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on 9 May 2017
Such a shame David Foster Wallace is no longer around to bestow more of his wonderful wry, dry, sometimes sardonic view of the world. This collection of some of his essays does not disappoint so far that I have read. Despite sometimes sailing a bit over my head with passages of abstruse terms and americanisms I still sort of see what he means. While searching and thoughtful in their analysis of the particular subject the pieces are entertaining and hilarious in places to the extent that laughter just erupts at times. As an example take this from the intro to one that is typically entitled "getting away from already pretty much being away from it all" where he reports on his somewhat reluctant mission to the Illinois State Fair as a member of the press:-
"Why exactly a swanky East-Coast magazine is interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at these magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90% of the United States lies between the Coasts and engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish." . . . .which gives an idea of the vein. He is accompanied by a lady to whom he refers as "Native Companion" throughout and who provides him with her own female slant on the show. He records how, far from being affronted for example by being deliberately swooped upside-down terrifyingly in a cage on one of the rides so that her dress falls about her head to the gratification and merriment of the rednecks operating it, she howls with delight at the hair-raising nature of it when she emerges, oblivious to their unsavoury intentions. This may not do the book justice though as it is not all levity but there are gems on almost every page and mark it as one of the few works to be read or dipped into, again and again.
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on 30 May 2017
DFW's non-fiction writing is excellent and this collection comprises a good selection of his journalistic essays. The subject matter is diverse but DFW's writing and insight are more than sufficient to make each essay valuable to anyone who likes beautiful writing and to consider the everyday in a new light.
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on 25 August 2017
Sorry guys, just couldn't get into it. Found it irritating, where his syntax was being used just for the sake of it. I also think it is written for an American audience as I am sure I am missing little nuances that would add to the enjoyment. Good book, I am sure, but not for me, and probably not for non-Americans also.
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on 19 May 2017
Bought a a gift so can't comment on the book itself but it arrived in good time and was new
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 December 2009
A collection of essays by this engagingly nerdy and knife-point sharp and witty writer, who died by his own hand in 2008 at the age of 45, this book gives a flavour, no more, of his talent.

"Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function," Wallace writes. "It's critical and destructive, a ground-clearing. Surely this is the way our post-modern fathers saw it. But irony is singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks." In his essay titled: E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction, he writes at length on the uses and abuses of irony and ends with a plea for sincerity to make a come-back - as if the ironic could discard the thinking that has so enslaved them to ennui. He writes: "It is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage." I found myself wanting to argue against him often, but his intellectual persona is the opposite of naïve and his argument against irony is fuelled by a philosophy of creative energy that is more than just impressive in this book.

His humour can be devastating, as in the title essay which describes a Caribbean cruise he took aboard the ship Zenith (immediately re-christening it Nadir for the space of the voyage). But his intention in this novel is also serious. Of the Megaline ships he says: "It's not an accident that they're all so white and clean, for they're clearly meant to represent the Calvinist triumph of capital and industry over the primal decay-action of the sea." Indeed, he quickly comes to the conclusion that the constant activities, the "hard play" of gaiety, song, adrenaline, excitement, stimulation, are there to drown out the illusion of choice. You have no choice. You are aboard the ship and you will enjoy it. The irony of this conclusion is a doubled one, a facet of his writing that even he could not escape.

That such a brilliant writer, someone who gave such delight and pleasure, became terminally depressed is tragic. This collection of essays is both triumphant and terribly sad. There is to be publication of the novel he was working on when he died: The Pale King, but then there will be no more from this wonderful writer.
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on 7 February 2005
By its very nature (a hodge-podge of random musings, semi-academic essays and travelogues commissioned by glossy magazines), this collection is erratic in tone and occasionally in execution. Yet even at his least engaging and most wilfully opaque, DFW is still incredibly readable, pulling your intellect along as he spins off on any number of tagents. When he's at his MOST engaging, however, he's among the most appealing writers of either fiction or non-fiction at work today. I defy even the biggest DFW cynic to read the title essay, for example, and claim not be alternately amused and weirdly moved throughout its (countless!) diversions and narrative scenic routes.
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on 12 March 2016
Sadly, the end of an all-too-brief flirtation with DFW's shorter-format writing as I've simply run out of patience with his massively self-indulgent style. All the bigger pity, because when he's operating in pure reportage mode - on board a cruise liner, or at a state fair - he's incredibly good. Observant, opinionated, perceptive and very, very funny. But as essayist, he becomes an incredibly dense and difficult read. Almost wilfully so, as if his attitude is, "I can really *write* using a vocabulary and style that might leave you floundering. I think it's really great - but too bad if you can't keep up." Nobody doubts DFW's scholarship, but it's just unpleasant to have it flaunted so obviously. After a while floundering along in his wake, you just feel inclined to leave him to amuse himself (which he's clearly doing anyway, with/without your company), and try something a little more approachable - like maybe Tolstoy in the original Russian...
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on 18 December 2016
A supposedly fun thing I'll never recommend. The big problem with this is the language barrier. It's not in english, it's in American. Full of "in jokes" - if you're American. In short about as funny as Trump being elected.
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on 5 July 1999
Anyone who is reading this having just finished Infinite Jest, I can heartily recommend this book. This was the first Wallace book I read, and it got me hooked. Having read a lot of essays by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Martin Amis, I can honestly say that this is as good as anything by those esteemed writers. Wallace has a knack of making the truly bizarre somehow understandable. The essays are deeply funny, but never sneery or mocking. Wallace is just geniunely baffled by the wierder aspects of American culture (pro sport, Hollywood, agricultural fairs etc), and succeeds in poking good-natured but cutting fun at various excesses in American life. He combines the laugh-out-loud element of PJ O'Rourke with the intelligence and insight of Tom Wolfe. A must read for anyone interested in modern American culture, or who justs want to read a different and original collection of journalism
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on 18 September 2014
David Foster Wallace's roaming eyeball of a reporter sets out to see what it can see ... at the state fair, on a cruise ship, playing tennis, considering irony in the age of the television .... Nothing can prepare the unwary reader for what lies in store: you basically have to surrender and let him lead your field of vision where he will. And if you do, it is a truly reorientating and strangely uplifting experience.

For what it's worth, I think Wallace's collected essays (of which this one of three volumes, see also Consider the Lobster and Both Flesh and Not) are the most accessible and persistently enjoyable of his books. If you like these, try the short stories next, notably Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and (though only occasionally) Girl with the Curious Hair. Then you are probably ready to try one of his three novels, the third of which was incomplete at his death. Most famous of those is Infinite Jest, which is enormous but engrossing. I actually think the essay on tennis in this book (Supposedly Fun Thing) is a helpful thing to have read before trying to get too far with Infinite Jest. He captures the relentlessness required of those who would play tennis, which is later cross-compared to a kind of drug addiction in his novel.

The three famous pieces in this collection include his irony essay, which is pretty persuasive but somewhat close to the world of the academic essay on literary criticism, so possibly not for everyone. But the state fair account captures perfectly the sense of someone dislocated from what appears to be passing for normal fun and enjoyment, and yet unable to believe that they are the one who is lost. If you've ever been there, which is to say if you are a human being in the late-capitalist Western world, you will enjoy it. And if you do, then the concluding title essay will give you the words to describe the kind of life we are living. A personal opinion: this is the most poignant but funny account ever written of the pressure to have fun. Rightly a classic.

As, indeed, is the whole book.
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