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Paperback Consider the Lobster : And Other Essays Book

ISBN: 0316013323

ISBN13: 9780316013321

Consider the Lobster : And Other Essays

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Book Overview

Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike's deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person? David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of John McCain's 2000 presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World's Largest Lobster Cooker...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Smart, eclectic, and hilariously funny.

Full disclosure: I have a major intellectual crush on David Foster Wallace. Yes, yes, I know about his weaknesses - the digressions, the rampant footnote abuse, the flaunting of his amazing erudition, the mess that is 'Infinite Jest'. I know all this, and I don't care. Because when he is in top form, there's nobody else I would rather read. The man is hilarious; I think he's a mensch, and I don't believe he parades his erudition just to prove how smart he is. I think he can't help himself - it's a consequence of his wide-ranging curiosity. At heart he's a geek, but a charming, hyper-articulate geek. Who is almost frighteningly intelligent. The pieces in "Consider the Lobster" have appeared previously in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Observer, the Philadelphia Enquirer, Harper's, Gourmet, and Premiere magazines. Among them are short meditations on Updike's `Toward the end of Time', on Dostoyevsky, on Kafka's humor, and on the `breathtakingly insipid autobiography' of tennis player Tracy Austin. An intermediate length piece describes Foster Wallace's (eminently sane) reaction to the attacks of September 11th. Each of these shorter essays is interesting, but the meat and potatoes of the book is in the remaining five, considerably longer, pieces. They are: Big Red Son: a report on the 1998 Adult Video News awards (the Oscars of porn) in Las Vegas. Consider the Lobster: a report on a visit to the annual Maine Lobster Festival (for Gourmet magazine). Host: a report on conservative talk radio, based on extensive interviews conducted with John Ziegler, host of "Live and Local" on Southern California's KFI. Up Simba: an account of seven days on the campaign trail with John McCain in his 2000 presidential bid (for Rolling Stone). Authority and American Usage: a review of Bryan Garner's "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage" , which serves as a springboard for a terrific exegesis of usage questions and controversies. Here's what I like about David Foster Wallace's writing: I know of nobody else who writes as thoughtfully and intelligently. That he manages to write so informatively, with humor and genuine wit, on almost any subject under the sun is mind-blowing - it's also why I am willing to forgive his occasional stylistic excesses. (Can you spell `footnote'?) You may not have a strong interest in lobsters or pornography, but the essays in question are terrific. The reporting on Ziegler and McCain is amazingly good, heartbreakingly so, because it makes the relative shallowness of most reporting painfully evident. Finally, the article on usage is a tour de force - when it first appeared in Harper's, upon finishing it, I was immediately moved to go online and order a copy of Garner's book (which is just as good as DFW promised). How can you not enjoy an essay that begins as follows? "Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of US lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor

great

David Foster Wallace is good at delving into the imponderable. I particularly enjoyed his book about the history of the contemplation of infinity (Everything and More). Here he takes on similarly heady topics, with some lighter themes mixed in. One standout is the title essay, which explores the issue of animal sentience, the question being whether the inner life of a lobster is anything remotely like the inner life of a human. There is simply no answer to this question, and philosophers who have tackled the question in recent years have bungled it extremely badly. Consequently the most one can do is to contemplate the implications of certain answers, and DFW's essay on the topic is as good as any I've come across. Perhaps the only thing more impenetrable than the mind of a lobster is the mind of John McCain. Here's a guy who is so principled that he apparently refused to be released from a P.O.W. camp because it violated the letter of military policy. Yet he can be seen regularly cowtowing to the likes of Jerry Falwell and G.W. Bush just to gain a few points with the lunatic fringe of the religious right. DFW followed McCain during the 2000 campaign, and his essay comes as close as is logically possible to explaining how these various attitudes can inhabit the same brain. DFW's writing style is not for everyone. If you're a fan of Hemingway you might find that it makes your head hurt.

Wallace (finally?) delivers the goods

Probably no contemporary writer has to meet higher expectations than David Foster Wallace. He's a genius. Ask anyone. In some cases, this works against him; as someone who survived reading Wallace's essay collection A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING..., I can testify that Mr. Wallace sometimes has aspirations that even his prodigious skills can't meet, and the results ain't pretty. But in CONSIDER THE LOBSTER, he is hitting on almost all of his many cylinders. In fact, it is high praise indeed for me to report that on a flight to Phoenix, I was laughing so hard at this book's first essay (it's about a pornography awards show), I almost felt compelled to explain to my fellow passenger the source of my mirth. I didn't. (I'm not insane.) But it was that good. The rest of the topics examined by Wallace's gimlet eyes are, shall we say, wide-ranging, but aside from an enervating and lengthy examination of A DICTIONARY OF MODERN USAGE, Wallace lives up to his "genius" billing. I did grimace when I saw that the book contained a piece devoted to one of his pet topics, (namely tennis), but even this essay transcended its subject and was eminently worthwhile. In short, I'm quite glad to have read this book. More, please.

Fine Dining for the Mind

I was introduced to DFW by the classic essay "A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again," but stupidly lost track of him until picking up "Lobster" on a whim a few weeks ago. Let me say this first: even though DFW is a freak for the correct use of language, I love him because he can break all the pesky little rules we've all learned about clear writing (eg, no fifty-cent words, limit footnotes, limit adverbs, two simple sentences are better than one complex sentence, etc), and write vividly, clearly, engagingly, etc (see, he's already liberated my long-caged drive to adverbize.) Perhaps even better, he writes so that it feels we are in his head, and doesn't patronize his reader by tidying up messy internal disputes, which is damn refreshing. Many of the essays are are similarly conceived (it somehow all seems to do with marketing to the least common denominator, and the way this marketing glosses over so much that is complex and difficult and important to think about, and the author's simulataneous fascination with and and revulsion regarding said marketing, in an "I'm revolted but I can't look away... and in fact am I actually that revolted?.... Gosh, should I be more revolted? Am I actually falling for this?" kind of way). At this point, I'm thinking that my favorite is the title essay, which is among the shortest in the collection but definitely the most visceral and, at many points, just plain sad. I have a neuroscience background, and can vouch for the moral and biological complexity of the question over whether animals without cerebral cortices "experience" pain. Warning: yes, the essay's description of a lobster's behavior during the boiling process dissuaded me from eating lobster ever again. Other standouts: "Up, Simba," about the author's travels with a press contingent during John McCain's 2000 "Straight Talk Express" ride for the Republican presidential nomination. This is one that, again, just ends up damn sad, showing just how meaningless political campaigns are. [Side note to those who have read this essay -- DFW's account of McCain's well-documented POW years is fantastic, but raised a questions I'd never thought of before, and apparently DFW didn't either -- Could young McCain have "refused" to be released from the POW camp based on his adherence to a code? I mean, if the VietCong had wanted to release him for publicity reasons, they could have just knocked him upside the head, dumped him in a jeep, and driven him to wherever they wanted to leave him. The very fact that I'm thinking this probably means that I am one of the young American cynics DFW both chastizes and sympathizes with in the course of the essay.] Also outstanding are "Big Red Son" and "Host," the latter of which is made fascinating by the use of sidenotes, with sidenotes on sidenotes, and I think in one case a sidenote on a sidenote on a sidenote. (I like the sidenotes; there will be dissenters I'm sure) Do it -- this is filet mignon -- I mean lobster -

consider the lobster: and other essays

Warning: If you abhor explanatory footnotes and asides, this book may not be for you. Members of the American literati, the admitted audience for at least one essay in this collection, will already be familiar with DFW. For the rest of you: young (as in under 40), hip (as in long hair, swear words and breaching convention), and extremely smart and well read (as in English prof, and essay topics that include Kafka and Dostoevsky and prescriptive vs. descriptive American usage). Somewhere in here there may be a reference to the fact that the aim of writing is to connect with the reader. DFW certainly did with me. I ripped through the collection over the weekend and enjoyed every one of the nine essays (having only come across one previously). Some of the reasons I liked them, in no particular order: 1) DFW points out, in reviewing Joseph Frank on Dostoevsky, that "Russian is notoriously hard to translate into English, and when you add to this the difficulty the archaisms of nineteenth-century literary language, Dostoevsky's prose/dialogue can often come offmannered and pleonastic and silly". I still don't know what pleonastic means, but have often felt that someone should make this point (as in "silly") about the prose/dialogue in some of the great Russian literature. The examples he goes on to give are hilarious, but I won't spoil it for you. 2) All the essays were to varying degrees funny. Big Red Son (on the 1998 Adult Video Awards) and Consider the Lobster (on the Maine Lobster Festival) standout in this regard. 3) The title essay was a review of the Maine Lobster Festival for Gourmet magazine. DFW paints a disturbing picture of the MLF and raises for consideration whether boiling lobsters alive is a good thing. One suspects that this may not have been what the Gourmet editors had in mind. Kudos to them for publishing it anyway and to DFW, because knowing the intended audience makes the piece even funnier for the rest of us. 4) Somewhere in here DFW uses the verb "is" back to back and it seems right (wish I could find the sentence, but trust me). I personally never would have done this, but as the piece on American usage demonstrates, DFW is the expert, and if he's defying convention (I actually don't know for a fact that he is, but I rarely see "is" used back to back)you can't help but think his defiance is considered and ultimately right. It is this confidence DFW builds with me as a reader, rather than the actual consecutive use of "is" that I liked. 5) Sometimes directly, but mostly not, DFW points out the absurdity of the extreme "cross-firish" nature of American discourse. I find his sophisticated middle of the road tone compelling. I could go on, but the bottom line is that I feel better for having read this collection of essays. Downsides? The asides get completely out of control in "Host". The essay is a dizzying presentation of arrows pointing to boxes, themselves containing arrows pointing to other boxes (and so on), wh
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