I remember when I first read Salman Rushdie. I checked Midnight’s Children out of the library along with a bunch of other books, and I thought that if every other book I had turned out to be lame, I would do my duty by literature and read Salman Rushdie who was bound to be boring but I was going to do my duty. By God. And all the other books I checked out turned out to be lame, so I read Midnight’s Children and hey! It turned out it was funny! Salman Rushdie is funny! I was disproportionately shocked and have since been more forgiving of Rushdie’s flaws than I would normally be.
Sort of the same thing happened with David Foster Wallace. I always kinda thought that David Foster Wallace was for pretentious joyless people. I voted to read Consider the Lobster for work book club, but only because the other choices were Crime and Punishment or Dead Souls, and I really, really, really didn’t want to read anything Russian. I had read stuff about how David Foster Wallace was such a show-off, with all his crazy long sentences and footnotes and nyeh nyeh I’m smarter than you. That’s what I was expecting.
But then, to my very great joy, the first essay in Consider the Lobster was all about porn. A porn convention! The porn Oscars! And it was written in a conversational, discursive, funny style that was quite the opposite of the pretentious and humorless style I was expecting. I wanted David Lobster to be alive after that (as with “rhoams” in my Patrick Ness post, I made that mistake by accident but I am choosing to leave it in) so that I could apologize to him. I love it when writers can convey so clearly and vividly a world that would never, ever, ever touch mine. Such a good essay.
If I can make a recommendation, I would suggest only reading one David Foster Wallace essay at a time. Give it a few weeks in between essays maybe. He’s a charming and enjoyable writer, but a little goes a long way. I was getting frustrated by the essay about the McCain campaign trail. I wanted to punch David Lobster in the face when I read his 9/11 essay, which annoyed me to death. By the time I got to the last essay, about talk radio, I was so, so over it. I wished David Lobster would be alive after that so I could tell him, “Dude, you are a smart and enjoyable writer but you are not smart or insightful enough to be as self-indulgent in your writing as you are.”
Basically, David Lobster is like how Rumer Godden describes marchpane: You very quickly have enough of it. I want you to like David Lobster Marchpane as much as I did in the first few essays of this book, so please take my advice and have him in small doses. I am excited to read A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (particularly the eponymous essay), but I will do so with more discretion than in this instance.
Now you know how to maximize your love for David Lobster Marchpane. You’re welcome.