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144 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Perfect, but Awfully Good
I've never read Wallace, mostly because his best known work ("Infinite Jest") is so long. But I tend to like writers that digress and use footnotes for asides, so I thought maybe this collection of ten essays would give me enough of a taste to know if I should check out his other stuff. Ranging in length from 7 to 80 pages, the essays all appeared previously (albeit often...
Published on November 3, 2006 by A. Ross

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book, poor Kindle version
The book description ought to note that the final essay in the book, "Host", is omitted entirely with no mention in the electronic version of this book.

Otherwise, enjoyable read.
Published on February 24, 2011 by Paul

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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some comments, and a question, February 9, 2006
I bought and read DFW's "Consider the Lobster" unseen and essentially unknown, on the strength of a review in the Chicago Tribune Sunday book section. It was an excerpt from the essay "Authority and American Usage" which grabbed me. The author asked, "Did you know American lexicography even HAD a seamy underbelly?" Well sir, when I read a sentence like that, something in my brain, maybe prostaglandins or endorphins or some other exotic brain chemicals discussed in the title essay take over, and I am left with a compelling, almost compulsive need to hear what this writer has to say. Full disclosure: I am not all that well read, and I had never heard of DFW before this, let alone read him.

OK. That's enough of that. Now, pleasantly enough, after puzzling my way through the essays on pornography, Kafka and Updike (1 outta 3 ain't bad, and more on the puzzlement below), I arrived at the essay which originally piqued (not "peaked", dear other reviewer) my interest. As it happens, I discovered Garner's dictionary quite by accident and quite by myself some 5 years ago, and was immediately -- and I do mean immediately, I am not the kind of person who sits down and reads dictionaries cover to cover -- struck by the clarity, moderation, and sheer common sense of Mr. Garner. I knew I was in possession of a classic treatise on the American language in the late stages of the 20th century, although I did not know exactly why. It just FELT right. I am forever indebted to Mr. Wallace for giving me the words to express what I felt way back in 1999 when I read Garner's preface, and felt like I had just made a new friend.

I should, perhaps, briefly explain how a person like myself, with little formal education (2 years of college), should come to be in possession of a usage dictionary -- ANY usage dictionary, let alone one as brilliant as this one -- and the answer is as simple as the media you, dear reader, are using to read these words: the internet. One of my first actions upon being released online was to head directly to the many chat rooms online, where I rapidly made the acquaintance of a pleasant young Ukranian woman who was trying to supplement her meager income by teaching English to other Ukranians, and who asked me for source materials. The relationship did not pan out, and I was left with several grammar and usage books which I find relatively worthless to me, but Garner's ADMAU made it all worthwhile.

And I feel I must take issue with the above reviewer who likened this particular work with Lynn Truss' "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves". I've read this book, I've belly-laughed my way through it, but, dear Sir or Madam, it's a book about punctuation, and Garner's dictionary is about usage, and if you need to have the difference explained, I can do so, but I'd gently advise you in the interim to refrain from posting any essays on Montaigne -- you gotta learn to crawl before you can run.

OK then -- now, onto the rest of the Lobster book, and my big question: Mr. Wallace, loyal readers of Mr. Wallace, blind fans of Mr. Wallace, Mr. Wallace's editors and publishers -- the footnotes -- and asides -- and the asides within footnotes -- Good GOD, people! Isn't there a better way? I've read some right good writers in my time, I think, Mencken, Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Victor Klemperer (shameless plug for a deceased author, but his 2 volume diary of life under Nazi rule is fascinating and compelling), and never, NEVER, have I encountered so many distractions from the main text. Mr. Wallace, you're an excellent writer, far better, and far more learned than me, can't you find some way to incorporate all that stuff in the text? Most other writers do.

Just for laughs, I'm going to google some of your stuff, if it's still online, and see how many (if any) of the footnotes made it into print. Bottom line: this is a great read, Mr. Wallace has an excellent command of the language, the insatiable curiosity of a true journalist, the self-deprecating humor of a philosopher who's had it thrust upon him (nobody wears that mantle voluntarily in this century, do they?), and the down-home common sense of a midwestern boy from the baby-boom generation ( I got your back, Dave ).

[footnote: I've just re-read this review before posting it, and it's pretty awful, grammatically, I see I've switched tenses in the middle of paragraphs several times, and spent way too much time on Garner's dictionary without fully explaining that it's an integral chapter in the book, but you know what? It's 4:30 in the morning here, and I'm going to bed. "Consider the Lobster" is great, but it has too many footnotes] (end footnote)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider the Author, June 9, 2006
I read so many books that I rarely read one that I would consider the "page turner." CONSIDER THE LOBSTER not only fits into that rare catagory, but it is a work of non-fiction, the half of the bookstore I barely read.

David Foster Wallace's essays cover a large range of topics with a sort of disbelief; his irony and rhetoric monitors are turned on high. The most interesting aspect of this collection is not that the topics are thoroughly explored and grippig, but that the reader can start to sense what kind of person David Foster Wallace is.

This collection has commissioned pieces from "Premiere", "Rolling Stone", and "Gourmet" and all three essays prove that DFW does not enjoy social gatherings, has no use for topics like porn, politics, and food (how much of a difference is there between these three?) but has the capabilty to find enough things to write about that the printed article has to be cut to fit the magazine's space (in the case of "Rolling Stone", the piece DFW turns in is so large that it would take the entire print portion of the magazine and some of the ads.) Even still his relative boredom and disgust does not get hidden by any means. The best example of this is "Big Red Son", the essay written for "Premiere", which is him attending the 1998 Adult Video News Awards. Throughout the essay, you can tell that DFW is not amused or entertained by the movies or adult film stars but feels rather lonely in this setting.

His lack of enthusiasm in his commissioned pieces drive them the same way his enthusiasm drives his more literary explorations.

The best essay in the collection "Authority and American Usage" works because DFW is so engrossed in the material (the language battles) and his final assessment that the long essay (over sixty pages) is engaging enough to read in one setting. The idea that he is more interested in literary thought than worldly thought carries over into "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" and "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed", both of which display more thought and interest by DFW than his more regular subjects.

As a whole this collection represents David Foster Walace as a more interesting and talented writer than many others, and CONSIDER THE LOBSTER is further proof of his genius. (He did win the grant.)
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm learnding!, April 4, 2006
Wheelchair Assassin (The Great Concavity) - See all my reviews
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(Note before beginning this doubtless overlong review: My five-star rating applies to every essay in this book except for Authority and American Usage, which I do intend to read eventually but haven't yet. All apologies for the exclusion.)

Love him or hate him, there's no denything that David Foster Wallace is a distinctive voice in the American literary world right now. And while I've greatly enjoyed pretty much all the fiction of his that I've read (especially the gargantuan novel Infinite Jest), Wallace has proven in his two essay collections that he might be even better at nonfiction. And Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, which pulls writings of Wallace's from the past decade, easily contains some of his best work. The frequently bizarre fetishism that accompanies Wallace's fiction is generally absent or at least restrained here, so if you're one of the many people who found Infinite Jest or Wallace's extensive catalogue of stories to be excessively dense or pretentious, that shouldn't scare you from this collection.

As he already proved with his previous collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (especially the title essay), at his best Wallace is almost impossibly original and comprehensive essayist, always managing to cover his subject from every angle, including a few you wouldn't be likely to think of on your own. While all his essays have nominal subjects, Wallace is a master of tangents, freely ranging from his initial discussions to ruminate on, well, whatever comes to his mind. And since Wallace seems to know everything, he's free to write about anything, and I for one always find myself indulging his frequent asides and extended footnotes. He's also an extremely funny writer, both in his essays and otherwise, but not in a conventional sense. He doesn't make jokes per se; he mostly just addresses his subject matter in a deadpan, matter-of-fact way that sort of makes the comedy come out on its own.

Never is this skill more apparent than in the book's powerhouse opener Big Red Son, an account of Wallace's visit to Las Vegas for the 1998 Adult Video News Awards (Sort of a much less pretentious pretentious version of the Oscars, except involving porno movies). Wallace's rattling off the names of some of the industry's more promiment performers and titles (most of which probably aren't safe to reproduce here) is funny enough, but the humor goes into overdrive when he discusses the sights on display at the Adult Software exhibition("Imagine that the apocalypse took the form of a cocktail party") or pornography's recent "bizarro sleaze" movement, both of which had me laughing to the point of physical pain. Of course, the adult-film industry is an easy target for potshots, but Big Red Son is far more than just an extended mockery; it's a comprehensive treatment of the AVN awards in particular and the porno industry in general, complete with plenty of amusing anecdotes, eye-popping statistics, and thoughtful reflections on just what provides adult movies with such wide-ranging and enduring appeal.

While Big Red Son is definitely my favorite here, every essay I read was at the very least interesting, especially the longer ones that allow Wallace plenty of room for in-depth examination and discussion of complex topics. While Wallace isn't really an ideological writer, at least not in the left vs. right sense (although he is pretty clearly what you'd generally call a liberal), two of the book's extended essays deal directly with politics. Host is superficially a profile of right-wing LA radio host John Zeigler, but it quickly branches out into a look at the several of the dominant aspects of our cultural landscape: the rising prominence of the talk-radio industry and the business considerations behind it, the current state of political debate and why right-wing sentiments are becoming increasingly appealing, and the very evolution of media itself as more and more information options become available. The all-encompassing breadth of Wallace's treatment of Zeigler's show is hard to believe, as there are all sorts of prolonged asides and footnotes-within-footnotes arrayed all over the pages, addressing seemingly arcane material like just how a radio show broadcast gets on the airwaves and painstaking process of properly fitting the right amount of advertising into a show comprised of incendiary political rants.

Wallace's other foray into politics, Up, Simba, provides a first-person account of Wallace's trip to South Carolina with John McCain's improbably near-successful campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. Once again, Wallace goes into exhausive detail on pretty much everything you could want to know about, from biographical details on McCain; to the incredibly taxing existence of the correspondents and technicians on the campain trails; to the widespread disillusionment with modern politics and how it both helps and hurts McCain's chances; to the agonizing decisions that go into avoiding the negative-campaigning trap and crafting the image of a candidate who's not supposed to have an image. Wallace makes the ideal writer for a piece on the whole McCain "anti-candidate" phenomenon, as the manages to place everything in perspective and make some salient points without ever resorting to the opposing pitfalls of excessive preachiness or excessive cynicism. His relative outsider status and lack of a vested interest in the outcome actually make Wallace's insights feel even more convincing, as he has no axes to grind: while he obviously possesses a great deal of admiration for McCain as a man, Wallace makes it clear that he (like me) finds many of McCain's policy ideas extremely frightening. Wallace even manages to throw in a screed against non-voters (his logic being that not casting a ballot merely doubles the importance of the vote for an establishment candidate) without resorting to the same tired old pieties. At any rate, while they obviously deal with a decidedly different subject than Big Red Son, Host and Up, Simba provide two more examples of what makes Wallace's essay style unique and thought-provoking. Whether talking about pornogrpahy or politics, he doesn't take a position and argue it; he tries instead to provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the forces and ideas at work.

Of the book's shorter essays, two are worth a special mention. The first, How Tracy Austin broke my heart, sees Wallace taking on the subject of sports memoirs in the wake of his crushing disappointment at the sheer banality of Tracy Austin's autobiography. It may not sound like much of an essay premise, but Wallace eventually launches into a discussion of the painful irony that the exploits of our greatest athletes are so transcendent that they simply can't survive the transition to the page. It's actually sort of poignant watching Wallace struggle with this realization, as his initial excitment at reading about the life of one of his favorite tennis players dissolves into a realization that no autobiography can ever really provide a window into what separates the likes of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan from the rest of us.

My other favorite among the shorter essays here, the titular Consider the Lobster, starts out similarly to the much longer A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Much as that piece chronicled Wallace's dystopian experiences aboard a cruise ship, Consider the Lobster sees him visiting the annual Maine Lobster Festival, which he basically describes as a nightmarish tourist trap whose democratization of lobster-eating pretty much sucks all the fun out of it (if you've spent anywhere near a significant amount of time on Cape Cod, as I have, Wallace's observations on the self-contradictory nature of mass tourism will definitely ring true). Much as with How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart, though, Wallace's dissatisfaction with his experience is just a springboard for a broader, if in this case somewhat unrelated, discussion surrounding the moral issues that come with boiling lobsters alive for the sole purpose of eating them. Far from an angry, PETA-style manifesto, though, Consider the Lobster is really a meditation on ethics and the moral compromises we all make for the sake of convenience. After all, Wallace notes, we could easily make it through life without eating slaughtered animals, but most of us don't, and more to the point, we don't even generally acknowledge the possibility that rampant animal-eating may undermine our cherished moral pretensions. Why, Wallace asks? Well, he doesn't provide any answers, but it's still an interesting question, and one of many you may find yourself asking after reading Wallace's writing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Layout matters!, January 18, 2006
P. Couture (Santa Cruz, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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I completely enjoyed this collection for all of the reasons that other reviewers have given. I'd just like to add that the final essay, "Host", with its endless asides within asides, was much easier to read when it appeared in The Atlantic magazine. The notes and sub-notes ran in colored boxes. It was beautifully done and made the piece quite easy to follow. Too bad the version in this book is so unpleasant to look at.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars this dude is no joke, September 3, 2010
Nancyhua (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (Paperback)
This is a great book of essays as an intro to David Foster Wallace's work, his essays being much more accessible than his fiction. The collection has a lot of variety in terms of topics (which include the porn industry, John McCain, talk radio, Maine lobster festival), and he somehow packs each essay full of information and ideas without being boring or unnatural, and then he always takes you in a different surprising direction so that reading his stuff is also exciting and fun.

He's funny! I laugh a lot at his descriptions and observations. He laughs at himself a lot; his personality always comes out in each essay. In addition he's a crazy genius whose brain is always on a million different levels and compelled to be painfully conscious of every aspect of everything, hence his footnotes and nested parentheses as he dissects the most random topics.

I love the essay on Tracy Austin's sports memoir (start with this one or the title essay), which manages to be a summary of both tennis and Tracy Austin's dramatic, glorious, tragic career, and also kind of a brutal critique of her memoir and possibly her thoughts as presented through the memoir. And yet DFW manages to tear her apart while holding her skills and accomplishments in total reverence so that you feel simultaneously sorrow and awe for her. He then goes to the question of why this memoir is so disappointing to him: because he's hoping they'll reveal what it is that makes top athletes gods among men, and then he forms his own theory on [paraphrasing] "what keeps us on our respective sides of the tv screen". I don't even care or know anything about tennis (or anything about the topics of most of his other essays), but his ideas and observations are so interesting that, while following his ideas can be disorienting, you feel safe being led by the hand of an amazing writer.

The day DFW hanged himself I was shocked: I felt it was the first time someone I knew had died, which is erroneous because 1) I don't know him, and 2) people who I did technically know have died before (I feel I owe them an apology somehow for having this reaction to DFW). I had just assumed he'd be one of the great living writers of my time, that he would age as I aged, that he would continue writing stuff for me to read for the rest of my life. But suddenly this wasn't true anymore, suddenly these books were all the books he'd ever write, and I couldn't just cherry-pick his stuff anymore and one day I'd have to finally finish infinite jest, etc. And it wasn't because of some kind of car accident or something- he'd done this to himself and on purpose, and all of this was just such a shock that I stopped eating meat. It's embarrassing to confess that part of why I stopped eating meat is to somehow preserve his memory (read Consider the Lobster, which he wrote for gourmet magazine). I know that sounds stupid and weird but that's how much I liked his work and how much of an apocalypse his suicide was in some ways.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A true Talent, January 4, 2010
Steiner (Philadelphia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (Paperback)
Consider the Lobster is a collection of muscular essays from the late David Foster Wallace on an absurdly wide range of topics. Each of them was commissioned by a particular magazine with a particular topic, hence Wallace's tendency to direct his voice at his readers like a canon. However, Wallace can never be contained by the banalities of his topic here. His work on the AVA's is a particularly damning portrait of the pornography industry, in all its unimaginable insanity and sadness. I particularly like the piece on the American Usage Wars, which involves an impressive demonstration of Wallace's knowledge regarding the history of English grammar debates over the course of the last several decades. Not all of the pieces here are great-the one on McCain in particular is repetitive and mundane. And DFW's tendency to use lengthy footnotes to 'fragment the linearity' of his text is a mere affectation. Still, this represents the work of a great mind, whose creativity and intellect will sorely be missed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Consider the Reader, November 9, 2007
This review is from: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (Paperback)
Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays

David Foster Wallace wields a mighty literary voice. Although not easily accessible, this book's collection of essays is not to be missed. From an insider's view of McCain's campaign trail, to an eldritch perspective of the Boston Lobster Festival, Wallace presents the modern essay as high art.

I say it's not easily accessible because his range and precision with the English language is nearly unmatched in modern literature. You might as well purchase a pack of index cards when you buy this one because you'll either have to pause every other page to look up a word, or use the cards to write them down to look up later.

If you want to experience the highest tier of modern wordsmithing and essay crafting buy this one today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another solid collection of essays by DFW, February 8, 2006
I have to admit, I was excited when I first heard that this was coming out. DFW's previous essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing..., was so completely engrossing and entertaining that it changed my expectations of just how good essays and essay writing can be. Reading that book made it clear that, much like with Joan Didion, the essay format just seems to suit DFW (albeit for difference reasons).

It practically goes without saying, then, that I had high expectations for this book. And for the most part, they were met. Except for the handful of essays I'd read previously in various publications, they were all new to me. I'd most anticipated reading the one on John Updike, however, since I've seen it referenced repeatedly, by various authors and for various reasons (not all of them good). I was somewhat surprised, then, when it turned out to be more reverential and less of a hatchet job than I expected. Although it was critical, it was also very funny, and really hit the mark.

The essay on American usage, which I'd read before, again failed to draw me in, while the essay from which this book gets its title is a classic DFW story-within-a-story. In it, DFW takes a trip to Maine to cover its lobster festival, only to use that as a starting point to discuss the very relevant and very complex issues of bioethics and animal rights. He expertly lays out the issues and arguments, but smartly stops short of answering any of his own questions. The essay on September 11 is a detailed and personal account of the events of that day, which he ties into a discussion of his life in small town Illinois, as well as the life and culture of his neighbors and fellow townspeople.

Beyond that, the essays in this book run the gamut, taking in everything from the adult video awards to the unique challenges of translating Russian literature to the niche that is sports biographies and finally ending up with his Atlantic Monthly story on political talk radio, in which he really lets loose with the footnotes and asides, in a manner that suggests that, for him, writing footnotes and asides is a compulsive behavior, and one which he is only marginally successful at containing.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DFW is a great essayist, very readable, and this is the DFW we all know and love, January 13, 2006
In the past few years DFW's books have been kind of uneven, in my opinion. not so with this collection of essays. One is about him learning about Sept. 11th. One is him attending the Maine Lobster Festival (and as someone from Maine who has never gone, thinking it a tourist/logistical nightmare, well I guess it is). One is about how dicitonaries are created--not boring, but one of those essays you'd never imagine being interested in but afterwards it forms a part of your permanent knowledge base.

My only reason for 4 not 5 stars is some of the subject matter is kind of uninspired; i.e. the essays, all worthwhile, didn't have the fireworks effect his first collection did. However, the DFW style, knowledgable, with spot-on voabulary and diction (maybe it sounds simple to you but to me it makes for a truly aesthetic pleasure to find a word hittig the sweet spot in my brain), and also very honest.

A total pleasure...definitely buy this book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good * ** ***, January 13, 2006
Wallace, like Vidal, is a much better essayist than fiction writer. His fiction is mostly crap, although Mister Squishy is a classic. His essays however, always show intelligence, and more importantly, wit (what is wit but humor + intelligence?)

There are some five star essays here, a pretty uniformly excellent collection, save for the dictionary essay which was a exciting as reading one (a dictionary).

Mr. Wallace will become a superb* essayist** once he quits*** trying to prove he's the smartest kid in the class. Just like Johnny Ringo or Billy the Kid, there's always someone quicker.

And don't essays have at least as great (if not greater) impact than mere fiction?

* better than excellent

** one who writes essays

*** I could have said 'stops' but stop has been oversignified by red octagonal shaped metal objects, also know as signs, or 'stop signs'
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Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace (Paperback - July 2, 2007)
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