on July 15, 2009
David Foster Wallace was recommended to me by many friends. Most described him as hilarious, and recommended I start with his book "Consider the Lobster".
I read his first essay on the American adult film industry award ceremony (the one most talked about among my friends). The essay was very interesting (Foster Wallace describes a world most of us have little knowledge about), and his wit, pointed comments and background research enhance the story telling. However, I must confess I was not hooked.
I decided to give this book another try as an audio book. The book is abridged (only selected essays are read - the one on the adult industry was among the selectd essays), and it is read by the author. I think hearing the author's voice enhanced the experience, putting emphasis on parts of the text I would have glossed over. There are times when you clearly hear the author's disbelief,or stupor of what he is observing, or annoyance or anger that I simply missed in the text. So now, I am hooked, and I will give the book (and the essays that are not part of the audio book) a second (and enthusiastic) try.
A note. While most things are not for everyone, I think this is particularly true of Foster Wallace's book. I have come to realize that his humour (that my friends had so enthusiastically recommended), is more dry and intellectual than I expected. It comes from the author's keen insights and sometimes bewildered amazement at what he is seeing. It works, but it may take you a while to get into it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2006
It’s almost an embarrassment; say mortifying to even comment on a book whose author has an absolute mastery of the English language. If English was made of colors, this book would be its acid trip. Consider the Lobster is a collection of essays on various topics from the AVN Awards (AVN is the Oscars of the porn industry and to open the book with this essay was a brilliant hook for the reader) to the funny side of Kafka to the suffering of lobsters at Maine’s Lobster Fest.
Wallace, a self-described SNOOT of the bard’s verse writes like a salt and pepper professor that put the image of Billy Connelly during his stint as Billy MacGregor, the Irish teacher in the American TV Satire, Head of the Class. The image even now still comes up, since he’s just bloody brilliant and so meticulous, a perfectionist with a singular wit that could make the staunchest and driest of intellectuals crack-up. But on the contrary, looking at his picture on book flap, he looks more like he should be riding a Harley than he does a professor.
Wallace even writes about this type of preconceptions we make of people we read or listen to without ever seeing them. We make assumptions and deduce that one should look a certain way and when we meet them, or see them. We realise that you can’t judge a book by its cover, even if it has an endearing picture of a lobster raising a claw to be counted. As a personal comment, the book cover can’t top the cover of A Party of One, but its damn close
Wallace majored in my favourite subject, philosophy (focused on mathematics and logic) and graduated summa cum laude and detains an MFA in creative writing, making him a power house of intellectual writing. As an author and when not teaching, he also takes assignments for magazines in different ranges of the social strata, Playboy, Esquire, Harper’s, Rolling Stone and has written book reviews for papers such as NY Times, LA Times and the Washington Post (those included in Consider the Lobster are simply watershed events in how one should write a review – which makes me particularly self-conscious about even attempting to critique his book, I am but an amateur)
The writing style in Lobster, is difficult. The reader will necessitate the use of a good dictionary or the online Merriam-Webster at the very least. Even though when considering the core audience, when he’s, as an example writing a political report (Up, Simba) for Rolling Stone, he does take the pedanticism down to an acceptable level. Pedanticism is a harsh word, perhaps it would fit better to say that he can make certain essays more accessible. Reading his material is a complicated adventure (especially if you consider the final essay, Host) but never does the reader feel like he’s being talked down to or made to feel like a moron, but the aberrant use of rare words can make one feel out-of-the-loopy. But his willingness to adapt to his intended reader, which in the case of “Up, Simba”, is the college crowd that reads Rolling Stone is just another indication of his mastery over this language.
Not only will the reader grasp the encyclopaedic knowledge of whatever subject Wallace is treating, he will also learn patience and perhaps the ancient art of the use of a magnifying glass, because the footnotes (of smaller font size), have their own footnotes (of even smaller font size) which often are interwoven with interpolations. One footnote, its sub-footnotes and its interpolation, took over one and half pages of space. This can make reading difficult, not because of “wordiness” or of the intellectual challenge it presents, but because the font is so small that it can strain the eyes – an experience this reviewer is reminded of the skull cracking migraine ensued by the reading of said footnote during a trip on the subway.
But it was worth the “cephalitic throbbing” because reading Consider the Lobster is enthralling, riveting, gripping and whole lot more synonyms. It was efficacious into getting this reviewer to consider reading fiction for once. His reviews of books, hook line and sink the reader into craving fiction. Wallace raves about Kafka and praises and admirers Dostoyevsky and despite warning the reader on the difficulty of reading such authors, teases you into wanting it.
This must come from his own love of reading, he even reviews a sports personality’s biography, those soppy from-humble-beginnings-I-rose-above-it-all Monday night made for TV movie candidates that bore me to tears. Yet he treats it for what it is, a mass market soft cover book that only die hard fans of said personality would read, he doesn’t review it as he would Kafka. This would be like treating a Spiderman comic with the same outlook as one would Shakespeare, both are literature, but with differing target audiences and differing story telling mechanisms or mediums.
Wallace is an author for all seasons. He can report on porn awards in unsavoury details and then later get very snobbish about American Usage dictionaries, defend those poor lobsters and then deride the mainstream media, through an essay on conservative talk radio, where he berates all of media for having turned into nothing more than a for-profit business. There’s no subject of Americana Wallace can’t write about without enlightening the reader on perhaps unconsidered perspectives.
Grab a dictionary, grab a can of Red Bull and grab the Lobster. This book is worth every delicious word. I just hope I didn’t make to many mistakes in my usage; I would abhor having Wallace’s wrath of Snootiness rain down on me.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
David Foster Wallace can write up a storm and, if the topic interests me, I'm there. The problem is too many of these essays culled from various publications Wallace wrote for bore the heck out of me.
I enjoyed his visit to Las Vegas for the annual AVN awards as it was both hilarious and penetrating (excuse the use of the bad pun given this was an awards show honoring the "best" in porn video). I also loved most of the essay on the Maine Lobster Festival but he went too far in trying to get to the bottom of whether lobsters felt pain. At first, it was fun to debate in a sort of late at night way you may have debated anything in your youth but it just went on and on with no end in sight.
The same with the other essay I slightly enjoyed about tennis star Tracy Austin's autobiography and how athlete biographies often fail to measure up. Wallace so often repeats himself and not so much hammers home a point but dulls it to death.
The stuff on writers or politics just put me to sleep. The essay on US lexicopgraphy interested me because I work in editing but it too quickly made my eyes glaze over.
Maybe Wallace just needs an editor to reel him in as he does write well in spurts. It just did not work for me as I guess I'm more of a Chuck Klosterman or P.J. O'Rourke fan when it comes to essayists on modern culture.