Looking for entertaining reading that is also seriously thought-provoking and keen?
The essays in David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, which cover a variety of topics (the porn industry, the English language's clash between Descriptivists and Prescriptivists, sports memoirs, etc), are substantial enough to get into the real grit of things and raise some downright profound questions, and short enough that one doesn't have to commit to a much more lengthy text [read: Infinite Jest. No, seriously, read it this summer].
Quick run-through of faves from Consider the Lobster.
My #1 is absolutely "Authority and American Usage," which can be found online, but is certainly better consumed in traditional format on the page - and consider that fact modernist irony, please. Plus, the footnotes look better rapidly scaling down in font size. If you're a linguistics geek or have just completed a course reviewing the histories of the English language (as I have most recently done), you will devour it. And even if you think you've heard everything there is to be said about the English language's development, you will benefit from DFW's wit and candor in treating the subject. Trust me... but, disclaimer: please be a geek about language.
"How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart" is the one about sports memoirs. Really it's more about what we seek from such supremacy in sports skill - the kind of grace that is also sought by Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, for example. Choice tidbit: "Maybe what keeps us buying [these sports memoirs] in the face of constant disappointment is some deep compulsion both to experience genius in the concrete and to universalize genius in the abstract." We want answers, and we want insight into how to be great. Or what that might feel like, at the very least.
"The View from Mrs. Thompson's" is an article on DFW's experience of September 11th 2001 in Bloomington, Illinois. I found this line about residents of midwest towns such as Bloomington to be notable:
"...And they watch massive, staggering amounts of TV. I don't just mean the kids, either. Something that's obvious but important to keep in mind re Bloomington and the Horror is that reality - any felt sense of a larger world - is mainly televisual." Just painfully well-put.
Other great, much longer essays are "Up, Simba" in which Wallace travelled with McCain's 2000 campaign for Rolling Stone Magazine, and "Host" which profiles talk radio host John Ziegler. It's tough choosing favorites from this collection because I couldn't help but read the book straight through, even though originally I had asked myself, "Really? Am I going to want to read the article about a lobster festival?" Yeah, I guess I did.
23 hours ago