Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike's deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person?
David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of John McCain's 2000 presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World's Largest Lobster Cooker at the annual Maine Lobster Festival, Wallace projects a quality of thought that is uniquely his and a voice as powerful and distinct as any in American letters.
Novelist Wallace (Infinite Jest) might just be the smartest essayist writing today. His topics are various this new collection treats porn, sports autobiographies and the vagaries of English usage, among others his perspective always slightly askew and his observations on point. Wallace is also frustrating to read. This arises from a few habits that have elevated him to the level of both cause c l bre and enfant terrible in the world of letters. For one thing, he uses abbrs. w/r/t just about everything without warning or, most of the time, context. For another, he inserts long footnotes and parenthetical asides that by all rights should be part of the main texts (N.B.: These usually occur in the middle of phrases, so that the reader cannot recall the context by the time the parentheses are wrapped up) but never are. These tricks are adequately postmodern (a term Wallace is intelligent enough to question) to prove his cleverness. But a writer this gifted doesn't need such cleverness. Wallace's words and ideas, as well as a wonderful sense of observation that makes even the most shopworn themes seem fresh, should suffice.
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Consider the Lobster
Perhaps there's a a better collection of short stories that's ever been written. But I seriously doubt it.
Serious format issues
Let me be clear that the essays themselves, which are basically reprints of articles DFW wrote for various magazines in the early 2000's, are superb.
The main issue is that the footnotes are not well placed, in the sense that when you tap on a footnote to read it, tapping "back to text" at the end of the note often brings you a page or two away from the original text. Furthermore, footnotes of footnotes (this is DFW after all) are uniformly denoted with a " * ", so that when you tap a footnote's footnote, you're taken to a page with a number of short paragraphs or sentences all denoted with an asterisk, and no way of knowing which one is the one you want until you've read a few of them, and even then sometimes you're not really sure.
To make things worse, sometimes the footnote navigation texts aren't hyperlinked at all, forcing you to click "back to text" on an adjacent footnote and hope for the best.
Worst of all is the exclusion of the essay "Host" because of a claimed inability to reproduce the formatting. It was originally written for the Atlantic Monthly and they have it on their website as of this writing, with the atypical formatting (arrows and boxes of text and such) restyled as footnotes.
In sum, Consider the Lobster on iBooks is readable, if unnecessarily mangled.
Potential readers should be warned that the first story contains pretty explicit language. It’s not a story about sex, it’s a story about a reporter covering the sex industry. Unfortunately it’s hard to quote people from the sex industry without including a lot of not family or work safe dialog. This story is _WAY_ more graphic than other books tagged as explicit in the iBooks Store.