalistic assignments than essays. Rolling Stone sends him to the US annual porn awards. It's kind of shocking that he has nothing of interest to say about porn. There's a lot of cataloguing of surface detail, like a novelist recording research for future use. In fact, there's a sense this might be his idea and he's saving all his comic insights for his fiction. The same dynamic was evident when he wrote about a cruise in his other book of essays.
He's hilariously scathing about a new John Updike novel. Along with Mailer and Roth, Updike is referred to as the great American narcissist and his generation as the most self-absorbed in the history of the world. I didn't know Updike had written a dystopian novel - except, apparently, it has the same protagonist and sex obsession as all his other novels. Foster Wallace produces some statistical evidence to discount the publisher's claim that this is a departure for Updike. Turns out there's less than a page about the cause of the changed world but 86 pages about the flora in New England and the view of the ocean in different seasons, not a single page about radiation sickness after the nuclear exchanges but 10 pages about his protagonist's penis and 15 pages about golf. Foster Wallace does though honour him as one of the best sentence writers of the 20th century.
There follows sixty pages (boring as hell) about a new dictionary; more tennis; an account of spending time with John McCain's election campaign team; time spent with an outspoken right-wing radio talk show host (another potentially brilliant character for a novel); the most passionate piece is about the Maine Lobster Festival. All his sympathy is for the lobsters. He makes you wonder if in the future we will be considered barbaric for eating animals and sea creatures.
On the whole there's the sense Foster Wallace gives about 30% of himself to these writings. They make you feel very sad that we will never have more of his fiction to read. Like I said there's some fabulous comic material waiting to be alchemised into a novel here.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
February 9, 2017
This is an interesting collection of unrelated essays by the late David Foster Wallace. The funniest one for me was the title essay. No one could match him for wit and manipulation of language as this book attests. There are some essays though which are nearly unreadable like the one about a dictionary. Once you have read Infinite Jest and Pale King and wish to read a bit of his non-fiction, this one or Something Supposedly Fun that I'll Never Try Again would be a nice place to start.
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
765 reviews659 followers
December 14, 2021
126th book of 2021.

Actually bumped this to 4-stars after a few days of reflection. Back to Wallace which means back to footnotes in this review as I've done (twice) before [1]. Wallace's essays have a similar feel to Infinite Jest: he's wildly intelligent but his intelligent discourse is riddled with words like 'FYI' and 'pussyfooting' to undermine it all at the same time. The 3-star rating looks like I was unimpressed, I wasn't. I thoroughly enjoyed some of these essays, but some I did not. Frankly two fairly long essays within ("Up, Simba" and "Host") failed to interest me despite Wallace's warm and witty prose. The former is about John McCain and the latter about the radio host John Ziegler, and written in a style that, like Infinite Jest is sometimes fun and sometimes sadistic [2]. The other long essay within is "Authority and American Usage", which is a pretentious dream, but I'll get to that.

I've been reading this for a while actually on and off, started a long time ago, did some serious reading of it in Tottenham [3], and then finished it the other day after forgetting it again between other books. The first essay, which I read in Tottenham, "Big Red Son" is all about the porn industry and as you can expect, is filled with Wallace humour. He shies from nothing and so we read things like 'I'm a little fuckhole' in this essay understanding that in the next one we will be reading about John Updike. The greatest line in the essay is perhaps this,
There is something deeply surreal about standing behind a female performer in hot-pink peau de soie, a woman whose clitoris and perineum you have priorly seen, and watching her try to get a microwaved egg roll onto her plate with a cocktail fork.

He spares us nothing which makes it a brilliant essay. Everything is reported with a sly sort of humour that makes it doubly enjoyable.

The essays on writers, "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think" (on John Updike) and "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed" (you guessed it, on Kafka) and "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" (you guessed it again, two in a row, on Dostoevsky) were naturally what I was looking for in the collection and the latter two are brilliant. I'm yet to read Baker's U&I but I'm imagining Updike has some great stuff written about him from these postmodernists (in the same way Kafka does, if you count the essay here by Wallace and Borges' essay, “Kafka and his Precursors”). Despite the shortness of the Kafka essay, Wallace still hands us sentences such as these, 'It's not that students don't "get" Kafka's humour but that we've taught them to see humour as something you get—the same way we've taught them that a self is something you just have.' [4]. And the essay ends with this:
You can ask them to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door. To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens . . . and it opens outward—we've been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch.

His review of Frank's giant Dostoevsky biography brings up a lot of biographical snippets about the man, which, as a fan, were valuable. It's all the usual gossipy stuff about writers that make them interesting beyond their fiction;
It's a well-known irony that Dostoevsky, whose work is famous for its compassion and moral rigor, was in many ways a prick in real life—vain, arrogant, spiteful, selfish. A compulsive gambler, he was usually broke, and whined constantly about his poverty, and was always badgering his friends and colleagues for emergency loans that he seldom repaid, and held petty and long-standing grudges over money, and did things like pawn his delicate wife's winter coat so he could gamble, etc.

Ignoring the other essays that I didn't enjoy as much that leaves us with the titular novel, Consider the Lobster, one of my surprising favourites. Wallace intellectually tackles Maine's 2003 lobster festival and with it begins to question things like, Do lobsters feel pain? (Or more specifically, he asks, 'Is it right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?') This is actually a very fitting and current question even now as last week I was reading an article about the act of boiling lobsters alive being made illegal here in England. Wallace, for some reason surprisingly for me, comes down hard, it seems, on the side of it being wrong. Again, he shies from nothing and as I read some bits aloud to my mother, she begged me to stop. This paragraph struck me as it correlates exactly with a poignant moment in my own life regarding animals [6]:
In any event, at the MLF, standing by the bubbling tanks outside the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, watching the fresh-caught lobsters pile over one another, wave their hobbled claws impotently, huddle in the rear corners, or scrabble frantically back from the glass as you approach, it is difficult not to sense that they're unhappy, or frightened, even if it's some rudimentary version of these feelings . . . and, again, why does rudimentariness even enter into it? Why is a primitive, inarticulate form of suffering less urgent or uncomfortable for the person who's helping to inflict it by paying for the food it results in?

But, the part my mother couldn't bear to hear and cut me off from reading is this,
The basic scenario is that we come in from the store and make our little preparations like getting the kettle filled and boiling, and then we lift the lobsters out of the bag or whatever retail container they came home in . . . whereupon some uncomfortable things start to happen. However stuporous a lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you're tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container's sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle's rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster's fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature's claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming). A blunter way to say this is that the lobster acts as if it's in terrible pain, causing some books to leave the kitchen altogether and to take one of those little lightweight plastic oven-timers with them into another room and wait until the whole process is over.

This essay apparently caused a lot of controversy among the readers of Gourmet magazine where it was originally published and I see why, Wallace goes for it, and it's brutal insightfulness made it one of the most fulfilling and interesting essays of the whole lot, even around Dostoevsky, 9/11, and whatever else included. I originally planned 3 stars for the collection as I read the ones I liked the least last but actually, as I reconsider the others for the review, I remembered how warm, funny, honest and intelligent this whole collection was. Wallace deserves 4 for that.

[1] (1) Infinite Jest (2) The Mezzanine.

[2] Case in point:

[3] This essay collection was the forerunner to a strange night sleeping on a kitchen floor with my brother. The neighbours (all uni students) were impossibly loud and burning bank statements in their garden, one of the flat owner's cats continually woke us up by sitting on us, licking us (at one point my brother opened his eyes to the cat's face staring into his and started so hard that he woke me up and sent the cat bolting from the room), and so we spent the night waking up every hour, still drunk through the whole of it, oddly hot and achy on the paper-thin roll-mats we had laid out.

[4] In a module in university, "Modernism to the Present", we studied "The Metamorphosis" and not one student appeared to identify any humour in the story, me included. I don't remember if the lecturer identified it for us but it seems likely that he did as we had the ginger-haired enigmatic Dr. Quinn, whose lectures were split 50/50 with talking to us, the class, and himself—the latter of which always seemed to be more enjoyable to him [a].

[a] The highlight of my university career was actually making Q. laugh, something no one had ever seen before. Why this comment of all comments made him laugh remains a mystery. In a presentation on Narnia (now referring to a "Fairy Tales" literature module I took) I referred to Lucy's healing potion as Calpol. All heads turned to the back of the room where Q. was leaning against the wall and tittering to himself.

[5] A few times I've debated with a friend about the idea of 'goodness' and creativity. It always seems to me that the greatest artists are the 'worst' people. I believe there is perhaps a correlation between the two things. My friend thinks not, though when we considered examples I can't say we found any. There are, undoubtedly, thousands. But I stand by it in a strange way, that to be truly brilliant you must be awful. My mother, on the other hand, believes to be truly brilliant you must be mad. Either one works for me.

[6] My second time in Rome I sat in a cafe opposite the Colosseum with a then-girlfriend and could not for the life of me look away from the lobster tank in the window. They were exactly, uncannily, as Wallace describes them in the quote below this footnote. Sea creatures generally perturb me, crabs I dislike, lobsters I find kind of repulsive too, but I couldn't stop staring at these guys in the tank and feeling completely empty at the thought of them in there till someone bought them and they were killed and eaten. Their disgusting scrabbling and apparent terror, their aliveness, haunted me for some reason.
Profile Image for W.D. Clarke.
Author 3 books272 followers
November 7, 2022

Perhaps the most consistently satisfying book of non-fiction that DFW wrote?

Minus half a star for the final essay on right-wing talk radio, which I just could not get into and which caused me such delay in finishing this remarkable book, whose quidditas is that it could (almost always) interest me in things that are perhaps in themselves just uninteresting, or of interest only to those caught in the jaws of a particular subculture, viz.
1. 45pp on the pornography industry ("Big Red Son," what a way to start a book I mean really)

2. 60pp on grammar geeks ("Authority and American Usage," fascinating multi-riffs occasioned by Bryan A. Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, a serious crypto-prescriptivist updating of Fowler which I now simply have to own.

3. Not quite 100pp (!) on the 2000 presidential primary campaign of a certain John S. McCain III ("R-AZ, USN, POW, USC…", RIP), which is certainly a minor miracle in the history of belles lettres
And it most assuredly did exactly that, reel me completely in. "Authority and American Usage" could have been the whole book, or stretched out to two volumes, in fact, and I'd've gladly kept hooked to his line of thought: DFW just makes all that learnin so gol-darn fun somehow (and oh, to have been a student in his classroom!)

Other essays were certainly interesting, and if anything too short: "Certainly the End of Something" (On John Updike), the view from Mrs. Thomson's (a meditation on community in the wake of 9/11), and "How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" (By being one of the most compelling tennis players to write one of the worst memoirs ever)

But the title essay is just a punishingly beautiful way to become convinced not to eat anything with eyes, and "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" reveals DFW to be perhaps one of the best readers that Russian misanthropic weirdo genius ever had (like I feel Kundera is the best reader of Kafka ever). Almost always a continual delight, in other words.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books342 followers
November 23, 2020
Polishing off the remainder of DFW's works has been a treat this year. I began by listening to the author-read audiobook, then picked up the paperback where the audio left off.

What an astounding journalist he was. "Consider the Lobster" is an in-depth look at a lobster festival. "Big Red Son" is a porn industry inside scoop. But like most of his books, the surface narrative and the snarky commentary enlarge upon grand and universal themes. The omnipresent wit and sophistication is never absent, though the subject matter is rather specialized. Shock and awe are two of the many techniques Wallace employed sentence by sentence.

Included are also reviews of an Updike book, Kafka's aesthetics, and Joseph Frank's 5-volume Dostoyevsky biography. All of them offer unique approaches to the book review form, while maintaining traditional appeal and technical proficiency.

Ever the perfectionist, DFW does not write a poor sentence. Many of his long footnotes are demanding, even bound to be irritating, and he does not restrain himself in this collection. "Authority and American Usage" is a tough expose on an obvious topic. DFW flexes his linguistic skills but strains the reader's patience if they are more inclined to read for plot and character. I always prefer his fiction, but there are few nonfiction books I enjoyed more than this one.

Totally in character, he provides a review of an abysmal tennis biography, which is also a resounding meditation on sports biographies as an industry. An impressive article. Then "Up, Simba," a very long and ultra detailed recounting of his campaign coverage for McCain, destined to become dated in future generations, but displaying many of his writerly strengths. For someone who is not immersed in politics, it makes for a difficult read, but rewards as it demands, like the best of his output.

If you can't get enough DFW, pick up this book. You won't be disappointed.
Profile Image for Books Ring Mah Bell.
357 reviews262 followers
December 6, 2018
Do you know that feeling of falling in love so hard and so fast that your head spins? That feeling that your sweetie is AMAZING, PERFECT, and you have no idea how you ever lived without them? The sun rises and sets with each breath they take??
Sorry about your luck.

The first DFW book I read was A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and I was instantly smitten. Totally in love.
And then I read this.

That AMAZING, PERFECT love? I feel like I have just busted him mid-nose pick. Knuckle deep in a nostril! Now, this wasn't so bad that it was as if he picked, inspected, and flicked, or worse, picked and tasted, but I feel a little let down.

There is no doubt that the quality of his writing is superior to well, nearly everyone on the planet, but I just didn't care about some of the stories. (The ones on Updike and Tracy Austin... ZZZZZZZZ)

At first the format of the essay "Host" irritated me, but soon enough I was over that and into more DFW brilliance.

While I enjoyed the SNOOT essay (Authority and American Useage) as well, I think it soured me because he made me feel stoopid. Most things on the title page (LADY's ROOM, Bald-faced) I understood, laughed at, and even scoffed at, but some of it was over my head. (the use of fewer vs. less, for example. Hey, I did not major in English. And to my defense, I know the difference between there and their, your and you're. so neener neener!)

(I'M SO SORRY, DFW!!!!!!)

Out of all these essays, I LOVED "Big Red Son" and "Consider the Lobster". Hands down, the best in the book.

Some of my favorite parts from Big Red Son:
"...has the requisite Howitzer-grade bust."

"Their expressions tend to be those of junior-high boys at a peephole, an expression that looks pretty surreal on a face with jowls and no hairline."

When a porn star writes a note with a pen in her anus, DFW states it was "...thereon written in a hand (28) that seems impressively legible, considering."

28 - so to speak.
This footnote made me laugh. Loudly. Hard.

So funny and so damn good I may have to overlook the nose picking. But I won't be sucking his fingers anytime soon.*

*especially because he's wormfood and that'd be super gross.
Profile Image for Evi *.
342 reviews220 followers
September 20, 2017
Un saggio e sono poco usa a leggere saggi.
Complicata cerebrale meravigliosa mente geniale di Wallace che solleva i coperchi che coprono di banalità e superficialità il modo in cui recepiamo i fenomeni: che sia l’ultimo pensiero che attraversa il nervoso carapace dell’aragosta prima di essere buttata nella pentola bollente alla fiera dell’astice nel Maine, o l’autocontrollo richiesto ad un campione di tennis nei secondi che precedono la battuta del suo probabile match-point o ancora le dinamiche di un talk–show radiofonico Wallace, o la comicità di Kafka (!?) si muove agile e arguto, scava in profondità e svela aspetti nascosti rendendoci più consapevoli dell’ovvietà del reale che accade o ci circonda.
Occhio indagatore, profondamente americano ma anche puntuale critico del proprio paese e dei suoi costumi.
Un’esperienza di lettura ardua (confesso che ho saltato non poche pagine pagine) pur tuttavia molto stimolante.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
May 7, 2017
A Democratic Spirit is one that combines rigor and humility, ie, passionate conviction plus a sedulous respect for the convictions of others. As any American knows, this is a difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain, particularly when it comes to issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is a DS’s criterion of 100 percent intellectual integrity – you have to be willing to look honestly at yourself and at your motives for believing what you believe, and to do it more or less continually.

- From the essay “Authority and American Usage”
The above is what David Foster Wallace’s essays seem to embody; 100% intellectual integrity, honesty, passion and respect for the reader. When I didn’t agree with him (for example I’m totally not down with his insistence on mostly using the unmarked masculine), I continued to admire his approach and his commitment to this Democratic Spirit. I always felt, here’s a person I could reason with about this. He writes with the kind of presence that should probably be called accountability, and feels like a rare and luxurious commodity: clean air.
What Kafka’s stories have[…] is a grotesque, gorgeous and thoroughly modern complexity, an ambivalence that becomes the multivalent Both/And logic of the, quote, “unconscious,” which I personally think is just a fancy word for soul. Kafka’s humour – not only not neurotic but anti-neurotic, heroically sane – is, finally, a religious humour, but religious in the manner of Rilke and Kierkegaard and the Psalms, a harrowing spirituality…

And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance. It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humour but that we’ve taught them to see humour as something you get - the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.

- From the essay, “Some Notes on Kafka’s Funniness”

And we keep learning for years, from hard experience, that getting lied to sucks – that it diminishes you, denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world. Especially if the lies are chronic, systemic, if experience seems to teach that everything you’re supposed to believe in’s really just a game based on lies.

- From the essay “Up, Simba”
The title essay perfectly exemplifies DFW’s insistence on intellectual honesty. Covering the Maine Lobster festival for a foodie mag, he writes in a disarmingly personal and heartfelt way about how awful the whole thing was, how depressing:
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way - hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
As an omnivore, Wallace asks us to consider the lobster who, judging by her behaviour, does suffer while being boiled to death and would rather not be boiled to death. There’s no honest way of thinking your way out of this, he concludes, unhappily. He addresses his foodie audience who I can’t imagine were expecting this in their mag: how do you folks deal with this? I eat animals and want to go on doing it, how do I live with myself? Well, easy for me to read this (and answer) as a vegan. This could be the most effective piece of veg*n outreach ever written by a non veg*n. How many writers have ever had the courage to think themselves into a corner?
The interview and face are riveting television entertainment. It’s almost impossible to look away, or not to feel that special kind of guilty excitement in the worst, most greedy and indecent parts of yourself. You can really feel it: This is why drivers slow down to gape at accidents, why reporters put mics in the faces of bereaved relatives, why the Haidl gang-rape trial is a hit single that merits heavy play, why the cruelest forms of reality TV and tabloid news and talk radio generate such good numbers. But that doesn’t mean the fascination is good, or even feels good. Aren’t there parts of ourselves that are just better left unfed?
Profile Image for Dave Russell.
73 reviews102 followers
December 2, 2009
There's a small theme running through some of these essays(1): People trying to bridge the gap between two different camps. In "Authority and American Usage" DFW praises Garner for bridging the gap between the Prescriptionist and the Descriptionist usage experts. In "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" Frank impresses DFW by weaving together two rival approaches to literary criticism. "Up, Simba" is an encomium to John McCain's ability to appeal to Young Voters (presumably of all political stripes(2).)

Herein lies the major weakness of the book. This desire to reconcile two different camps, to me, comes across as a little wishy-washy. Compare "Up, Simba" with Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, one of my favorite books about a political campaign. Thompson really impressed me with his uninhibited, unvarnished attack on mealy-mouthed candidates who try to appeal to the center at the expense of "the hippie and freak vote," a bloc of voters which Thompson clearly embraces. The book is full of passion and vitality, which I felt a little lacking in DFW's(3) book.

Of course, I realize that there is more than one discussion group here on GR dedicated to DFW and he is not without his very devout defenders, so let me just say while I did not enjoy this book as much as others, I recognize he has his merits and respect those who got more out of this book than I did(4).

(1) I question calling them essays. Most of them are journalism pieces, and in fact DFW excels most in reportage. He has an amzing talent for finding and describing the telling detail. It's the more analytical "essay*" parts of the pieces that let me down.

* Essay in the sense that Montaigne used the word--a "trial" of one's own opinion.

(2) Partisanship, at least, is not emphasized when he discusses YV.

(3) Armchair Psychoanalyzing On My Part: Considering how DFW ended his life, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps this lack was in part a symptom of depression. It's also entirely possible that the fact that my knowledge of DFW's suicide, in some way, colored my reading of this book.

(4) In "Authority and American Usage" DFW espouses what he calls "the Democratic Spirit," which he defines as a rigorous defense of one's own opinion combined with a humble respect for another person's views. While an admirable outlook in the real world, in a book of essays this too struck me as a bit of a hedge and a lack of desire to man the bastions and put up a fight. Depressed people often seek to avoid conflict.

Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
June 25, 2013
(Ceci n'est pas une review, but I'm getting tired of just rating and adding status updates)

Thought maybe this was worth 4.7666666666666665 stars, but what the hell, there isn't going to be any more, so....'Up, Simba' wrestles in my affections with the cruise ship essay, it's that good. Big Red Son, Tracy Austin, lobsters, Dostoevsky, Kafka, 9/11, gutting Updike, all amazing....the _one_ thing I don't like is the Host essay, which seems a little long and (gasp) pointless, altho with a stunning conclusion. But I just detest the guy he's profiling, and I don't think the boxes work as well as footnotes. It feels a little more scattershot and dark than 'Supposedly Fun,' but I still love it. I'm rereading 'Up, Simba' right now to cushion my psyche from the horribleness of Shelley's love life.

Profile Image for Supreeth.
121 reviews275 followers
April 6, 2020
Wallace takes boring topic like reviewing a dictionary and turns it into an interesting piece of writing. I came in only for Dostoyevsky, but left with suffering lobsters.
Profile Image for Murtaza .
669 reviews3,399 followers
January 16, 2020
The most striking thing about this set of essays by the late David Foster Wallace is that they are written in the familiar, cynical style of American gonzo journalism, but underneath that veneer they are the furthest thing in the world from cynical. They are deeply sincere, heartfelt and searching meditations on the most important questions all human beings face: meaning, suffering, identity, love, and our duties to each other. Although he was not religious in the way we think of that word, the questions he asks and longings he expresses are deeply related to religion. The first essay is a report from a pornographic film awards convention. It is laugh out loud funny, while also managing to somehow be heartfelt despite its necessarily vulgar subject matter. The essays on Dostoyevsky, experiencing the September 11th attacks in Bloomington, and the ethics of cooking lobster are all profoundly sincere in their probing.

Wallace was a less misanthropic relative to Michel Houellebecq in some ways. He was keenly aware of the ills of his society and was not insensitive to them. If anything they seemed to deeply wound him. Like most of us he had been taught that the only way that the pathos of the human condition can be confronted is while wearing a thick defensive armor of ironic detachment. The inadequacies of this approach soon become evident to those who really take such matters to heart. His concern did not just stop with human beings but extended to all living things. While "Consider the Lobster" might be a funny and detached title for a book – and indeed the essay is written in such a style – it is a serious meditation on spiritual questions not dissimilar to Tolstoy.

Wallace's later suicide gives these essays an air of tragedy and poignancy beyond themselves. Some of the themes, like political talk radio (although this had some resonances with social media punditry), John McCain, and the dictionary wars either felt a bit dated or arcane. Nonetheless I find that the author was a real genius and sensitive person. I will likely read more of his work.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book348 followers
January 11, 2009
I didn't know much about David Foster Wallace when I cracked open this collection of his essays, so the first piece on the Adult Video News Awards caught me rather by surprise. Within just a few paragraphs, however, the sheer and utter brilliance of this fascinating and yet also erudite and intellectual examination of the porn industry left me with little doubt that DFW's reputation as one of the smartest and funniest writers of my lifetime is well-deserved.

Prior to this book, if you had told me that I would soon find myself reading—and enjoying—a sixty-two page essay that is at its heart a review of a dictionary, I would not have believed you. But like the other essays in this book, that piece is about so much more than just its surface topic. I walked away from it with insight and understanding into issues of language usage I had never troubled myself to think about before.

There is no question that DFW's style is on the unconventional side; while it's not always easy on the eyes to follow the two-page footnotes with footnotes of their own, or the tangent boxes that decorate his piece on a right-wing radio talk show host, it is usually worth the effort.

I will confess, however, that I did skip one piece in this collection. Despite my newfound appreciation for the author's talents, I simply haven't yet sufficiently recovered from the trauma of the recent election season to spend seventy-nine pages with him as he recounts his time following John McCain's failed 2000 bid for the Republican nomination. So I shall have to save that one for another day.

It's a terribly bittersweet experience to fall in love with an author you learned about only because of his tragic suicide. But as I mourn Wallace's untimely passing, I am grateful to know he has left behind so much work for me to discover and explore.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,371 followers
May 27, 2014
I don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said. DFW is/was amazing, brilliant, and it is so devastating that he won't spend the next several decades casting his genius out to us in small sips, book by book by book. One of my favorite things about reading what I consider to be DFW's best writing is the sheer grace of his phrasing, the joy of getting sucked right in and through paragraph after paragraph of the longest, most convoluted-seeming sentences which nonetheless pull you along effortlessly. (If I remember correctly, I said something similar about Pynchon in Against the Day, and perhaps this means I've hit upon something which is, for me, one of the reasons that these somewhat pedantic writers who are doubtlessly some of the greatest ever literary minds rarely come across to me as condescending or patronizing or impenetrable: beauty.)

I think I had intended some time ago when I finished this to go through essay by essay and say clever things about them, but it's been a long time and I'm always too buys to dally with books I've already finished. Besides, I nursed this one for a few months, parceling out one essay every few weeks so as not to overdose on his thrillingness. I will say that the grammar essay was one of the most mind-blowingly, awe-inspiringly nerdy things I've ever come across, and I loved every single clause and punctuation mark of it.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 36 books445 followers
August 6, 2016
Not his best for the following reasons:

1. We know what we know now of how his life was cut short. So why the hell did someone, in retrospect, choose to send the great American writer to a bloody lobster festival? To a pornography awards show? At any rate, all this ended up revealing was that DFW was the real world Buzz Killington- he starts his porn award article with genital mutilation statistics, and implores of the readers of some gourmet food magazine to consider the pain and suffering of not just lobsters but many kinds of animals in the cruel food market. I empathise with his inability to stop taking things seriously.
2. The essays I was interested in reading failed to come to any satisfactory conclusion (Dostoyevsky and 9/11). At least with 9/11 having read Bleeding Edge recently, it appears that the guess of the great novelists is as good as ours.
3. Some of it I wasn’t interested in reading in the first place (John McCain) and something about a dictionary which was almost unreadable.

Although the best part of not his best was that he seemed really human. Sometimes sneering or judgmental, just like you and me. One of DFW’s idols, Gaddis, was reluctant to interview because he believed his best work was in his novels, and it makes perfect sense that a good novel can be left alone without explanation from the artist. Yet as DFW expands upon his work in interviews, he has clearly managed to observe and articulate effectively the problems with the modern condition, yet, and as I suspect with most artists, some of his writing style here suggests to me that he hasn’t managed to escape the issues himself. DFW is treated as some sort of prophet, and I for one was jealous of how he seemed to know how to live. Knowing how to live and living it are two different things entirely, and I have now realised that if someone is capable of imparting real and effective advice, it may well be because they are unable to take it themselves. I really love the epiphany that we’re all human- I would love to have it more often.

Most importantly for writers, his grasp of the English language is blisteringly impressive, but I would argue unnecessary for the purposes of most prose. I mean to say that if I categorically sans nom de guerre use such a foray of tumescent language [1] to the palpable degree of yr. avg. miscreant, does it not evince in the reader [2] a tangential feeling that the chintziness of the hyperbolic prose borders on satyriasis? That the clerestorical phallocracy of language usage [3] and the postmodern pseudo-anxiety of yr. writer will not let a single sentence be de facto luxated? Does it really allow for ample and correct communication [4] to be written in such a format?

I don’t think so.

[1] (and footnotes which appear entirely in brackets. Yr. reviewer trusts yr. writer implicitly and that his klieg-glare into the dark corners of Standard Written English (a) that his grammatical prowess can indeed illuminate, and yet this hypomanic usage of brackets within footnotes creates a spiriferous subcategorisation of text to the point of turgitidy.)
(a) Heretofore unmentioned, henceforth “SWE”.

[2] ie. The reader of this document, by which I mean the review.
[3] And just when you were honestly, bare-bones and “all on the table” trying to interpret a sentence successfully, a quizzically extraneous footnote which breaks the reading flow of even the most exalted DFW savant that you later decide has next-to-nothing to do with the sentence in which it sub-prolegomenously interjected eg. Here is a poem I wrote about some dreams I had:

I had a dream
That I took Kirsty Alley to a MILF bar
Harry Styles kept stealing my doritos
Then the government blew up two planets close to Earth like moons
The chain reaction accidentally exploded Venus and sent us into the sun and I
Woke up

I had a dream
That Tina Fey was in an army vehicle in a Ziggy Stardust outfit
She sang glam rock into a speakerphone that shot
Multicoloured ice like a stained glass window from a cannon
At an Asian teen down one of those angled San Francisco streets

I had a dream
That ice propagated from the school janitor
In the centre of the blaes pitch
I tried to get away but got trapped on the fence
At home the microwave froze and stung my fingers to touch it
I looked back and it was normal
I opened it and a thawed human ear attached to a cuboid of human material
Like a cross section through the head
Was inside

Try to remember WTF yr. writer was talking about after finishing that footnote! At this point you’re straddling two layers of text in your head and trying to remember how they match up, but have more importantly declaimed to yourself all future footnotes to be exformative.

[4] Says yr. formerly 100% fully sponsorial reviewer.
Profile Image for Uroš Đurković.
622 reviews140 followers
April 7, 2018
Kakav čovek! Kakvi eseji! Kakve teme!

Neverovatna je Volasova maksimalistička elegancija. I erudicija, razume se.
Ono što je najveći kvalitet ovih eseja može biti ujedno i mana - zabavni detalji, digresije-u-digresiji-u-digresiji, interno-kulturološka pozadina, ali kad se čitalac "našteluje" na ovaj način pisanja - zadovoljstvo u tekstu je višestruko. Oduvek sam bio sklon obeleženoj leksici, a Volasova leksika je raskošna (u svakom smislu), a stil ingeniozan. Tematski raspon je zapanjujuć i neočekivan. Od dodele nagrada za izuzetan uspeh u pornografskoj industriji, rasprave o prisustvu/odsustvu humora kod Kafke, razmišljanja o Dostojevskom, (zlo)upotrebi rečnika, sve do (mogućih) patnji jastoga koji se živ krčka u loncu; Volas ocrtava jedan katalog profanih bizarnosti - opipava puls podivljalog sveta, sveta na steroidima. A u svakom eseju na kraju će isplivati jedna vrsta sofisticiranog intelektualnog rada - Volas nije opsenar ili kavgadžija (dve kategorije koje neguju današnji srpski esejisti/blogeri/kolumnisti) već potkovani, osetljivi i pažljivi posmatrač koji unosi izuzetnu živost u ono što piše.

Takođe, svaki ljubitelj fusnota treba obavezno da baci pogled na ovu knjigu. (Fusnota-u-fusnoti - hiperfusnote - fusnote koje ugrožavaju glavni tekst i prelaze na narednu stranu...)
Profile Image for Ken-ichi.
598 reviews562 followers
November 6, 2012
"A strange and traumatic experience," David Foster Wallace wrote in an essay on attending the Annual Adult Video News Awards, "which one of yr. corrs. will not even try to describe consists of standing at a men's room urinal between professional woodmen [male porn stars] Alex Sanders and Dave Hardman. Suffice it to say that the urge to look over/down at their penises is powerful and the motives behind this urge so complex as to cause anuresis (which in turn ups the trauma)." Aside from hinting at the hilarious absurdity with which Wallace analyzes everything from porn galas to lobster festivals to John McCain's Straight Talk Express, this passage nicely captures my emotional approach to this book: I'd heard this Wallace guy had a pretty big brain. Now I know he had a pretty big brain. Way bigger than mine. We'll see if the disparity affects my ability to, uh, write.

So he was smart. Every essay had something new for me, like how dictionaries are, unlike phone books, ideological and rhetorical in nature and therefore worthy of criticism, or how modern American novelists are embarrassed by articulating morals, and how that's a problem. Like I said, he was also funny. Aggravate-your-fellow-airplane-prisoner/patrons-with-constant-laughter funny. On top of all this, he seemed genuine, which is both forehead-smackingly sensible *and* impressive given his repeated inquiries into authenticity. Reading around I guess Wallace was well-known for being anti-ironic, but the effect on this reader was essentially the same quality Wallace himself lauds in the cornerstone piece in this collection, "Authority and American Usage": Wallace is ever-present in his own writing, and he earns his authority with wit, compassion, and some endearing absurdities (borrowing a leather jacket to be cool enough to report for Rolling Stone being my fave).

I liked his way of analyzing a subject by hanging out with people of tertiary significance. He didn't talk to John McCain, or John McCain's advisors. He hung out with the camera crews. Same with the porn awards: he spends most of his time talking to professional porn journalists (apparently that's a thing). Maybe this was his way of avoiding BS, like he didn't believe there was any hope of deriving genuine meaning about a person by actually speaking with them directly, but meaning could be triangulated through the perceptions of technicians and professionals who were not directly responsible for considering semantics (but did so all the same). In the case of John McCain that's a bit odd since the whole piece concerns the question of whether McCain actually means what he says, unlike every other politician in history.

Anyway, the more I try to think about the book the more the aforementioned metaphorical anuresis is kicking in. The book was unexpectedly magnetic, intellectually consuming, and totally compelling from start to finish. If you can stomach footnotes that have their own footnotes that are themselves then referenced in the main text, suggesting they were not actually that ancillary after all, then you should probably pick this up.

Oh man, so many great words.

satyriasis (n): uncontrollable sexual obsession in men. (p. 53)
lallate (v): conventionally to replace your r's with l's, or to speak in a nonsensical baby fashion, but in the sense DFW intended here I guess it means calming, as in a lullaby, as described here. (p. 64)
sprachgefuhl (n): sensitivity to linguistic propriety (p. 69)
dysphemism (n): inserting an intentionally harsh word or phrase when a more neutral one would suffice, opposite of euphemism. Apparently never having encountered this word makes me NOT a SNOOT. (p. 70)
solecism (n): linguistic goof, incorrect use of language. (p. 71 and everywhere in this essay)
pertussion (n): coughing, though most dictionaries seem to list the word as "pertussis." (p. 71)
styptic (adj): confining or binding in this case, but also used to describe substances that stanch bleeding. I almost wrote "staunch." If there's one word I'm going to remember from this book it's "solecism." (p. 80)
spiriferous (adj): having spires. I hate words like this. (p. 42)
anapest (n): two short syllables followed by one long, in this case "where's it at." Is "anapest" itself an anapest? (p. 99)
trochee (n): long syllable followed by a short one. Why a "monosyllabic foot + trochee" is supposed to be uglier than a "strong anapest" is beyond me. (p. 99)
pleonasm (n): excessive use of words to express something, in this cases leveled as a criticism against academic writing, which is somewhat absurd coming from DFW who is pleonastic in the extreme. (p. 115)
immanent (adj): inherent, innate. (p. 151)
luxated (adj): dislocated. (p. 151)
prolegomenous (adj): introductory (p. 255)
Profile Image for Jackie "the Librarian".
882 reviews270 followers
December 21, 2009
David Foster Wallace is a self-described SNOOT, the sort of person "who watched The Story of English on PBS (twice) and read Safire's column with their half-caff every Sunday." So, he's a bit of a know-it-all, and if you're like me, you'll feel like you're out of your league trying to keep up with him when it comes to grammar and all things English.

But that's okay, because he's also witty and self-deprecating, and interested in not just English usage (thank goodness!), but also politics, lobster festivals (warning: after reading his essay on the preparation of lobsters I'll never eat lobster again, and more power to you if YOU can), Dostoevsky (again, out of my league), pornography conventions in Vegas, and talk radio, among other things.

His observations are full of extra bits of information, presented in a surfeit of footnotes. In fact, there may be more footnote than text. But again, that's okay, because they are almost always interesting. Okay, not always, and yes, he goes overboard sometimes in trying to be clever with them, especially in his essay "Host" about a talk radio host in Los Angeles. On the other hand, his insights into what drives talk radio (not politics, but ratings) make up for any excess in presentation.

This was my first exposure to Wallace, who I know has many fervent fans among Goodreaders, and I can see why. I enjoyed his voice a lot, if not always his choice of subjects to cover. This is a good introduction to the author. Recommended.
Profile Image for Ramos Anthony.
16 reviews
December 25, 2019
This felt like eating a piece of dessert that was left out for too long yet still managed to taste decent. I enjoyed reading "Consider the Lobster" but it felt a bit loose at parts, almost disorienting. Although I understand this wasn't a completed novel I still urge any readers of Wallace to check this out. It's nicely packaged inside and is quite sentimental at points. Took me a while but good read.
Profile Image for Valerie.
155 reviews75 followers
October 9, 2008
I just finished reading Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. What I'm left with is an absolute amazement at the immense amounts of knowledge related in the essays. It's like DFW had - or did enough research - to fill a set of encyclopedias on each topic, and then whittled it down to the presented short-storyish length.

In "Big Red Son", an essay about the Annual AVN Awards (that's Adult Video News, by the way) I learned more about the adult entertainment industry than I ever thought possible. In addition to covering the event, DFW covered so many other aspects of the industry that it's almost overwhelming, and almost every page of the essay is accompanied by copious footnotes. Anything you've ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask? PM me.

He brought the same level of detail to an article about John McCain that was originally written for Rolling Stone Magazine, but is presented in the book in its unabridged form. Following him on the 2000 campaign trail (before he was knocked out of the race by Bush) I was presented with so much interesting information on John McCain that I have to admit that I have more respect for him now. I'm not voting for him, but I can respect him, and that's mainly because DFW objectively presented him to me in a way that I haven't really seen in other media coverage. Don't get me wrong - he doesn't let him off the hook for anything - but his exhaustive coverage and his further analysis of his own coverage made for some really interesting reading in light of the current presidential campaigns.

"Consider the Lobster" is simply hilarious when you think about the fact that he wrote it for Gourmet Magazine, and pretty much calls readers' attention to the plight of the lobster as it's cooked alive. He was sent to cover a lobster festival in Maine, and I hope that the editor of the article knew what he was getting himself into when he hired DFW to cover it, or he might have been pretty surprised when the copy arrived. I'm sure it's not the angle most writers would've explored for a magazine whose readers enjoy eating gourmet foods. Like lobsters. And who probably don't want to think about them screaming in the pot.*

I could go on and on about the essays, but what struck me most was his exhaustive knowledge of their subjects. This was a man who left no stone unturned. I'm amazed by how his mind must have worked to capture, compile and translate everything he learned and experienced into his work.

His death - what a loss to the literary world. And the world, period.

*That's a myth by the way - it's just steam escaping from the space between the lobster's flesh and it's shell. (Just one of the million things I learned from reading this book.)
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