Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays First Edition
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
- Item Weight : 1.26 pounds
- Hardcover : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316156116
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316156110
- Product Dimensions : 6.72 x 1.14 x 9.42 inches
- Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; First Edition (December 13, 2005)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #466,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Consider the Lobster is a collection of ten essays, five of which I would call major essays (50+ pages), and the other five are significantly shorter.
When at his best, DFW is the best American writer of his generation. You have to go back to McCarthy and Pynchon to find someone who surpasses him. However, he does not always write at his best, and Consider the Lobster reflects that. To understand both my praise of some essays and my letdown with regard to others, you'll need to understand what DFW is doing with these essays. DFW takes a seemingly uninspired banal topic and uses it as a launch point to discuss issues which would be very difficult to discuss directly or without a great deal of context. For example, in the essay How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart, DFW begins by reviewing the insipid sports autobiography of Tracy Austin. However, he uses that as a lunching platform to discuss the nature of sports genius- what separates a Tracy Austin or Tom Brady from every other athlete? Also, why are athletes so inarticulate about the nature of their ability?
My personal favorite, Up, Simba, details the 2000 John McCain Republican Nominee race against George W. Bush. The essay interlaces mundane detail of the day-to-day happenings of the campaign with astute observations about the nature of political advertising, whether or not its possible for a candidate to be genuine (in what may have been the single best insult I've read, DFW describes Al Gore as "surprisingly life-like"), and why young people seem so disengaged with politics. His writings and observations about marketing, political leadership, and the political ennui many young people feel are relevant considering how young people overwhelmingly supported Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders (ideologically polar opposites whose only connecting feature is an apparent genuineness.)
DFW has some ideas that are pervasive in this book and some of his other writings (such as his magnum opis, Infinite Jest). He is concerned with the interplay of marketing, entertainment, the insularity that this allows individuals and communities of people to exist in. These are all deeply important topics to modern (as in, right now) American culture and Western Culture in due time.
About seventy percent of the essays in this book are of elite quality. They are deep, refreshing, and I fell enriched for having read them. With such a high bar set, it's not surprising if some essays fail to measure up. The opening major essay "Big, Red, Son" is a expose of the porn Adult Video Network award ceremony. I would have thought this topic would be a veritable gold mine in the hands of a writer and observer like DFW. He could have written about how porn has warped (mostly young mens') aesthetic sensibilities of sex and women all the while not sounding preachy or condescending. Or perhaps he could have written about the escalatory nature of media and our viewing habits. Porn must become increasingly extreme, outlandish, etc. in order to keep male viewers, thus exacerbating those warped sexual sensibilities. With all this potential material, the essay defaults to "the people are crude and wholly without a sense of decency". The essay falls flat for the time it takes to read it.
Overall, this is a good book, and 70 percent of it is great.
All of which means that all of these pieces are long, or at least far longer than they need to be. And although Foster Wallace loves creating abbreviations – mostly abbreviations of things he himself has written – do not take this to mean that this will allow you to read these pieces any faster. Acronyms and abbreviations are supposed to make things easier and shorter for the reader to read, not shorter and easier for the writer to write. In the essays, articles, and reviews in CTL, DFW uses abbreviations in an irritatingly indulgent way. Was he assuming that the abbreviations would be obvious for his readers, or did he use them knowing full well that the readers would have to stop reading, go back through previous paragraphs, and figure out what the letters stand for? I suspect the latter was the case. For the Every-Single-Word-Foster-Wallace-Ever-Wrote-Is-Genius literary fanboys, I'm sure this is part of his appeal, and indeed hard proof that ESWFWEWIG. I am not such a fan. I do not feel that every thought that DFW ever had is worthy of putting on paper. I suppose there's nothing wrong with putting them on paper, but subsequently deeming them all worthy of publication is another matter. Unfortunately though, one gets the impression that DFW himself does not share this opinion. It feels like even the onset of a thought, if it is one of his thoughts, is worthy of inclusion. He chooses to include his whole thought process.
So, if DFW wrote a sentence, and then immediately reconsidered its value or accuracy, instead of deleting that sentence, and replacing it with the thought he eventually reached, he prefers to include them all. So there are so many qualifications and asides and footnotes that even writing "It was a sunny day" will devolve into a description of our tendency to judge current weather only by comparing it to recent other weather, the etymology of the word 'day', the chemical make-up of the sun, our unquestioned acceptance of the impersonal use of the pronoun 'it', and more. And if you choose to delve into all this unnecssary detail about how sunny the day might be and why, how about adding some comments about the very fact that you are commenting on your initial comment? Sure, why not? I doubt any reader has ever considered any of these things before, but once brought to their attention will be fascinated. Do other people also have thoughts? I had assumed so. But DFW appears less convinced. DFW assumes that few people know what it is like to have an inquisitive mind, to have a brain that can observe stuff and wonder about it. Luckily for them, he does possess such a mind and he shares exactly what that's like. In excrutiating detail.
I wish I had been commissioned to write a 3,000 word review of CTL just so I could turn in a 150,000 treatise on premonitions of social media vanity during the dawning years of the internet. My POSMVDTDYOTI would contain more words than the magazine that commissioned it, and even more than the very book it is reviewing. But as it would consist of things that I had thought or observed or experienced, nothing could be omitted. My POSMVDTDYOTI would not just be a review of a book that you had been considering reading. CTL will become the thing you read just so you can understand POSMVDTDYOTI better. Because no one really cares about CTL or DFW anymore, apart from the ESWFWEWIG fanboys of course. People will read my POSMVDTDYOTI review of CTL and stand, or sit, or lie, in awe of my literary brilliance until someone reads my 150,000-word review and tweets: "Not all your thoughts are worth sharing" and then #NAYTAWS will trend on Twitter for about 25 minutes, my brief literary career will end abruptly, as will Twitter itself, as well as all literature.
Top reviews from other countries
"Consider the Lobster" is one of ten essays in this book, whose subjects range from the sublime (a thoughtful review of Professor Joseph Frank's biographical works on Dostoevsky) to the faintly ridiculous (the titular essay referring to a lobster food festival). What I really love about every single one of these essays is that Wallace's tone and voice is so clear in every one, even though the subjects and styles of essays are so different. While some of the subject matter is pretty risqué (the first essay is an account of a visit to a major porn industry convention), Wallace writes with such humanity and desire to see the heart behind what often seems heartless (another essay deals with politics, with Wallace joining the McCain2000 campaign for a week).
Stylistically and artistically as well, these essays are a joy to read: "Authority and American Usage" is an essay reviewing Bryan A Garner's 'A Dictionary of Modern American Usage', and is hilarious in its intelligence and (not particularly) gentle mocking of the very concept of a book describing the American use of language. Not that he doesn't see the need or interest in such a volume, but rather Wallace makes a point of using as much language as physically possible.
Any good artist makes you want to be a better artist yourself, and this collection of writing both shows how writing can be great and entertaining no matter what the subject, and makes me want to be a much better writer and thinker. Wallace wrote thoughtfully and (I think) with fairness and clarity, and ten years after his tragic death, it's a real shame that he is not here to try and dissect the world as it looks now. I enjoyed these essays very much and am looking forward to getting a hold of more of Wallace's writing as soon as I can.
1) The essay "Host" is not included in electronic editions of the book, although it is included in physical editions.
2) David Foster Wallace's style includes extensive use of footnotes, and on older Kindles it's somewhat fiddly to navigate to footnotes and back.
For these reasons, this particular book is probably best read in hard copy.
I understand it's always horses for courses in tastes but I thought he took the whole quirky footnote gimmick and footnote upon footnote idea too far and it definitely got more than a little tired and old for me and by the end of the book I found it just got in the way of the main body of the work and as a result undermined the overall message and quality of his book. I'd probably give him another shot though.