Saturday, February 18, 2006


David Foster Wallace is soooo good

I've put Samuel Pepys down after a scant two evenings of reading (what is happening with that I do not know; I have the very best of intentions), and picked up Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown 2005). It's been sitting on my "me next" pile for two months. Boy howdy, it's good. I skimmed the first essay, largely because of the subject matter. Call me old-fashioned, I know it's out there, but it's just not what I want to read about. But the essays on John McCain, American usage, 9-11, and the title essay about the Maine Lobster Festival are nothing short of fantastic. I'd read several of the book's essays in their original magazine-article-forms, and it was a pleasure to revisit them in this new collection. I've read two recent blog accounts by folks attending readings given by David Foster Wallace: the first at Return of the Reluctant and the second at Counterbalance. Wish I'd been able to be there too. Most of the time I thank my lucky stars that I live in Maine, but living on the edge of the north country does mean I routinely miss great events such as this.

His essays and stories (I still haven't read his novel Infinite Jest) are written the way I think people actually think - about many subjects, all at once, fast and furious, with tangents, asides, digressions, moments of great despair right next to moments of elation, and the red warning light of the b-s detector flashing on and off in response to appropriate stimuli. Every time I read a book by someone roughly my own age, and the book is stupendous, I thank god that the spirit of my generation wasn't totally crushed by materialism, money, greed, advertising, television, politics, contemporary culture, call it what you will. There are still great writers who care about the same things that humans have always cared about: humor, honor, duty, humility, intelligence, love.

My favorite David Foster Wallace book is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Little, Brown 1997). I'm a big fan of nonfiction written by fiction-writers, which I may have mentioned in previous posts. Anyway, the title essay describes in funny and excrutiating detail his paid vacation on a behemoth cruise ship. The crux of his argument is that everything that promises happiness on a trip such as this actually induces despair - the reverse of what one is led to expect from the lovely brochure. A tidy summation of materialism.

Speaking of which, I've got a shop to run. It's been a slow week, but I've sold a few good books here and there (by Melville, Poe, Hamsun), which keeps my spirit warm, in cold cold February.

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