A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s review

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” This is what I strive for. I don’t know that I accomplish it. Can you write sincerely when your characters themselves are insincere? When your characters need distance from their own emotions, can you say that you write with an emotional truth? Or are you a anarchist (in principle, not in style) Brett Easton Ellis?

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It’s a dumb thing to say, but “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” is so smart. And somehow not at all cynical, which is downright impossible to do while writing about TV (and writing about writing about TV).

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Marking out hard to read that DFW detassled corn as a child. We all share a bond. I didn’t find it that hard/grueling as is the common feeling.

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David Lynch pees a lot? I pee a lot!

“Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victim’s various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughly Lynchian.”

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Legit makes me want to watch tennis. Is it because his writing is so good or because his love of the sport is so strong? I can’t think of an essay about any other sport that shows such genuine love/passion. Lots of rage and feelings, sure, but this is like an 1800s declaration of patriotism, it’s so strong.

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Leaving cabin and darting back after 15 minutes to catch cleaning crew is dick-git one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

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The Anchor Book Of New American Short Stories Edited by Ben Marcus

Mikes’ review

VV condensed this eight page introduction into one line in the HoL tagline. “Did this book punch me in the face, and if so, how?”

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Sorry George Saunders. Read “Sea Oak” within the year, not gonna happen right now. I’ve got a deadline to meet (I didn’t come close to meeting this deadline. What am I, a month late with this? There’s something about short stories by different authors that’s impossible to read for any sort of extended period, or even multiple days in a row. Like, I’m ready to read and I’ll read my ten pages and then have to completely reset? Momentum killer, completely. Also, difficult to write any sort of coherent review. Sorta sorry).

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I don’t know why we pretend like we value physical books. The bookstore put a big ass sticker on the cover of this proclaiming their price to be cheaper than the publisher’s suggest price and drew a red line across the bottom of the pages as well. And I know it’s a collection, so thereby “worth” less or whatever, but come on. It’s still pretty standard fare for indies to write (in pencil, granted, but pencil’s not 100% erasable all the time) their prices inside the cover.

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Thought for sure “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” would end in an epic battle over the woman. Like leader took off her arm or narrator did. I know it’s hard to end short stories, but “they were sand and scared of being attacked” doesn’t feel like where this is headed.

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“The Father’s Blessing” might be the most disturbing thing I’ve ever read.

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“You Drive”–Writing Vollmanesque and kinda obtusely doesn’t make incest any more acceptable. Unless that’s not what’s going on. Who knows! Short stories don’t need to explain themselves!

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“Two Brothers”–Why couldn’t the dog have at least growled at the boys? I feel so fucking shitty (also, didn’t phase me at all when boys shot a man. Yeah, different circumstances (man came to boys’ door, shot in stomach. Boys searched out dog, shot in eye graphically. But still, dogs are better than people).

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“Tiny, Smiling Daddy”–“Now she was a vibrant imp, living, it seemed, in a world constructed of topsy-turvy junk pasted with rhinestones.” Absolutely San Francisco in your twenties.

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“Brief Interview With Hideous Men” This story is the only reason I finished. Allowed me to power through the rest. Inspired #PostModernCosmoHeadlines, which, like all my genius twitter gimmicks, went nowhere.

“‘What modern feminists-slash-postfeminists will say they want is mutuality and respect of their individual autonomy. If sex is going to happen, they’ll say, it has to be by mutual consensus and desire between two autonomous equals who are each equally responsible for their own sexuality and its expression’

‘That’s almost word for word what I’ve heard them say.’

‘And it’s total horseshit.'”

I would write out this whole conversation, but I think that’d be illegal so just read it from its original source.

Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s Review

“I think I’m gettin’ to be a believer in folks’ maybe needing to suffer some.” -“Lyndon” Our stories/idealizations of the past are killing us. How we’ve been led to believe perfect happiness is possible. How we pretend the 50s were perfect. We’ve always been hateful, miserable people. Lyndon’s speech which contains the above quote is a nihilistic/pessimistic wonderland.

For the record, never have I thought the 50s were perfect–more like a perfect nightmare. Do you mean mainstream propaganda? Yes to the eternal hate and the misery … I need to reread this book.

It’s not just the 50s. We look back with a bit of an idyllic glow no matter the time period. Things have always been better than they are right now.

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“My Appearance” is so intricate and spot-on in regards to modern irony. Perfect. But I feel I could read it 100 times and still have no idea how sincere we/I are/am. Which, of course, is what makes it perfect. The “But he’d been looking only at the water [reflection]” on-the-nose metaphor doesn’t even ruin it. It is strange for an author as oblique as DFW to do something so spot-on. Must be ironic. Wink wink nudge nudge.

I can’t remember this story. All your gush about DFW is what makes me love him too.

This is the Jeopardy story. VV talks about it later in her review.

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I was tempted to skip “John Billy” because of the language/verbage. But there are nuggets like “the outlining of our mutual Minogue [town] sadness and troubles” couched in there which make the read well worth it. Just have to make sure you don’t drift off too far and are awake enough to catch the gold when it appears.

“all energetic with lust mixed up with regret” sums me up decently.

Between the language and use of something like magic, I should hate “John Billy,” but I loved it. Captures the magnificent hopes, the aggrandized folk heroes of a small town.

It must be a dialect he does that you are talking about the language issues? That’s a pleasure or challenge of the DFW short story, the tones can vary so much from one to the next…

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To not title the collection “Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way” seems to be a gross oversite. Seriously. Themes run throughout the stories and its the last story of the collection. With that title, I wouldn’t have contemplated getting this book every time I went to the Library for the last year and instead would have grabbed it instantly.

Great alternate title, yes. I can see the point of retitling it. Funny to know you judged a book by it’s cover/title.

The old saying about not judging a book by its cover is hogwash. A title/cover is one of the best ways to judge a book. Put me in a room with 1,000 books, only 1 of which I’ll like and no knowledge (read reviews, familiar author names) and I’ll find the good 1.

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Valerie’s Review

I read this in 2003 or 2004 and it was the first DF Wallace for me. It impressed me so much I bought it for my brother.

Gutsy to buy DFW for someone. Could be a pretty big failure. I get nervous recommending things, figuring the person will judge me if s/he doesn’t like the recommendation.

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I don’t really remember any of the stories except the one about Jeopardy, which I have gone back to for some reason a few times. Maybe I am obsessed with Alex Trebeck. The satire was so thick–it was funny and bleak at the same time.

I was living alone for the only time (nine months) in my life when I read this book. I had a noisy old apartment in St. Paul on Selby above a barber shop off Snelling. I would go the library after work and load up on the nights I wasn’t seeing anyone. And I would read and drink vodka juice by myself. I was probably drunk when I read most of this book and that’s why I don’t remember it. I had an e-journal that I kept password protected at the time and now I can’t remember the password so I can’t check my notes on the book.

I did a fair amount of drunk-reading in my brief spurt of college. Death In Venice and Edward Abbey come to mind. I underlined almost everything in Abbey because it was so powerful. Oh boy.

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So I remember thinking of DFW as a close friend of mine in these intimate moments. He was my drinking buddy, and we would wallow in our deep depression pits together. I am a little scared of the intensity of those dark evenings thinking back and that may be why it took me ten years to pick up another one of his books (Oblivion, more shorts, which I can post once I clean it up).

Someday I will try to read Infinite.

Michael Schur (of creating Parks and Recreation and tweeting about baseball) owns the film rights to IJ, did his thesis on IJ and crammed a bunch of IJ into a recent episode. And directed a Decemberists’ Eschaton video. None of this is super-relevant, but it all makes me greatly happy. And I feel confident in saying Schur would be one of the few people I would have confidence in making an IJ movie.

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s review

Good foreword, Dave Eggers. I’m excited and a little nervous.

“The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell.”

A safety, two reserve guards and cash for a punter? No wonder the Cardinals suck. HA! Even for the greatest punter ever, that’s a bit much. Unless you’re the 49ers and exist solely to play special teams. HA! again. Go Pack Go!

DFW forgets to mention that the giant-ass Arizona roaches fucking fly, like goddamned movie monster mutants. Otherwise, very accurate description. Though it seems pretty near impossible to casually trap one of those beasts under a glass. Umm, yeah, so he later goes on to talk about New Orleans roaches, which can fly, which implies Arizona roaches cannot, but rest assured, those fuckers fly. The flying roach/mucous-feeding/floating bodies paragraph is one of the most disturbing paragraphs I’ve ever read. It’s 8:50 a.m. and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it all day now.

I’m big enough to say it: this many footnotes (endnotes?) in a paragraph gets a little tedious. Especially when the footnotes have their own footnotes.

That what went wrong with Facetime section seems incredibly accurate, though I’ve heard none of these complaints (I kinda hate the phone cuz I need to fully engage with whatever I’m doing).

Footnote 110 is only tangentially (Hal would have a better word) related to the text, but I’m quite glad it existed.

I don’t know how I became so vested in this game of Exchaton (though, oddly, I think it may have been when it was revealed that Steeply was there, giving the game certain ambiguous Real World Stakes).

The book is dense and very much it’s own world, so the more I read (like hours in a day), the more I enjoy it.

“Part of finally getting comfortable in Boston AA is just finally running out of steam in terms of trying to figure stuff like this out.” Is this what you’re doing to me DFW with 30ish pages about a meeting, but really meetings in general?

I get the endnotes to “break up linear structure” and it’s fine; I kinda like them really. But to have these big moments left of cliffhangers and then ignored (i.e. the Eschaton fallout, Pemulis walking in on John (n.r.) Wayne and Avril) when elsewhere you’re devoting large sections  to like the childhoods of small characters is maddening. (And yes, the language is creeping into my existence. “Like,” said “driving  me bats” yesterday.)

Infinite Jest is a book, meant to entertain and thereby cannot be fully against escapism (though much of the novel is spent dealing with hazards of Entertainment/entertainment and drugs/alcohol) and I think DFW was more than likely smart enough to realize this. Which is the conundrum of its own existence that I love, but I don’t think DFW ever quite fully realizes this in the print.

It needed another 300 pages, which I know sounds crazy when you look at it. I get that ending 3/4 of the way through is kinda like, “eh, none of it really fucking matters” anhedonia, but dammit, it was entertaining and if you’re gonna bring espionage and secret government ops into it, follow through (and I know that my frustration is supposed to exist and there’s a certain reward in that, but I think the same frustration can still be achieved and a whole story told). The cynicism of ending 3/4 of the way through: “Fuck it. None of it matters anyways” without the presentation of the joke/jest (which can be symbolized in Hal’s hysteria, but it doesn’t seem like a realized hysteria (as in epiphany not painted picture)).

Here’s how I would have wrote it: Finish the damn story. Whether or not Entertainment is real or has a cure is irrelevant, what happens to Hal is irrelevant, if Gately gets out of condition is irrelevant, just finish the damn story then end with a footnote. 389 It’s all a fucking joke.

It drives me bats that I can’t fully recommend this because I feel so unsatisfied at the conclusion. It’s too big of an endeavor for most people to take on and then be left feeling like this. It’s fine for me because I barely work and have little of a life, but it did take me several weeks of doing little else but reading. I enjoyed those weeks, but I can’t guarantee you will. But it is good and it is fun, but it leaves me wanting more in a way that isn’t exactly good. Except that I will probably read more DFW now.

What’s really frustrating is that I want to recommend it just so I can talk about it because I feel like it needs to be released from within me, but I try to be a nice guy and so I won’t. If any of our 3 readers have read this, please please please say something in the comments.

Valerie’s response
HA! To be nervous when starting a book is a funny thought. But a book that big can be daunting. So actually, it’s brave of you to go for it. I have avoided many Russian novels due to their size. Nerves and guilt plague me about the Brothers Karamazov I’ve used for a doorstop for 16 years.I don’t know what you are referring to literature-wise here but am glad to see you are still a Packer fan despite your out-of-state status. I grew up outside Green Bay and thus my blood runs green and gold.

Hehehe, only Bahl would notice what DFW forgot to mention in such a ginormous book (regarding roaches, ugh). What is it about insects that get our minds going creepy crawly back to the images all day? I want to read that paragraph. Or maybe I don’t.

Footnotes on footnotes? That is very unappealing. I am turned off! One or two in a novel, I can say, ‘haha, good joke.’ Too many and I get really grumpy. Junot Diaz in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”  is case in point, I abandoned it for weeks. Novels are for entertainment and shouldn’t be so much work. I can be a lazy reader, I admit… thus avoiding those big books in the first place…

Don’t know what your notes are referring to for a few graphs there… Facetime, Footnote 110, Eschaton… if I read it, I will check back to see wtf you are talking about.

I always enjoy a book that successfully creates another world. That is why I like to read in general, I think. Being able to experience other places and lives. The best writers make it effortless to imagine.

“…language creeping into my existence” – that’s good mostly, right? Grows your vocab. But I know what you mean, I often find myself accidentally quoting TV and movies, stealing the best lines. Too bad my partner usually watches the same shit as me and so knows where I pull stuff from. Thus I can’t impress him with my quick wit.

“anhedonia” – had to look it up. Nice word.

DFW had mental problems as indicated by his suicide. Perhaps he was a bit sociopathic to put readers through such an unsatisfying read, as you describe it. Critics seem to think it was a literary event that changed fiction, which may be a generous allowance. I like your approach to finishing the story and ending with a footnote explaining it all was a joke — but that wouldn’t be representative of the author.

I have read some of his short stories and really loved them (The Girl with the Curious Hair). I will read more by him, as we have a collection called Oblivion on our shelves. Infinite Jest might have to wait but I will attempt it sometime. (Still have to get through Indian Killer, which has been following me around with its ominous cover.) I am curious about DFW’s posthumously published book The Pale King, which was pieced together by his editor. It sounds like it would be similarly unsatisfying as Infinite Jest, but his piles of perfect pearls pieced together make the prose pleasure in itself, which is a reward of a different kind. 

Mike’s response

I only work 20 hours a week or so. Bravery isn’t the correct b-word (it’s boredom).

Roaches (and bugs in general) don’t really bug me. Snakes. Even just typing that word made me shiver.

Facetime is a real-world thing. DFW never uses that word. Like with the forward-facing cameras on iphones. Skype and whatnot. The argument is basically, no one likes it because the phone is meant to be done distractedly and if the other party can see you doing whatever it is you do while on the phone, they will be none too happy.

Unfortunately, I think they only word I actually learned from this book was fantod. DFW either made up or dictionary.com lacked many word and I grew frustrated looking them up with a poor internet connection and mostly stopped. Anhedonia is his word.

I’d say between the ages of 14-25, I never once uttered an original sentence. I still quote fervently, generally without citation. Once you recognize what I’m doing, I usually like you.

Maybe this a common practice (it must be because I’m not usually especially intelligent here), but what I do with footnotes is use my bookmark to mark where I am in the footnotes while reading and then slip it back to the main text while immersed in the notes. Which is why the notes on notes became tedious.

No way was this some groundbreaking gamechanger. Nothing really is though, so I can’t fault DFW there.

I know the joke wouldn’t be representative of DFW the person, but I think DFW the author may be different. Or I wanted him to be different. (Because to write the ending as I wanted it wouldn’t be representative of me as a person, but I think I could bring myself to do it as an author. Hard to say though. It would still be an ending that drives most people nuts. Because I want him to keep going, at least another 300 pages, but probably more like 500-10000 is what he would use, and then negate the whole fucking trip.) He nails Depression descriptions in a way I could never hope to, which is crazy. Generally, for me, creativity is dead then and there’s no way to properly represent it once out of the throes. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t know how you could read those sections and not foresee his suicide, or at least Depression.

I know you haven’t read this, so there’s not much to talk about, but I want to talk right now in general and this book needs talking about as well, so I’m mingling the needs.