book-reviews

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

by David Foster Wallace

Rating: ★★★★★

Fantastically engrossing writing. Wallace's conversational, detail-oriented, parenthetical style compels you to read even where he seems to be blatantly rambling about some topic you have absolutely no interest in (e.g., professional tennis), simply because he does have an obvious, declared interest in it and is able to express and communicate that obsession directly to you without you having to go away and develop an actual interest in the topic yourself before wanting to read it.

Given the above, it doesn't actually matter what the essays Wallace writes are actually about, a journalistic ability of his of which the commissioners of some of the pieces seem to have been acutely aware. This edition of the book, however, reminds me that Wallace is 'the author of Infinite Jest', and having read Infinite Jest, it is hard to escape the impression that the reminder is entirely unecessary, because oh boy does this book remind me of Infinite Jest, and I don't just mean because of the writing style.

I don't know if this is just entirely down to who Wallace is as a person and his particular obsessions and interests, or if this particular collection of essays was cynically assembled to be an accompaniment to IJ (by Wallace? by a profit-seizing and quick-to-the-mark publisher?), or if there's some element of selective memory involved on my part, but these essays seem to distill the pure essence of IJ down to a bitesize, more digestible and honestly more relatable form. We have, in order, Wallace's own competitive tennis experience as the analytic second-best player in the local psychic space w/ localised magic, commentary on both television and irony, reflections on America, death of the author, the disturbing portrait of a film auteur, commentary on elite professional tennis w/ Candian nationalism, and reflections on America with a guest appearance by a child prodigy and paranoia.

I'm not saying absolutely everything in IJ is here -- that would be ridiculous, and he doesn't really stress addiction, for example -- but there's enough that rereading IJ having read these essays would definitely put a different spin on it all. I rate this higher than IJ simply because I was here mostly able to avoid the nagging feeling that Wallace wasn't making good use of my time as a reader, and so could just relax and enjoy it a bit more.