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A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments Paperback – Feb 2 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (Feb. 2 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316925284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316925280
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #39,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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. Excellent too is the essay on director David Lynch, and the essay on pro tennis, though it helps a lot if you find, as I do, both subjects very interesting. Another good piece is the midwest fairground story, which is again Wallace's take on an experience he otherwise has no interest in.
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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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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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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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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.
"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.
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