Book Review: Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Have I ever mentioned that I love the judicial use of footnotes?  Well, I do.  And David Foster Wallace is the grand master of footnote use.  He uses them both as asides and as deeper knowledge into a subject.  And as asides to deeper knowledge into a subject.  And as deeper knowledge into asides.  Only occasionally does it seem overwrought. A literary gift indeed.

This is my first foray into the mind of David Foster Wallace and I like what I see.  “Consider the Lobster” is a collection of magazine essays Wallace wrote throughout his career.  He has a style that is so unique I am fairly certain that I could pick up an untitled piece of his and immediately recognize his fingerprints.  And it’s not just the footnotes.  His use of self-reference and his use of anagrams also have their own Wallace-y feel that I’ve not experienced elsewhere.

The essays in “Consider the Lobster” can be broken up into three groups: book reviews, acts of journalism, and personal stories.  The two personal stories are a speech he gave and a retelling of his experiences on the day of September 11, 2001.  The speech, I should remark, is titled “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed”.  It should give you a pretty good hint into Wallace’s sense of humor.  It details his vain attempts to get his students to agree with him on Kafka’s deadpan humor.  Then, in a brilliant act of story sequencing, he follows it with “Authority and American Usage” which is an absolutely deadpan hilarious 62-page review of a book on the correct usage of American English.  I cannot recommend it enough.  It’s this essay that made me fall in love with David Foster Wallace’s style.  It almost makes me want to read “Garner’s Modern American Usage” on which the review is based.  Almost.  The journalism pieces that are worth pointing out are “Big Red Son” which is an in depth look at the Adult Video News Awards, pornography’s answer to the Oscars, and “Up, Simba”, a recounting of his time following John McCain during the 2000 primary election season.  So, two pieces about pornography.  “Up, Simba” reminded me of why, once upon a time, I somewhat admired and respected John McCain before he went all Palin.

Finally, there is “Consider the Lobster” itself which is a piece Wallace did for Gourmet magazine covering the 2003 Maine Lobster Fest, which of course is a thing.  I love that here we have a piece in a foodie magazine about one of the foodiest foods there is and Wallace basically makes it into a screed on why you should not eat lobster.  And he’s persuasive.  Scratch another food off of my list.

If you have never read David Foster Wallace, you should.  You owe it to yourself to do so and “Consider the Lobster” is a great introduction*.  It is full of humor and wit and supremely accurate use of the English language.  “Infinite Jest” has been on my list of “I should read this” books for a long time, but “CTL” cemented its place unto my “I WILL read this” list.

*He said having never read anything else by the author.