A the recent AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Los Angeles I went to a panel discussion/tribute to Joan Didion. Turns out I am far from the only fanboy Joan Didion has.
While praising, mostly, Joan Didion’s essays, the name David Foster Wallace and his long essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” kept coming up. Since I’ve never succeeded in reading David Foster Wallace’s fiction, I’ve tried boy The Broom of the System and Infinate Jest twice but have never gotten more than twenty pages into either, I decided to give his non-fiction a go.
I wish I could say that I became a Foster Wallace fanboy, they all seem to be having such a good time, but I did not. I liked the essay, enjoyed most of it, laughed out loud a few times and honestly admired much of the prose, but this may be the only Foster Wallace I ever read.
“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” is his famous 1996 account of a Carribean cruise he wrote for Harper’s magazine. Since he was given free reign to write whatever he wanted to, he seized the day including every aspect of the trip one could ever hope for with footnotes. Lots of footnotes.
I think the footnotes are one of the things his fans like most about this essay. They are good, interesting enough, and they do add to the essay much the same way the footnotes in Manuel Puig’s wonderful novel Kiss of the Spider Woman do. But I liked Puig’s footnotes better. I got a bit tired of Foster Wallace’s footnotes, maybe just a little bit tired of Mr. Foster Wallace to be honest.
He does go one. See the opening sentence in the photo above for an example. David Foster Wallace was not one to settle for twelve words when eighty-seven would do just as well.
There was a time when I would have enjoyed the essay more, probably prior to my 35th birthday. It’s my belief that there are certain books, certain authors, that you should read before a certain age. A few you should read after a certain age, too. You should read Catcher in the Rye before you leave high school for example; Brideshead Revisited before you leave your 20’s; and wait until you’re older before you read Middlemarch. Trust me.
Mr. Foster Wallace’s cruise reminded of my recent trip to Disney World where my brother and sister-in-law were renewing their vows after 25 years of marraige. I didn’t want to go– C.J. and I have no children so we’d just be a middle-age gay couple roaming around the magic kingdom looking confused since neither of us has any desire to go on a roller coaster. But the whole experience is so well orchestrated to produce fun, to make everyone happy, and everyone there is so genuinely happy to see you, and you can’t sit on a bench for ten minutes without some form of pretty decent entertainment going by, that we had a terrific time in spite of ourselves.
This is essentially the same story arc you’ll find in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”
Read it now, before it’s too late.
11 thoughts on “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace”
I completely agree that George Eliot was meant for older readers.
I reread Middlemarch once every ten years or so. I love it more every time.
You write the best reviews of everything! If you could make comments about Disneyworld not either boring or tooooo snarky, you are a genius !
Why, thank you ma’am. Disneyworld is simply impossible to resist. You cannot help but have a good time. Except the food. The food is an embarrassment.
I believe that the primo age for reading DFW is in one’s early 20’s. I read Infinite Jest with my son when he was 18 and I, well, ever-so-much-more-than-twenty, and we both enjoyed it, but I was reading with a bit of his eye, if you know what I mean.
This one and the essays in Consider the Lobster are very readable, I think.
I did enjoy the essay. I don’t think I’ll be reading more of them. I prefer Joan Didion by far.
I totally agree with you – Catch-22 is another one you should read in your 20s at most. However, I’ve been reading Middlemarch since I was 17 and I’ve loved it each time, although in a different way each time, too.
When you’re older, you’ll see what I mean about Middlemarch. I think I agree about Catch-22.
Well I read it at 17, mid-20s and mid-30s (it’s due a re-read now I’m mid-40s but I’ve got into her other books now and want to get through all of those). When I last re-read it, I had this to say: “When I first read it, I thought it was about three romances, the web of society, and women’s place. Now, I think it’s about inheritance, business, politics, Politics and the yoke of marriage”. so it’s changed for me, and deepened.
I’ve got another one though – I think you should read Trollope when you’re over 40. But that’s probably because I’m trying to justify not reading him before now!
It’s so refreshing to find someone else who agrees with me on DFW. I liked this essay too and some introduction he did for something else but that’s about it. There’s this whole group of McSweeny’s-type writers I just can’t get into for some reason. I don’t know if he wrote for MsSweeny’s but it’s that same style (you know, Dave Eggars and those guys).
He wrote this one for Harper’s back in the day. I’ve a small group of friends who are big fans of DFW. I’m hoping I won’t be kicked out of the group. I don’t like Dave Eggars either which is a controversial position for someone who lives in the Bay Area.
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