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A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments Paperback – Feb 2 1998
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
"A supposedly fun thing" is a collection of essays that are ostensibly stabs at journalism, the big joke being that Wallace is no journalist. He comes off as an endearingly neurotic-bordering-on-pathologically-self-concious red headed step child of Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, it could even be stated that this book is a sort of postmodern inversion of "The Great Shark Hunt", where Thompson's diving in head first to live inside the events he reports is replaced by Wallace's endearing midwestern unwillingness to get in the way and fear of making a nuisance and/or humiliating spectacle of himself.
Mixed in with all that, though, are startling on point revelations about the state of American Culture, what it means to be an american, the nature of art, and the human condition, which one normally doesn't expect from works about TV, Tennis, State Fairs, or Carribean Pleasure Cruises(in the title essay).
While it may not be as great an accomplishment as Infinite Jest (and the comparison to that magnificent book is the only reason this is getting four stars instead of five), "Supposedly Fun Thing" is without a doubt an incredible read and well worth the price of entry.
His genius comes from a few directions. First is his astonishing ability to meld diverse thoughts into a coherent whole. I think this is revealed most clearly in ``E Unibus Plurum," Wallace's essay within _A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again_ about the effect that television - particularly television's habit of swallowing irony - has on fiction. He diverges briefly into thoughts about what this means for our society in general. What happens when we spend our time conversing ironically - that is, commenting sardonically, but not actually fixing anything?
But at the same time that he can be incisive and intelligent, he's incredibly funny. The title essay from this collection describes Wallace's trip aboard a luxury cruise liner for Harper's Magazine, and the strange sort of death-transcendence (his term, not mine) that defines cruise lines. It's both funny enough that I had a hard time breathing at certain points, and almost heartbreaking.
I guess I don't always think of Wallace's genius until days like today when I'm sick at home and pull his essays off the shelf.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
It is hard to understand the cult of Wallace if this is all he has to offer.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
A very good book. The title essay is a funny look at a trip aboard a cruise ship, as seen by a man who has no business being on such a trip, i.e. a smart sophisticated city guy. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Never Youmind
What can you say about Wallace? Everything he writes has something thuoghtful and of value.Published on Jan. 23 2010 by Trying to TRI
Wallace is a fun writer. He's amusing. He tries very hard to spin the ordinary with a barrage of sidebars, witticisms, and irony. Read morePublished on Aug. 2 2007 by Reader and Writer
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. Read morePublished on March 6 2004 by F. T. Tebbe
This was a thorough and entertaining read. I laughed all the way through.Published on Feb. 5 2004 by F. Bernhardt
...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
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 morePublished on May 5 2003
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