This is an absolutely marvelous tour de force, a charming, witty, profane, delightful romp. To say that David Foster Wallace (henceforth DFW) had a waThis is an absolutely marvelous tour de force, a charming, witty, profane, delightful romp. To say that David Foster Wallace (henceforth DFW) had a way with words is analogous to saying that Da Vinci could paint a little. I suspect that wherever he went DFW was the smartest guy in the room. I have little doubt he was the most neurotic.
I do have four gripes relating to this book and to Wallace. Lest these petty complaints of mine take over this review and give you the wrong impression, I will spread them out a bit.
Gripe #1: DFW could not hang on to the world. We need his voice more than ever right now, a voice of clarity and no-bullshit straight-shooting. We need his insight into the insanity that is our world. But in 2008 he just couldn't take it any more—his fears, his deep and seemingly untreatable depression—and he took his life.
This is a book of essays, ranging all over the map, from luxury cruises (the title essay; they sound horrifying to me) to obscure details of literary theory. DFW was a ranked junior tennis player and he has a great deal of fun describing how the game was played by him and, in a different essay, how it is played by professionals (the two don't bear much relationship to one another). He was an accomplished ping pong artist and a chess player just good enough to give a nine-year-old girl a 23 move workout. He is absolutely hilarious when he feels out of place, as at the Illinois State Fair, to which he was sent by Harper's, or on the aforementioned cruise (same magazine). You get the impression that he sat just a touch cockeyed to the whole world and his wry and self-conscious observations puncture the affectations of all he meets, including the man he sees in the mirror.
Gripe #2: A couple of these essays, specifically the ones on television and postmodernist fiction, could have done with a bit of judicious editing. Yes, they are both fascinating topics, but DFW goes on and on and on, sometimes restating the same theme in different terms. He admits on the attribution page that some of the essays originally appeared in "way shorter" forms. It may well be that way shorter would have helped; half as short would have made them twice as interesting.
And I haven't even mentioned the extraordinary facility DFW has for some of the wonderful vocabulary the English language has to offer. Thanatotic! Wetlschmerz! Solmization! Snynechdocic! Solipsistic! Episcopate! Frottage! It obviously helps to have a dictionary handy (this would have been a good one to read on an ereader so I could just press and hold to get a definition). Here's the thing, though: unlike some smartasses who throw their big words around indiscriminately, DFW tosses them like hand grenades in the midst of a mass of much more homely prose. And he never, ever seems to use them except in the exactly correct way, as far as I can tell (except for preterite; I can't find that the way he uses it is in any standard definition, though considering my respect for his erudition I begin to wonder if it's the dictionaries and not DFW which are at fault). Which is to say, I don't think he was sitting with a thesaurus in hand and seeking to impress; he simply had these words in his head and when an occasion arose that could be best expressed with them, he pulled them out, almost shyly, semiapologetically. Frottage! Phatic! Sapropel! Hey, look it up!
Gripe #3: I realize that it is simply part of his personal style to use abbreviations such as w/o, w/, and w/r/t. In fact, I feel fairly certain that the disaffection these cause, the minor jolt, the shake of the sleeping consciousness, is fully intentional. Still. It seems to me more a matter of laziness, of leaving in place certain shortcuts that almost certainly could have been replaced by the actual words they represent (I will save you the trouble of figuring it out and tell you that w/r/t means "with regard to". Did I miss something? Is this an accepted abbreviation in some parallel universe?). While I'm on the subject, I found his use of the word "like" in the way a Valley Girl might use it ("I mean, like, he went, Gawd") at best annoying and at worst pretentious. Once again, I recognize that he is being intentionally lowbrow, waking us up from the complacency of reading one more clever essayist commenting drolly on yet another set of American foibles. Still. Must he choose this laziest of locutions to do it with? At one point he even asks it to do double dirty duty: "Kids are having like little like epileptic fits...". Arrgh.
But who has such insight into the dark undercurrent of a human life and the courage to bring it out into the light? Who else could write this:
I felt despair. The word's overused and banalified [!] now, despair, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture—a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death...more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I'm small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die.
Especially with what we know of how his life ended, the poignancy of this is almost unbearable. Then there is his insights into what makes us tick on the most intimate level:
But the Infantile part of me is insatiable—in fact its whole essence or dasein or whatever lies in its a priori insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the Insatiable Infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.
Gripe #4: No one should be this good. It simply makes the rest of us who attempt to write anything at all entirely inadequate. If the egos of writers were not made of cast iron (pitted and rusted, yes, gouged and corroded, but iron nonetheless), it may well be that there would only be DFW books and drafts of other stuff. Yes, I am being hyperbolic, but he really is damn good and it's more than just a little annoying. For one thing, he gives the impression that he isn't working very hard at it, that these words just kind of pour out of his head and into his fingers. (I suspect that's part of why he uses those abbreviations mentioned above, as if to say, "Oh, this? This is something I just dashed off. Ain't nothin' to it.") Of course, we know this probably isn't close to the truth; such appearance of effortlessness suggests an enormous amount of effort. Small consolation.
DFW was a neurotic mess, but he had a certain panache about it. He was a cross between Woody Allen and Chuck Palahniuk, it seems to me, a fear-ridden nebbish with a streak of steel and a great deal of pluck. He may not brave the chicken barn at the State Fair (he has good reason, as he is glad to tell you) and darts are strictly off-limits. He may be semiagoraphobic (his term), but he gets up and out and experiences the world in ways most of us would have too much pride to take on. Sharks may be an obsession (he casually tells us just enough to make us realize that he is truly weird about sharks) but he gets on a cruise ship for seven long days.
David Foster Wallace is both my hero and what I fear most. I have had my days of deep sadness and suicidal thoughts. When younger, I considered going on a trajectory that might have allowed me to be more of an artist, but almost certainly would have left me lonely and despairing. I chose the safe road and DFW chose another way. Not that I have the temerity to think I could ever have been a craftsman of his caliber, but I believe I have an insight into what drove him to his final act of desperation. I sure do wish he was here. What would he have to say about iPads and Ryan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Obama and Hillary? Could I ask him to tell me if any of this makes any sense, or is just as whacked as it seems? I do hope he is happier where he is, if there is a place to which we go after. But I know this world is poorer without him....more
This book is surprisingly dull for what is purported to be an oral history of the zombie wars. It attempts to be a history as Studs Terkel might hMeh.
This book is surprisingly dull for what is purported to be an oral history of the zombie wars. It attempts to be a history as Studs Terkel might have gathered it had he been alive when World War Z took place. What thrills one about Terkel's books, though, is the many different voices and perspectives found there. Though Brooks attempts replication of the feat here, he simply doesn't have the literary chops to pull it off. What he reveals above all is a certain bias that glides along just beneath the surface of every tale told. Since all of his narrators share a set of assumptions (which is absurd on the face of it) we must in turn assume these are the author's ideas and ideals and that he seeks to impose them on his readers. This is not really offensive so much as boring. It would have been so much more interesting if there was more variety of perspective.
Everyone in this book seems to agree on certain things: the government (every government, in every country) is incompetent and corrupt. The military of every country is top-heavy and inflexible. The zombies have no status as human creatures and can safely (morally, ethically) be treated as trash (though, in all fairness, it is acknowledged that this moral quandary can drive one nuts. Still, the basic truth of the assumption is not questioned). It's not that I agree or disagree with any of these points, though they are rather simplistic. Rather, the problem here is that they give a rather dull, flat, monochromatic texture to the story.
Too bad, really. Brooks has a way with words and draws mostly realistic (if a bit flamboyant) characters. Perhaps if he branched out, he might be able to break from this sameness of narrative, though a scan of his oeuvre would seem to suggest that, unfortunately, he is rather stuck in this undead end. ...more
One thing to be aware of: this is one of the few books that is not as good as the movie. Quite surprising, considering who wrote it, but I think she vOne thing to be aware of: this is one of the few books that is not as good as the movie. Quite surprising, considering who wrote it, but I think she ventured quite a ways out of her comfort zone to write this book. It was a wonderful thing that the screenwriters for the movie could see the kernel of wonderfulness in this book and expand it into such a stupendous movie. Which is not to say the book isn't worth reading; it most assuredly is....more
My most recent read before this one was Blume's Forever, which I really enjoyed. This book is her other classic, so they say, and I really wanted to rMy most recent read before this one was Blume's Forever, which I really enjoyed. This book is her other classic, so they say, and I really wanted to read it as well. I'm glad I did.
As with Forever, I am not, of course, the intended audience for this book. This one is written with prepubescent girls in mind. The main character is the eponymous Margaret, an 11-year-old with all of the hopes and fears of that age. What I find most remarkable in my two forays into Blume's work is how thoroughly readable her stories are even though I cannot directly relate to the emotions and situations she describes. In other words, like any truly great author, she can put me into the mind of her characters and let me live for a while as if through them, just as Charles Dickens might with Oliver Twist, or Gustave Flaubert with Emma Bovary. I may not have much in common with Margaret, Oliver, or Emma, but I leave these stories feeling as if I have walked a mile in their shoes and truly know, to the extent I can, what it is to be them.
Thus with Margaret here. The plot is straightforward and, as in Forever, Blume does not feel the need to elaborate on real life by adding artificial drama. Living through this time of our lives, she seems to be saying, is dramatic enough.
This is a very enjoyable book, and, if the reports I heard from those who saw me reading the book are to be believed, a beloved and accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a girl of this age. What a gift Blume has given the world, the reassurance and comfort of knowing that someone understands and does not judge, that someone is out there who knows it is hard, but that it can be survived, intact....more
I have been told for years that this book is brilliant. I found it to be a quite fine first novel, but not much more than that. I'm afraid I am old-faI have been told for years that this book is brilliant. I found it to be a quite fine first novel, but not much more than that. I'm afraid I am old-fashioned enough to not quite understand the penchant in some modern novels for an author to have what seems like contempt for the characters she creates. It's not that I disapprove, I just don't see the point. Yes, I know, to require of a book that it contain a Hero or Heroine is simply passe. Why not tell it like it is? There are people who live this way and this is their story. I guess it just feels like a bit of an empty exercise to me.
This book also suffers from a certain datedness. In the context of 9/11 and other recent examples of true Islamic fundamentalism, the radical element in this book seem almost quaint.
Well-written and quite an accomplishment for a young writer. But hard to recommend. Proceed at your own risk....more
I read this Wodehouse along with two others in an omnibus edition. As they were in this edition in chronological order of their publication, one of thI read this Wodehouse along with two others in an omnibus edition. As they were in this edition in chronological order of their publication, one of the joys of reading them was to see how the author's style developed over the years. This is a far more accomplished and cohesive work than the first I read, The Inimitable Jeeves. As always, it is witty, charming, lighthearted and great fun. Bertie is a loveable dolt and Jeeves his hyperintelligent valet who routinely gets Bertie and his friends out of scrapes and into love. There are many laugh out loud moments here and, formulaic though Jeeves' solutions may be after a few chapters, Wodehouse's style keeps the tone fresh and delightful. A great light read....more
It is the 50th anniversary of the publication of this classic novel, so I decided to re-read it. I have to admit that I was less impressed with it thiIt is the 50th anniversary of the publication of this classic novel, so I decided to re-read it. I have to admit that I was less impressed with it this time around than I was when I read it in my youth. Part of the problem, I freely admit, is that the violence is (sadly) no longer all that shocking; many authors have written much, much worse things. And the invention of a language seems somewhat less clever to me than previous, the amalgam words being mere transliterations of Russian terms. Once again, though, Burgess was a trailblazer in this, though he has been surpassed by many since then.
Prior to this reading, I also had only read the first American edition, an edition which leaves out the final chapter as it was originally written (and as it was published elsewhere). In the introduction to this, the 1995 edition, Burgess is obviously rather embittered about this omission, especially since it was the American edition Stanley Kubrick based the film version on. Burgess is insistent that the final chapter is essential to the integrity of the whole project and it has been restored here. I must say that I agree with his American editors, though, that the final chapter is a rather lame denouement in which Alex simply gets bored with ultraviolence. Though I agree with Burgess that any literature worth reading involves redemption (or the lack thereof), I find it hard to believe that a character as hardcore as Alex all of a sudden wants a wife and babies.
Still and all, this is a fine book and a major accomplishment. It was a great pleasure to revisit this wonderful book....more
Dang, I already read this book a few years ago. I had entirely forgotten that was the name of the book, but the story is unmistakable. A good book, buDang, I already read this book a few years ago. I had entirely forgotten that was the name of the book, but the story is unmistakable. A good book, but not really worth a re-reading, I don't think. More a novella than a novel, it won't take you long. It's another holocaust-related novel, written by a German man and translated into English. Well-written, but the story is not particularly unique....more