It's always a bit shocking when your low expectations are correct, right? I'll take the hit for picking this one. I guess I should learn to trust my instincts -- we knew all along that he wasn't for us. The only upside that I can think of: now, when I sneer derisively at DFW, I'll have earned it.
This book is comprised of seven different essays. I'll just leave brief notes and quotes from our conversation under each title.
Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley
The conversation started with our agreement that DFW's writing is "pretentious, overwrought, douchebaggery." We agreed we really were not the target audience for this guy. We observed that if WMFuNs are their own genre, then DFW is their king. But then we felt sort of bad since things ended so badly for him personally.
As for the essay itself, we weren't that impressed. We don't like tennis and didn't find all that much there to like. He's coy with some details and deliberately obtuse with others. What had the potential to be most interesting story --being carried away by a tornado and slammed into a fence?!?-- fails to be convincing as either truth or metaphor.
We wondered if we were giving him a fair shot but, ultimately, we didn't care. We ended with a small hope in our hearts that things would get better with later essays. After all, this was probably one of the first things he'd ever published. It's going to get better, right?
E Unibus Pluram: Television in U.S. Fiction
We did some texting back and forth while reading this one.
|You started off our texting extravaganza with this observation.|
We knew we were in trouble.
|A threat he carries out for what, 50 pages?|
|I checked this out from overdrive because I had to know: 17.|
He says *seventeen times* that Americans watch six hours of TV a day.
If reading shit like this is the alternative, who wouldn't watch TV?!
|It's a problem.|
Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All
We were both pleasantly surprised by this one. In it, DFW visits and reports from the Illinois state fair. His whole shtick seems to be "I'm a non-reporter doing reporter-y things!" But both of enjoyed this, even to the point where we laughed out loud. What a relief to find some redeeming qualities.
This is the first time a female character of any kind really shows up, his friend that he takes along with him, and he refers to her as his Native Companion (also "Native C," "N. Companion," "NC," etc.) For the most part, she's the only character we really related to, as we both wished we could have been around to tell him to shut up and stop taking everything so seriously.
However, we still had our issues. The continuance of his irritating regionalism. (We thought maybe we were especially tuned into this because of the book you recently read where the gross generalization is made that everyone in Portland "lives a minimum of three lives" -- as if they don't everywhere else.) We appreciated that DFW owned up to being a pretentious douche about his own East Coast snobbery. But as you said, "Once you recognize it, stop doing that thing." Alas. He kept doing it.
The best thing we could say about Greatly Exaggerated is that it was 6 six pages long. Again, you said it best, "This pretentious douchebag just wrote a pretentious douchebag review of a pretentious douchebag PhD thesis." This essay made us actually think back to the tennis story fondly, which we basically ripped to shreds!
We had a long discussion about what makes something readable or unreadable? Why is the State Fair one so readable, and Greatly Exaggerated is so NOT readable? We had a lot of ideas: the language he uses is not the language we use. You pointed out that it feels like Victorian literature. We couldn't quite figure out what we had missed: who decided that this qualifies as "good writing?" We also spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this guy has an audience (white guys, maybe younger than us) and since we aren't that audience, maybe that's why it just didn't work for us.
We agreed that it was a good thing we only had 3 essays left. We were not happy to see how long they were. We agreed that we must solider on.
David Lynch Keeps His Head
The beginning was interesting and we both liked the vivid descriptions of David Lynch, but then it ran into the DFW problem: Why is this going on so long? You felt like this essay was the longest by far. In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Rory tells an author to cut her article by 400 words because she can't have the paper being "as long as a David Foster Wallace novel." And we couldn't agree more, he just goes on and on. What was the take away from this one? That David Lynch pees on trees. We think that might be all we remember.
If these essays are arguments, what is the argument? I thought maybe it was just a think where his whole strategy for winning the argument by talking the other person to death. I also shared a metaphor. I said that reading DFW is like being stuck on an airplane next to a person who just loves the sound of his own voice.
Some super long bullshit, bullshit title
Even though this is the douchiest title, this was one we both enjoyed. The story of almost tennis pro Michael Joyce was interesting and DFW described the pro-circuit well.
This is really where we started to have a lot of questions.
Why is DFW as awkward as fuck with women? Every time he describes women, it's a little weird, stalker-y, or just plain bizarre. For example, both of us noticed that he described something as "menstrual pink." Wait. What?
Why does he use all those silly abbreviations (for instance "w/r/t") but then go on and on with all the fifty cent words?
Why did no one edit the hell out of him? I noticed that this essay was originally published in Esquire with the title "The Score." We wondered if the book we're reading is the equivalent of the Director's Cut. It seemed like we could cross check the book against the essay online. But, really, who has energy for that?
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
This was the best one, you thought. I agreed, but definitely had the "Oh God make it stop" feeling when he started listing what he did by the hour. I definitely thought this one was the longest and admitted to doing some prodigious skimming in the last 35 pages.
We discussed the role of the essayist here, since he makes the statement that "an essay's fundamental obligations are supposed to be to the reader."  I thought he did a shitty job of holding to this, instead always making it all about him. You pointed out that maybe the reader is a person just like him. And since that's not us, we're always going to feel annoyed by him, regardless of the moments of interest, humor, or insight.
Basically, this one was the most funny and entertaining of the bunch. A good way to end, and we are just glad it's over.
As a wrap-up, we noticed that all of our "shared" books this year were disappointing! How did we end up choosing a bunch of WMFuNs?! We vowed to do better next year.
And with that, we're calling it a wrap on 2015.