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Both Flesh and Not: Essays Hardcover – November 6, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This posthumous volume, appearing in the wake of D. T. Max’s much-discussed biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story (2012), gathers 15 previously uncollected essays. Six are book reviews, 3 discuss the contemporary state or art of writing, 2 address tennis, and 1 is about Terminator 2. The remainder cover a range of Wallace’s wide-eyed, “isn’t it weird we take things like ad space at the U.S. Open for granted” subjects and scarily astute criticism. Published originally between 1988 and 2007, these essays demonstrate Wallace’s interdisciplinary approach to both pop culture and abstruse academic discourse. For instance, his formal training in symbolic logic informs his opinion of two, in-his-opinion awful, math novels, Philibert Schogt’s The Wild Numbers (2000) and Apostolos Doxiadis’ Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture (2000), while his familiarity with the actual life and cranium-crunching philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein lends perspective to his appreciation of David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988). For Wallace devotees, these essays are required reading. For everyone else, they’re sometimes tough to get into but entirely worth the exertion. --Diego Báez

From Bookforum

Both Flesh and Not is David Foster Wallace at his best and his worst, but the thing about Wallace’s best was that it usually contained his worst... If he’s not going to court the reader, he’s going to hold him in contempt. And you’re going to listen to him because his is the most colossal intelligence in the room. —Gideon Lewis-Kraus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (November 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316182370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316182379
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Neurasthenic VINE VOICE on November 13, 2012
Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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