Books on Tap tackled David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again“ at Champion Brewery on May 5. The essay chronicles Wallace’s assignment from Harper’s Magazine to record his experience on a seven day Celebrity Cruise of the western Caribbean. Many members had not read Wallace before, but some new members came specifically because they had read and loved Wallace’s work. Those who followed Wallace’s career cited his emotional honesty, his intense focus on ordinary life and the way he paired his accurate depictions of depression with humor. Readers who had discovered the essay earlier but were now returning to if for book club found Wallace’s focus on despair chilling in light of his 2008 suicide. However, one reader pointed out that writing is not a depressive act and that depression was only one facet of Wallace’s life.
Readers were impressed by the way Wallace used practical ship maintenance to explore decay and the dread of death. Wallace frequently disparaged old people on the cruise, which we saw as his fear of aging, and the anxiety and regret elicited by the choices we make as we age. The managed fun and pampering of the cruise, which Wallace compares to the womb, only reinforces his existential dread. Wallace’s interiority offers universal insights into the human condition, but seems to gloss over the forces of globalism and the service economy on those that work on the ship and at the ports.
Readers compared this essay to his earlier reporting on the Illinois State Fair, which he seemed to enjoy more. Participants noted that he experienced the fair with a friend over a few days while on the cruise he was trapped on a ship by himself, surrounded by couples and families. This willingness to force himself into uncomfortable settings in order to reflect on the human condition is another reason why Wallace remains a favorite of some book club members.
Finally, the group discussed Wallace’s other works, and if the isolation of writing his final book contributed to his mental state.
Books on Tap reader Barbara returned from the very cruise described in this essay. She confirmed that the activities are still similar and shared this photo she was surprised to find herself a part of at one of her stops:
Recommendations from Books on Tap Members:
David Foster Wallace’s appearance on The Simpsons
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (a book Wallace championed)
Wallace on Roger Federer
Stop Time by Frank Conroy
Join us on Thursday, June 2nd at 7pm to discuss James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” collected in The Dubliners. Then, come read your favorite Irish works at JMRL’s Bloomsday celebration at the Tin Whistle Irish Pub on June 16th at 4:30pm.