So like a month ago I promised some substantive posts! Here is one on a topic I mentioned.wayiseeitbarry
leant me two David Foster Wallace books a few months back, and I read A Supposedly Fun Thing almost immediately. I always expected to dislike, or at best mildly tolerate DFW, I think because everyone talks about the footnotes and misrepresents postmodernism when discussing him. The first time I encountered his work was when I visited an upper level english class at Williams on crutches as a prefrosh (long story). They were discussing A Supposedly Fun Thing (the essay). So I associated him with humiliation and being not quite sure what was going on and a college my mom wanted me to go to even though it appeared to be full of preppy people and horrible portents like sprained ankles.
A Supposedly Fun Thing... (the book) is awesome. No one really mentions that dude didn't just have style, he had a voice. It was suddenly clear to me where a whole bunch of people were getting their nonfiction tricks from, everything from breaking machines and products down into absurd specifics to the neurotic, risk-averse, queasy narrator. For all the supposed distancing, his work has a warmth and humor about it, too, and I liked the tension between those two things.
The other thing that was striking was that the early to mid 90s are, really, truly, another era, with their own concerns. I mean, obviously this is true, but we haven't really codified them yet, the way the 80's so thoroughly have been. When I was reading his essay on television, I kept thinking "Whoa, remember when everyone was really worried about television?" The internet's ascendancy means that television's evil has slid into obscurity. It's also striking that many of his complaints about TV could equally be lobbed at the internet -- I can't decide if that means internet hysteria is bullshit, or if it's a mo money mo problems kinda setup. I fear it's the latter. Seriously, every time I go back to the internet after hiatus, I feel queasy, like I'm eating food my body doesn't like. But, oh, I go back.
My favorite essay was actually the one about the state fair, because I love the weirdness of state fairs. The first essay about his minor magic math tennis powers annoyed the crap out of me, and I skimmed the second one about tennis. Somehow, someday I will get into sports writing. I played a lot of sports. But that day has not yet come. The big famous essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing, was indeed pretty great, but I knew too much about it to love it the way I loved the (very similar) state fair. I mostly liked the images of DFW hiding out in his room eating fruit and worrying about his toilet. Airplane toilets scare me so much I have to close the cover before I flush, lest it suck me down. The stuff about infantilization was brilliant, too, though it didn't really line up with my experience on the one time I went on a cruise. I experienced this constant anxiety of trying not to spend money, even though around every turn the ship wanted me to spend more money, and I was trapped on the ship.
I was kicking myself for not reading him when he was still alive, which is admittedly a kind of weird feeling. But I think I was sad not to have experienced that specific thrill of reading a book you hands-down love, and knowing that there is someone out there who will write even more. I have Consider the Lobster, too, which I will read soon. But in general, when I read an author I like I tend to hoard their books rather than tear through them, and in this case it will be especially hard not to do.