Josh's Reviews > Both Flesh and Not: Essays

Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace
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's review
Mar 29, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: read-2013, longish-reviews
Read in April, 2013

For essentially being a posthumous "worst-of" collection, this was still pretty dang good. Yet, I can no longer tell people interested in David Foster Wallace to "start anywhere"…

My favorites were generally the shorter ones, with my personal favorite being The Nature of Fun, which seems to be DFW's answers to the questions and personal concerns he wrote about in a letter to DeLillo. I'm unfortunately writing a novel myself, and DFW (as always) describes the beginning stages of writing with such perfect acuity…I trust everything he says will happen later. He cites a morbid analogy Don DeLillo gives in his Mao II (which I still haven't read) comparing an unfinished novel to an grotesque deformed child. The book J R (which DFW has definitely read and has talked about in different places) has a very similar analogy to this, that either Don DeLillo was nodding to in his book (DeLillo and Gaddis were friends), or DFW (gasp) might have actually been talking about, and simply cited the wrong novel…which I doubt. It's strange that DFW didn't at least point out the connection in his essay; maybe he was concerned about how the somewhat irrelevant digression would impact flow…not that it's ever stopped him before…I'll update both of these reviews once I read Mao II and find out for myself.

All of his reviews are entertaining and witty, with his Terminator 2 essay being a highlight of all of them. You have to appreciate the asshole-ish way he got around the 1,000 word limit imposed by Rain Taxi for his essay Best of the Prose Poem, and the way he took his time to give useless tidbits (like the square root of the journal's ISBN) for the heck of it. It's notable that this collection has two different reviews for Wittgenstein's Mistress. The first being preeetty excruciating, and the second being a mere paragraph long (and it does a better job at making you want to read it than the first essay, as well).

And then, there's that very unique take on grammar, which makes me wish DFW wrote a handbook on writing and grammar. That stuff would sell like hotcakes! Fun fact for you Mac-owners: open up the pre-installed, and look up one of the words from the essay, like "hairy" or "beauty". Whazzam! DFW's installed on every new Mac computer! How about that? (If you're completely confounded by why this is so, as I was, it turns out that the is actually a searchable Oxford Dictionary of English and Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, the latter of which DFW's word notes were written for.)

Go read it. Or save it, since it's probably going to be last David Foster Wallace anyone's going to see.

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