Thursday, December 3, 2015

Joint Book #4: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again


In college, one of my favorite professors was a guy named Evan Radcliffe. I ended being able to drop some dumb freshman comp class because of my AP English score and landed in Dr. Radcliffe's Survey of Western Lit class. This is the guy who said, "You're my ninth Jennifer this semester!" I took at least a few more classes with him, and now that I think about it, most of my super memorable moments in college were in his classes. I did a teaching practicum with him my senior year. This makes him, along with Eli Goldblatt, one of the first people to explicitly teach me about being a teacher.  HE WAS THE FIRST PERSON I EVER SAW USING THE INTERNET! He taught me about comma splices, the Romantics, and how to annotate. And, also memorably, he told a story about how he used to sit around with other English professors and grad school friends and talk about what books they'd never read. He knew someone who'd never read Hamlet. I remember him saying something like, "And now she never will. It's too late now and too good of a story to not have read it." [I'm sure he said this much more elegantly.]

It's that last part that is sort of the most relevant to where I'm heading here. Because is there anything more weird than missing a cultural phenomenon in your favorite form of media? Imagine meeting someone who loves female superheroes who'd never seen Buffy. Or someone who loves YA never having read Harry Potter. There are some things that just become cultural touchstones---it seems like EVERYONE knows about it, is talking about it, has done it, is planning to do it, or wonders how you haven't done it yet.

Enter David Foster Wallace.

This is the one that got away...for both of us. How in the hell did this happen?

Obviously, some of it is timing. Infinite Jest came out in 1996. It was right when you and I entered adult life. The rise and tragic fall of David Foster Wallace overlaps with a time in my life where I was completely unplugged from literature-with-a-capital-L. By the time I started paying attention and talking about books again, I was completely befuddled by the whole thing. Who is this guy, why is everyone talking about him, and why should I care?

Famously, my only real claim to fame with David Foster Wallace was my suggestion at the Tournament of Books 2012 that invoking his name was a modern day drinking game waiting to happen.

Turns out I'm not the only one who can think of literary themed drinking games. Check this out. 

Well, I guess we're about to tear off the DFW band-aid with our agreement to read this book, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. I'm a little afraid that we will both hate this book. How could he possibly live up to the hype?

Here's our proposed schedule. I'm loving what we did with The Night Manager when we skyped when we were talking about it. Looking forward to doing that again. Also, since I've decided to be done with graduate school this week, if it's better to read the first two stories for the 13th, let me know.

Dec 13: first story 
Dec 20: next 3 stories 
Dec 27: final 3

Any thoughts and feelings as we embark upon our own personal DFW drinking odyssey?


  1. Yes -- a big part of it is timing. I wasn't reading very much in the mid-90s, either. In fact, in all of 1995, I read a single book: Skinny Legs and All. (Which I barely remember now!) After my race-to-the-finish-line college experience, I ended up *sleeping* a lot that year. Every time I picked up a book, I fell asleep. I happen to remember that book because I spent a full *year* with it, thinking, "Will I ever read again?" Now I read more than 100 books a year -- yay!

    The other reason I never read this book is that I was kind of warned off of Infinite Jest. A friend of mine read it and said, "I don't think you'd like it," which, honestly, was enough for me to not even pick it up.

    *Every* time I hear someone say "David Foster Wallace" now, I say, "Drink!" (at least silently to myself). It's a Pavlovian response at this point.

    I'm nervous we are going to hate this book. But hey -- sometimes very low expectations are just the ticket!

    In other news, I have *finished* my 11th book. Just need to write it up! I think that reading 4 books this year *with* you was what kept me (mostly) on track. Cause I had to hit those at certain times, that helped my pacing. So... thanks! :)

  2. Dude. I have read the first story. I think our speculation that we will not enjoy it is correct. Sigh. To be discussed...