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.