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

David Foster Wallace
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 1998
In this exuberantly praised book - a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner - David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.

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David Foster Wallace made quite a splash in 1996 with his massive novel, Infinite Jest. Now he's back with a collection of essays entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. In addition to a razor-sharp writing style, Wallace has a mercurial mind that lights on many subjects. His seven essays travel from a state fair in Illinois to a cruise ship in the Caribbean, explore how television affects literature and what makes film auteur David Lynch tick, and deconstruct deconstructionism and find the intersection between tornadoes and tennis.

These eclectic interests are enhanced by an eye (and nose) for detail: "I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled what suntan lotion smells like spread over 21,000 pounds of hot flesh . . ." It's evident that Wallace revels in both the life of the mind and the peculiarities of his fellows; in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again he celebrates both. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Like the tennis champs who fascinate him, novelist Wallace (Infinite Jest; The Broom of the System) makes what he does look effortless and yet inspired. His instinct for the colloquial puts his masters Pynchon and DeLillo to shame, and the humane sobriety that he brings to his subjects-fictional or factual-should serve as a model to anyone writing cultural comment, whether it takes the form of stories or of essays like these. Readers of Wallace's fiction will take special interest in this collection: critics have already mined "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" (Wallace's memoir of his tennis-playing days) for the biographical sources of Infinite Jest. The witty, insightful essays on David Lynch and TV are a reminder of how thoroughly Wallace has internalized the writing-and thinking-habits of Stanley Cavell, the plain-language philosopher at Harvard, Wallace's alma mater. The reportage (on the Illinois State Fair, the Canadian Open and a Caribbean Cruise) is perhaps best described as post-gonzo: funny, slight and self-conscious without Norman Mailer's or Hunter Thompson's braggadocio. Only in the more academic essays, on Dostoyevski and the scholar H.L. Hix, does Wallace's gee-whiz modesty get in the way of his arguments. Still, even these have their moments: at the end of the Dostoyevski essay, Wallace blurts out that he wants "passionately serious ideological contemporary fiction [that is] also ingenious and radiantly transcendent fiction." From most writers, that would be hot air; from one as honest, subtle and ambitious as Wallace, it has the sound of a promise.-- also ingenious and radiantly transcendent fiction." From most writers, that would be hot air; from one as honest, subtle and ambitious as Wallace, it has the sound of a promise.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 100 Page Essay About a Boat Cruise Is Worth Gold Nov. 17 2002
The title essay, about a hundred pages, is a sort of spy mission where the author, a man who makes it clear that he loathes the philistinism of conspicuous consumerism, poses as a boat cruise passenger and chronicles the depression and uneasiness that results from a luxury boat cruise. Wallace's depression is our joy because he is extremely funny in the way he shows how the Pampering Industry, that is, the boat cruise staff, is in fact a bunch of bullies who force us to "have a good time" as we luxuriate on a cruiser, which Wallace envisions as a sort of huge, warm womb where consciousness is lost and where the tourists experience a sort of death. Funny, profound, disturbing, Wallace hits a home run in an essay that was originally published in Harper's magazine around 1995. I believe this version is slightly different, longer, but curiously, missing some juicy parts that I remember enjoying in the magazine version.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing and sloppy essays Aug. 2 2007
Wallace is a fun writer. He's amusing. He tries very hard to spin the ordinary with a barrage of sidebars, witticisms, and irony. How odd then that we expect so much more even as we enjoy the work. This is a tough question but one that his writing raises.

The first essay discusses his adolescent tennis playing and his lack of true talent (although in other places he drops other hints about his upbringing that seems to contradict what we read here. (I am unsure what I can really believe of his writing about his past.) Next follows an essay about television and fiction that relies heavily upon a number of studies. Most shocking is how he never discovered John Fiske whose work, Television Culture is one of the major works on the subject. Wallace discusses metafiction from the viewpoint of novelistic deconstruction and postmodernism yet his weaknesses of not having a visual studies background really shows. Thus he stumbles upon some "revelations" that have been pretty well documented by other writers. Eventually the lack of a clear structure in this essay undermines whatever point Wallace is attempting to make. Skip the David Lynch,(unless you are a David Lynch groupie)in which the writerly problems of structure and theme are completely lost.

The essay on tennis player Michael Joyce is packaged in a journalistic wrapping, but it's as though Wallace never really gets the feel of the person or the atmosphere. He bounces around with pen and pad taking down impressions that are superficial. For example, in covering the Montreal tournament he never questions what it is that makes tennis in Quebec so different from the US Open. We get a skimming essay, with the oh so expected Wallace ironical touch but without real digging.
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4.0 out of 5 stars DFW shows his true colors June 16 2004
I find I can't look away from David Foster Wallace's writing, even though from this book onward, his work keeps playing out the same way.
If you want to understand Wallace, you can't do better than this book of essays. It's all here, from the sharp insight to the overcaffeinated but entertaining riffs on minutiae and big themes alike, to the terrific sense of order in his arguments, ebbing and flowing, delightfully departing from the pyramid structure/straw man tricks we've all seen eight billion times before.
And, vexingly, there's that Other Thing about DFW to be found all over these clever essays: a curious lack of feeling about the outer world and his inner life. It's kept him from making the leap throughout his career, and it's never been exposed more plainly than here.
You can see it in stark relief in his glimpses into sport. His essay on his own tennis playing doesn't carry the emotional freight he was gunning for, and it's no accident that the other tennis essay in this book, on the struggles of an obscure professional, is easily more evocative. Focusing on someone else, DFW is free to do what he does best (analyze) and escape from what he does the worst (feel).
You can see DFW's signature numbness undestandably coloring his looks at cruises and state fairs--activities that clearly aren't his bag. More interestingly, you can sense DFW's engine revving beneath the surface of the narrative in his homage to David Lynch. The admiration for Lynch ties back to DFW's own authorial frustrations. He can't arrange objects literally, magically, or expressionistically to conjure the responses that Lynch can; DFW doesn't have the feel for it and knows it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! March 6 2004
One of the most insightful collections of essays I've read in years, Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing explores contemporary life with fresh and vibrant language. Too many try to compare these non-fiction essays with his magnum opus, Infinite Jest; there's a directness, a desire to not beat around the bush, present in A Supposedly Fun Thing. I.J. is a massive metaphor for the issues and concerns discussed in A Supposedly Fun Thing and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (another fine Wallace book). I'd love to read Wallace's take on the post-Sept. 11th America and the Bush Administration. If you're reading this, Dave, consider this a suggestion for more exceptional essays. Thanks for the great book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence
What can you say about Wallace? Everything he writes has something thuoghtful and of value.
Published on Jan. 23 2010 by Trying to TRI
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth it
This was a thorough and entertaining read. I laughed all the way through.
Published on Feb. 5 2004 by F. Bernhardt
5.0 out of 5 stars Disclaimer: I've not read Wallace's fiction...
...but i really loved this essay collection.
Wallace is (IMO) a totally hilarious writer and the essays collected in this book are astute observations and analyses of a number... Read more
Published on June 23 2003 by Rachel E. Pollock
3.0 out of 5 stars A supposedly good author I'll never read again
Occasionally Wallace manages to craft a story or essay that holds interest throughout. More often, however, he uses language for no other purpose than to show his adeptness at... Read more
Published on May 6 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
More brief than his novels, just as inviting, conversational, thought-provoking, and funny. The addition of a self-effacing first person is really charming. Read more
Published on April 12 2003 by Alison J. Grinter
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
David Foster Wallace is a gifted writer and always a joy to read. His fiction is groundbreaking, and as this book proves, his nonfiction may even be better. Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2002 by J.F. Quackenbush
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, and variety
James Gleick's biography of Richard Feynman, entitled _Genius_, spent a while defending that choice of adjective. Read more
Published on May 22 2002 by Stephen R. Laniel
4.0 out of 5 stars mostly superb
Mr. Wallace isn't just funny (and he can be wickedly funny), he has a superb command of language, isn't afraid to use words, is beautifully observant, and has a great sense of... Read more
Published on May 22 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely enjoyable and funny
David Foster Wallace has a great way with words. His philosophical mindset and ironic attitude combine to present us with a deep, unexpected view of items we might not have... Read more
Published on April 12 2002 by Peter J. Storms
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