Book Review: Something Supposedly Fun That I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (RIP)

DFW's essays

This was my first experience of the writing of David Foster Wallace. I had heard of him over the blogosphere following his suicide a few years back – mostly accolades from academics that knew him. This is a book of essays he wrote in the 90′s covering his short tennis career, writers’ obsession with television, the Illinois State Fair, a tennis match, the filming of a Lynch movie, and finally a cruise he took for Esquire Magazine. In fact, the book title comes from this last piece. I already started reviewing this book a few posts ago and just wanted to update you that I finished it and what my impressions were. I will attempt to read his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, next once my obsession with TV series such as Weeds subsides. [and yes, Jon, you were right, Weeds is great :)]

I found the initial chapter on his “almost” tennis career funny and engaging and an interesting look at growing up in the midwest – an area of the US that I don’t know at all apart from its two biggest cities: Chicago and Detroit. It is a quick read actually and a good introduction to DFWs wry sense of irony and self-deprecation.

The second chapter was about how television has radically changed all of our cultural references and has an unavoidable impact on contemporary fiction. Either writers go with it or they try to reject it but they cannot and do not remain neutral. I found the thesis to be relevant and have thought quite a bit about his idea of the irony in advertising: how a media broadcast to millions of viewers tries to sell individualism (“be different, just like everyone else”) and think that he really hit the nail on the head with that. I haven’t read any of the fiction he referred to: Delillo, Pynchon, etc and so those references kind of blew over me. I have had passing interest in reading these other icons of late 20th century American fiction but so far haven’t let that actually push me into purchasing Underground or Gravity’s Rainbow. Perhaps one of my readers will encourage me otherwise?

The next section is a long-winded but funny account of DFWs visit to the Illinois State Fair back in 1993. I certainly learned a lot about farmers and redneck carnies and about Illinois in general but was impatient for the chapter to end several times. It just kind of never figured out a good place to stop and when it finally does, the ending is abrupt. The funniest part is when he is there on opening day with a Native Companion (referred to as NC). It sure sounded like they had a fun time but that he missed her after she split to take care of her kids. I’ll be much more careful around the rides should I ever do another State Fair after reading this.

The next chapter was about DFWs following the David Lynch film crew as they were filming The Lost Highway. DFW’s style is full of digressions and here he talks a lot about his impressions of all the previous Lynch films as he barely covers the one he is there to talk about. I am a fair weather Lynch fan, having only seen Dune (I actually liked it even if everyone else with any cinematic taste hated it), Blue Velvet (FUCKING GREAT as Dennis Hopper would have said), Mulholland Drive (produced well after this one). I admit the error of my ways in that the two most critically acclaimed Lynch vehicles: Elephant Man and Eraserhead have still not been seen by my baby blues, but that is probably just temporary. DFW is a Lynch fanatic and spends lots of time comparing the ambiances of Twin Peaks with The Lost Highway. I only saw the pilot episode of Twin Peaks about 6 months ago so this went more or less over my head as well. I suppose if you are a Lynch fan and up-to-speed on all the stuff leading up to The Lost Highway, you’ll love this chapter. Otherwise, like me, you’ll probably start skipping pages…

like I did for all of the next-to-last chapter about a tennis championship. Since I don’t follow tennis, this was way outside my zone of interest and I just paged through it to get to the eponymous article…

DFW was sent by Esquire magazine to report his experience on a luxury cruise through the Carribean. The article is long but it makes for good reading.  His impressions mirrormore or less what I found at my Club Med experiences in terms of the inherent stressful fakeness of the experience despite its intention to relax and dissociate. I thought his antagonistic relationship with the ship’s crew was hilarious as were his dining interactions at table 60. I think that cruise ships are probably good when you are retired and have already seen it all but I think that personally, I will do walking tours of Dresden or Sapporo instead when I get that old. My wife’s parents have done several cruises and, while they really enjoyed them, were appalled by the behavior of western tourists in non-western settings. In the book, DFW talks about the disembarkation at Cozumel in almost the same terms that my in-laws talk about their shipmates in Capetown. To be avoided for me in any case.

So overall, I am happy to have discovered DFW and been able to appreciate his style albeit that his subjects were not always ones that I was as passionate about. I am hoping Infinite Jest will keep my enthusiasm up. That being said, it is incredibly sad that he offed himself before his work could really mature…

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About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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One Response to Book Review: Something Supposedly Fun That I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (RIP)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Pale King by David Foster Wallace – A Posthumous Incomplete Masterpiece | Fino's Weblog

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