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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth reading for fans of David Foster Wallace
It is no surprise that the estate of David Foster Wallace has brought this collection to market; his cult has only grown since his death, and his essays were published in so diverse a set of publications during his lifetime that it's unlikely that any but the most fanatical readers saw a large fraction of them. The pieces here appeared originally in The New York Times,...
Published 22 months ago by Neurasthenic

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of disappointing, doesn't merit a new book
It's difficult not to get the idea that Little Brown didn't just piece together the remaining odds and ends by Wallace to capitalize further on the current David Foster Wallace industry. Wallace himself probably would not have wanted to include some of these pieces in a book of essays. It is not as if these are grand, unfinished, posthumous projects, non-fiction...
Published 22 months ago by Pearlie2454


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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth reading for fans of David Foster Wallace, November 13, 2012
This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
It is no surprise that the estate of David Foster Wallace has brought this collection to market; his cult has only grown since his death, and his essays were published in so diverse a set of publications during his lifetime that it's unlikely that any but the most fanatical readers saw a large fraction of them. The pieces here appeared originally in The New York Times, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Spin Magazine, Tennis Magazine, Might Magazine, Waterstone's Magazine, Fiction Writer, Salon.com, Science, Rain Taxi, The Atlantic, The New York Times Book Review, and as portions of the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus and The Best American Essays 2007. The range of topics is not quite so wide, and covers ground familiar to readers of DFW's previous work -- fiction, tennis, Wittgenstein, movies and math.

The collection is clearly the spiritual sibling of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster, and comparing these seems appropriate. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (hereinafter, "ASFT") is an irregular collection -- the highest points, including the title essay, are superb, but the low points are utterly forgettable. As a result, I typically suggest that newcomers to DFW's essays start with Consider the Lobster; though it contains nothing as wonderful as the Illinois State Fair or Cruise Ship essays in ASFT, it's more consistently impressive.

This collection, Both Flesh and Not, more closely resembles ASFT. It may be that the editors had little control over this; DFW is dead and a finite number of his essays wait to be collected. Here we get two tennis essays (one of which purports to be about the economics of tennis, but it's still a tennis essay), neither of which is as good as the tennis essay in ASFT, which was in turn not one of the stronger pieces in that collection. These might be read as similar in some regards to DFW's wonderful travel writing, where in this case he was traveling to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, but unlike those pieces, we here get a relatively narrow picture of DFW himself, robbed of the neurosis that gives those pieces their soul.

Both Flesh and Not also contains a couple of ruminations on the state of contemporary fiction and book reviews, none of which will alter my reading of such books in the slightest. And even when DFW gives an over-the-top positive review to the book "Wittgenstein's Mistress," his reasoning is so opaque to me (and probably any non-fan of Wittgenstein), that despite my immense respect for DFW, I'm never going to read the book. The essay on Terminator 2 seemed to make only trivial observations about the role of big money in cinema.

So, what here was good? I liked the essay "Rhetoric and the Math Melodrama" from Science magazine. It was a funny and smart discussion of the brief trend in "brilliant mathematician" movies and books that were popular at the time. The essay will reward multiple readings. The notes from the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus will please the many readers who also liked DFW's "Snoot" essay (reprinted in Consider the Lobster). I similarly liked his deconstruction of prose poems.

One piece, "Back in the New Fire," has not aged well, and seems more dated than anything else by DFW I can recall reading. The piece argues that the advent of AIDS might cause young Americans to embrace a more conservative sexual morality than had seemed to become the norm in the late 1960s and 1970s, and that they might ultimately view this as a blessing. Writing in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called this essay "thoroughly offensive," which seems too strong a reaction to me. It's an odd piece but one would have to almost deliberately misread it to think that DFW was calling for the death of gays, or whatever Michiko thought was going on.

DFW so consistently proved himself a brilliant writer that I find myself holding him to a high standard. I don't think this is unfair; he held himself to a high standard as well. This collection does not contain his best work and should probably not be anybody's introduction to DFW, but it is totally worth reading.

One point about the form of this collection rather than the content. The date of original publication of each piece appears at that piece's end, and the book or magazine in which each piece appeared is listed in an appendix. This information should all be on the first page of each essay.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of disappointing, doesn't merit a new book, November 12, 2012
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This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
It's difficult not to get the idea that Little Brown didn't just piece together the remaining odds and ends by Wallace to capitalize further on the current David Foster Wallace industry. Wallace himself probably would not have wanted to include some of these pieces in a book of essays. It is not as if these are grand, unfinished, posthumous projects, non-fiction equivalents to the Pale King-this is a selection of published material from throughout his career, and he would have had plenty of opportunities to include them in a collection if he had wanted to. Including a two-page "direly under appreciated novels >1960" as a solo essay seemed particularly silly. It's hard to call anything written by David Foster Wallace fluff, but this collection doesn't represent his best work.

Nevertheless, there are certainly people who will want this book and they are bound to be a pretty self-selecting group. There are a few very good essays in this collection-the Federer essay and the review of the novel Wittgenstein's Mistress come to mind (though this review is available in full online and in any copy of the novel). And if you want to hear him discuss tennis yet again there's an essay about the US Open. As a complete essay collection, however, Both Flesh and Not comes nowhere near the breadth of Consider the Lobster or A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Posthumous Non-Fiction From Foster Wallace, November 7, 2012
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Tony (Fort Worth, TX, United States) - See all my reviews
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This is the first posthumous collection of David Foster Wallace's nonfiction work. It is hard to say whether or not the pieces here are of any value to non-fans of Wallace, but as someone who thoroughly enjoys both his fiction and non-fiction alike, this is a collection most definitely worth the read. The collected pieces were all previously published elsewhere, so there is nothing here that has never been seen before.

The titular piece on Federer is a great one and has been referred to by many as a masterpiece. Tennis has always been a major writing point of Wallace's with the subject featuring prominently in Infinite Jest as well as pieces focusing on the sport in "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" in the Supposedly Fun Thing... collection and a review of Tracy Austin's autobiography in Consider the Lobster. As a gifted writer, powerful observer and tennis aficionado (he tinkered around in the junior rankings as a teenager), Wallace make's the sport of tennis, oft not considered a major one in here in the U.S., come to life; adding beauty and grace in a manner that transfers his enthusiasm and understanding to his audience with ease.

Fictive futures may very well seem dated at first glance as it discusses authors and a sense of things from the point of view of 1987 when it was written, but carries with many universal and still true points. Wallace discusses creative writing programs, teachers, students, the role of pop culture and the roll of how said culture and entertainment is delivered. He discusses film and television and fitting true to his nature, poses insightful questions and perceptions about where the culture is and where it is going in various respects made all the more interesting by the fact that it is now a quarter century later and we now have the benefit of hindsight and comparison.

Without doing a piece by piece review, I will simply say that this is a very approachable collection with familiar and understandable topics. I will not say that is collection is easy however, as the thing I enjoy most about Wallace's subjects and style is the challenge of his writing and the topics he writes about. They are often things I would not investigate on my own, but items none the less that are much appreciated and enjoyed through David Foster Wallace's looking glass.
Highly Recommended!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still quite good, but you can definitely see some of his less friendly insecurities start to shine through in some of them, March 30, 2014
In some ways, publishing this wasn't fair. Wallace's other non-fiction collections were meticulously curated and show him working at a delirious, fevered intellectual pitch; they also tended to be pieces he had written over the course of a few years in the early 90's or early 2000's. The real problem with Both Flesh and Not is that it extends that chronology all the way back to the 1980's through 2007 with work that, while engaging and funny and often quite insightful, often lacks the really flooring brilliance of his best non-fiction.

In fact several of the pieces in here, especially his literary reviews, come across as the work of a jealously insecure, though deeply erudite mind. It's not enough that he gushes about his love of Wittgenstein's Mistress (which really is phenomenally well done) he also has to write an eye-glazingly protracted piece that makes every conceivable effort to remind you of how thorough and total his own grasp of Wittgenstein/Analytic philosophy is (as though we ever doubted, or even cared). And in a review of 2 thoroughly unimpressive novels about mathematics, he seems interested not only in making it crystal clear that he is a more thoughtful novelist than either of the 2 aforementioned writers, but that he in fact has a much deeper and more profound understanding of higher mathematics than either of them either. In short, Wallace seems to become weirdly passive-aggressive whenever any novelist dares raise their head to write a book about any sort of idea or theme that he himself is personally interested in.

And yet, there are pieces in here that are really gorgeously alive, in particular his essays about Tennis, which are so full of passion and delightful descriptions of Roger Federer, Andre Aggasi, Pete Sampras, et al. in action that they actually made me care about an organized, competitive athletic activity for probably the first time in my life.

However, the later pieces here are hard to read. Not because they recall his impending demise, but simply because they are so heavily rooted in and dependent upon the cultural climate of the late Bush years ("I'm the decider." "Mission Accomplished"… remember when that stuff was in the news)? And the simple fact is that as brilliant and as wide-ranging and as endlessly erudite as David Foster Wallace was, the America of 2014 is by many orders of magnitude more fraught with white noise and anxiety and vast economic woe than even he probably would have imagined if he was still around today. Wallace at his best was a deeply insightful writer and thinker, but 6 years after his death, I think we've already left him behind in the Big American Dread department.

To use a silly pop-music metaphor, Both Flesh and Not is more like a reissue of some huge band's rarities and b-sides rather than a collection of their greatest hits. If you already love Wallace's other books, you will likely love some (though maybe not all) of these essays. If you've never read him or just never made it around to his non-fiction before, this probably isn't the best or strongest place to start from. You'd probably be better served by starting with "Consider the Lobster," or "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll never do Again"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I could give more stars!, August 4, 2013
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This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
I am a huge David Foster Wallace fan. I would love to give this 5 stars, but I can't. If you haven't read Consider the Lobster, buy that instead. A supposidly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again, and of course the brilliant novel Infinite Jest should be on your shelf if they are not already. But sorry to say, there are some good moments, some good essays, but mostly this collection is forgettable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a service to his reputation, July 13, 2013
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While I firmly believe that time spent reading David Foster Wallace is never a waste, there is nothing in this book that even approaches the excellent of his other essay collections (Consider the Lobster and Other Essays and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments). While there are some meatier pieces, there are also some pretty trivial bits that I doubt Wallace himself ever would have collected.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than mere flesh, March 3, 2013
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But the food for thought that characterizes all of Wallace's work. A consistently deep and satisfying author, this is a book best consumed over time so that one may consider all he offers on a wide range of topics. The final essay, "Just Asking", may well be the finest bit of prose written about 9/11 and the "War on Terror" in the 11 years since that day.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Both Wallace and Not, November 7, 2012
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This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
Any Wallace publication is an event especially since his unique voice has been prematurely silenced. Unfortunately, Both Flesh and Not is a not altogether successful effort sweeping together previously uncollected pieces. The fifteen essays, some as thin as a few pages in length, are supplemented by many pages of word lists that Wallace apparently kept updating on his computer.

More than half of the essays are devoted to literary subjects including an NYT Book Review of a Borges biography, the introduction to the 2007 edition of Best American Essays and a lengthy, and somewhat challenging, discussion of David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress. In another entry, Wallace presents the young novelists of the eighties as products of university training and television ubiquity before predicting that, despite these challenges, his peers "are going to make art, maybe great art, maybe even great art change."

The most accessible works in this book, however, include a tennis piece originally titled "Federer as Religious Experience." On full display here are Wallace's deep knowledge of and love for the game of tennis. In his paean to the skill of Federer, Wallace tells of the evolution of the power baseline game made possible by improved racket technology while giving some idea of what it looks like to stare down the barrel of a 90 mph volley in real life as opposed to the foreshortened view of a television screen.

Wallace improbably makes a readable entry out of Terminator 2. This movie has seminal impact, he argues, because it is the first great example of special effects porn (6 scenes of action between vast stretches of banality.) Wallace posits the Inverse Cost and Quality Law: "The more lavish and spectacular a movie's special effects, the shittier the movie is going to be in all non-F/X aspects."

His genius is most conspicuously on display in his Wittgenstein analysis and as he brings his own unique perspective to often discussed public issues like the HIV virus and 9/11. Wallace poses unasked questions from unusual angles. In Back in New Fire, the author wonders if the danger of heterosexual AIDS will increase sexual passion by adding risk. "Nobody'd claim that a lethal epidemic is a good thing," says Wallace, but "an erotically charged human existence requires impediments to passion, prices for choices." A short entry about 9/11 asks whether we should consider a minimum baseline vulnerability to terrorist attack as part of the price of the American idea much as highway deaths are an assumed cost of the mobility and autonomy conferred by the automobile.

"We need narrative like we need space-time. It's a built in thing," submits Wallace. His fiction and non fiction support this vision. Both Flesh and Not is not his finest effort but it is Wallace, and that makes it readable at worst and, in its finest moments, compelling.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We miss you, Dave., December 3, 2012
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This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
So, a writer you like dies. Let's say that they die young. Once you get over the tragedy, you can be mad. It makes sense. You wanted this person to continue to entertain you until the end of your days.

Now that they're dead, they can't do that, and you get angry.

So of course the question to ask is: does this person have anything sitting around that can be issued?
David Foster Wallace was nice enough to leave some droppings. First there was an incomplete novel, "The Pale King". It was about a Midwestern IRS employee in the 80s. It was about as fun as splitting together the footnotes to Infinite Jest with the tax code. I couldn't tell you much more. I only got 30 pages in.
For the truth though, I didn't like IJ. I spent a whole summer struggling through it wondering what was so great about all of this - finding flashes of brilliance while working on my carpal tunnel problem. In fact, I have liked DFW more for his essays than his fiction. His two collections that came out while he was alive popped with verve and straight-up awesomeness. He was a more literate version of Chuck Klosterman.

So it is my luck that "Both Flesh and Not" is a collection of his nonfiction.
It is good.
In places.
With caveats.
It is not an organic whole. Some of the pieces are well-thought and developed criticism or insightful sports criticism, while there is a couple of paragraphs that were put up on the internet in the late nineties. This is more of an assemblage or a collage, but it does show the breadth and depth of DFW's mind and concerns.
I'm not going to go piece-by-piece, but one of the last works in the collection I think contains a valediction and a summation of his life (Though utterly impossible): "In sum, to really try to be informed and literate today is to feel stupid nearly all the time, and to need help." (Deciderization 2007 - A Special Report, 316)
We miss you, Dave.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Words, October 8, 2013
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This review is from: Both Flesh and Not: Essays (Hardcover)
I found something to like in each of the fifteen essays in the new collection of works by the late David Foster Wallace titled, Both Flesh and Not. His observations are astute, his prose clever and witty. I had the sense that he fine tuned each piece to be sure he selected just the right words and phrases to suit his purpose. Many of these essays were written to pay the bills. Those who paid him received great value. Any reader who likes well-written essays should consider reading this collection.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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Both Flesh and Not: Essays
Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace (Hardcover - November 6, 2012)
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