Book Club: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

For this month's Book Club blog post I'm sharing my thoughts on one of the books I read this semester for my MFA. This wasn't my favourite book of all time, but I did learn a lot about the nature of the essay as a writing form.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is a book of essays written by David Foster Wallace throughout the early to mid 1990s. The essays vary in style and content, but all share David Foster Wallace’s strong authorial voice which allows his opinions and personality to shine through no matter what the subject matter may be. 

Some of the essays are similar to each other but there is no unifying theme throughout the book as a whole. Two of the essays both feature tennis as a key subject while another two focus on popular American leisure activities (state fairs and luxury cruises respectively). A third set of two essays could both be filed under the category of literary criticism while the seventh essay in the book, a profile of film auteur David Lynch, stands slightly more apart thematically.

Foster Wallace’s essays on the Illinois State Fair, a luxury Caribbean cruise, and one of his essays on tennis all originally appeared in Harper’s magazine between 1991 and 1996. The other four essays originally appeared in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, The Harvard Book Review, Esquire, and Premiere between 1992-1996. Foster Wallace’s style of writing changes noticeably depending on which publication the essay was originally written for. 

The two essays for The Review of Contemporary Fiction and the Harvard Book Review both adopt a much more academic tone and make certain assumptions about the reader’s understanding of contemporary literary theory and writers like Foucault, Octavio Paz, and Don DeLillo. 

Far more enjoyable, in my opinion, are his essays that place popular North American pastimes under the microscope. David Foster Wallace is a keen and detailed observer who doesn’t shy away in his descriptions of the American middle-class.    

This book demonstrates high quality examples of the essay in all its forms. The seven essays in the collection run the gamut of styles and serve as examples for the various types of creative non-fiction essays out there in the world. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is a study in the essay as a writing form. Any aspiring essayist will learn a great deal about the genre’s range and diversity by reading these examples by David Foster Wallace.