A Supposedly Fun Thing

So, yeah, I’m not posting as often as I usually do. I’m not sure where my energy has gone. I used to post regularly even when I was busier than I am right now, but these days I just don’t seem to be able to. I think I may have had things in a delicate balance for a while — I was busy, but I managed life just well enough that I had enough energy left over to write a bit here — and now that balance has gotten out of whack. I’m riding more than I used to, going to yoga more than I used to, seeing friends more than I used to, and that’s been just enough to make me grateful that blogging is optional, and that I can skip posting as often as I want. I think I’m also, slowly, becoming a more relaxed, less driven person (thanks to those yoga classes, perhaps?), so I’m more likely to conclude that the world will be just fine if I don’t write that blog post I was thinking about writing.

But I don’t want to go too much longer without writing about David Foster Wallace’s book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, even if it’s in a short and summary fashion. Because the book was just SO good. I’m sad now that I’ve read Wallace’s two essay collections and there aren’t any more out there to read. I’m imagining that there will be more collections of Wallace’s work coming out eventually, but they won’t be books he’s put together himself.

The book surprised me by being 350 pages long (and they are long pages with relatively small print) and containing only seven essays, one of which is less than ten pages long, and another of which is less than 20, which means that the remaining five are quite lengthy. Many of the pieces were first published in magazines (three of them in Harper’s) or journals, which makes me even more surprised that they are so long. But thank goodness people let Wallace publish long essays, because when he’s given room to explore a subject thoroughly, he really digs in deep and reports back in a most satisfying fashion.

Several of the essays are of the “explore an event or a subculture and describe it for the rest of the world” variety, and he takes his time to describe not only what he sees, but what he’s experiencing personally, so it’s an essay about the subject and also about the writer. They are very much personal essays, not purely journalistic ones (in fact, he sometimes makes fun of himself for the ways he plays at being a journalist).

I’m tempted not to mention the essays’s subjects, for fear that you will lose interest, because frankly I wouldn’t normally want to read about some of the things he writes about. And the truth is that Wallace is worth reading no matter what his subject. It’s the combination of journalism and personal essay, along with his distinctive witty, honest, self-deprecating, super-smart-but-low-key-about-it style that makes his essays so great. He has such a companionable voice that you are willing to read whatever he wants to tell you about, because surely he will have something interesting to say and will make the whole thing fun.

But I’ll tell you about the subjects anyway. The more journalistic essays are about the Illinois State Fair, David Lynch’s films (and the set of Lost Highway), the tennis player Michael Joyce, and a cruise. There is also a personal essay on Wallace’s experience growing up in the midwest playing tennis (which also touches on math and midwestern winds); an essay on television, irony, and fiction; and a short book review essay.

What really matters, though, is the voice in these essays. I think that Wallace tends to write in a similar voice whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction. The fiction (well, Infinite Jest; I haven’t read his other fiction yet) is less personal and more varied, perhaps, but all of the writing has a similar sensibility and a similar use of language — wildly inventive, exuberant, funny, self-aware, playful, brilliant.

8 Comments

Filed under Books, Essays

8 responses to “A Supposedly Fun Thing

  1. I never would have thought a lobster festival would have made for interesting reading (and I don’t even like lobster), but you are right he seems very talented at making any odd sounding subject into something interesting. I plan on reading the rest of the essays in that collection at some point this year and will have to track this book down as well. As for posting–you should definitely post as often or as infrequently as you like–it’s nice that things are laid back and you are enjoying lots of other things in life and not stressing out about any of it. I will always check in–or rather see your posts on google reader when you are feeling in the mood to post.

  2. I am definitely buying this for a friend of mine who is fanatical about both Infinite Jest and David Lynch and whose birthday is coming up in August, but your entry has convinced me I may want to give the collection a try myself. I have an unaccountable “everyone’s doing it” aversion to Foster Wallace, but that’s just petty and I need to whip myself into shape about it.

  3. I’m going to try to get a copy of his essays when we go on our used book store trips. His writing sounds like it has a voice I’d really enjoy.

    So glad that you did so well today, even though you didn’t get to sprint as you wanted to!

  4. I have SO much to read right now, but oooh you are making me want to add Foster Wallace to that list! You always write so well about his work.

  5. So before you began reading so much David Foster Wallace i saw his books in the used bookstore regularly and never got one because I wasn’t ready to read him and I figured they’d always be easy to get. Now, that you have spurred me to want to at least begin reading his essays, I never see any of his books at the used bookstore! There must be someone else in Minneapolis reading your blog and snapping up his books or I am being punished by the book gods for the impertinence of my assumptions.

  6. Jenny

    Like Emily, I have some strange aversion to Wallace. It’s as if I think I won’t get on with him, so I refuse to try. But why wouldn’t I get on with someone playful, funny, self-aware, and brilliant? This is a great, and convincing, review.

  7. verbivore

    I would like to read Wallace one of these days, and do it properly by reading all his stuff, so maybe I’ll do that this summer. You write so well about him, it’s hard to pass up.

  8. Danielle — thank goodness for feedreaders, right? Without them it would be so much harder to keep up with bloggers, especially infrequent posters. Thank you for the reassurances! I’m hoping that I can get back to a more regular schedule when the semester is over, but we’ll see. I’m enjoying the more relaxed pace. And yes, Wallace can really make anything interesting, which is quite a talent, I think.

    Emily — oh, he’s definitely worth getting over the “everybody’s doing it” problem! I’ve love to know what you think of him, particularly since you’ve been doing so much essay reading lately. I absolutely adore the genre, and I think he’s a master of it.

    Debby — thanks! And as always, you are welcome to borrow my copy of the Wallace book. I do hope you enjoy him when you get there.

    Litlove — thank you! His writing is inspirational, definitely :)

    Stefanie — funny! I hope one of his books shows up soon. I’m definitely a Wallace evangelist, and I want everyone to discover how great he is :)

    Jenny — thank you! I didn’t really know I would like him so much when I picked up my first Wallace book. I tried him because I love essays, and I found he’s a completely different writer than what I expected.

    Verbivore — oh, that would be wonderful! I’d love to read your posts on his work. Maybe I’ll find another of his books to read along with you.

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