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Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace

author: David Lipsky

name: Steev

average rating: 3.89

book published: 2010

rating: 5

read at: 2012/03/02

date added: 2012/12/30

shelves: own-it, spirit-self

review:
This is a fascinating read, at least if, like me, you're a fan of DFW, and interested in thinking about what makes creative and tortured people tick. This book is an amazingly transparent document of a few days spent with Wallace, mostly just a transcript of everything said while the reporter's tape was running. But as such it's really great, because Wallace shines forth as a genius, as a dork, as a dog lover, as a really nice guy struggling to stay sane and healthy. It's bittersweet to read this, to learn all the things he had going for him and how similar he was to so many nice and smart and creative people I know, and to me, and yet still he decided he couldn't go on.

The most important and compelling of the many deep things touched on during this extended interview is toward the end of the book, when Wallace kind of pierces through everything to summarize what the core of life's challenge is: "...fear is the basic condition, and there are all kinds of reasons for why we're afraid. But the fact of the matter is... the job we're here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we're not terrified all the time. And not in a position of using all kinds of different things, and using people to keep that kind of terror at bay... the face i'd put on the terror is the dawning realization that nothing's enough, you know? That no pleasure is enough, that no achievement is enough... there's a queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuagable by outside stuff... it's assuageable by internal means. I think those internal means have to be earned and developed, and it has something to do with um, um, the pop-psych phrase is lovin' yourself... I think it's part of the job we're here for is to learn how to do it."

And he couldn't figure out how to do it.

The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System

author: David Foster Wallace

name: Steev

average rating: 3.82

book published: 1987

rating: 5

read at: 2013/01/04

date added: 2013/01/04

shelves: fun, novels, own-it

review:
This is an excellent novel, especially considering that it's DFW's first novel, written when he was what, like 24 or something? It's interesting to see some of the same general features and issues that he put in Infinite Jest. A sort of comedic and surreal science fictionalism; a large wasteland off on the fringes of the narrative; a dysfunctional powerful family; a structure that allows for lots of asides and loosely connected but also sort of independent stories and ideas. It's just pretty goshdarned great.

The Debt to Pleasure

The Debt to Pleasure

author: John Lanchester

name: Steev

average rating: 3.81

book published: 1996

rating: 4

read at: 2013/01/23

date added: 2013/01/23

shelves: fun, food, own-it

review:
This novel really has an odd arc to it. It starts out as an almost plotless meditation on fancy food and cooking. Then it gradually, very gradually, becomes the story of a scary, diabolical sociopath. As someone recently more and more interested in fine cuisine and the culinary arts, it was challenging but not overly so to make it through the first 170 pages or so of the gourmet musings of the narrator. And then it starts getting really juicy, though still full of ever so erudite foodstuff trivia.

[spoilers removed]

Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle

author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

name: Steev

average rating: 4.19

book published: 1963

rating: 5

read at: 1990/01/01

date added: 2013/01/23

shelves: novels, own-it

review:
This is probably my favorite Vonnegut, with the possible exception of Player Piano. Ice-9 is terrifying.

Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade

Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade

author: William Goldman

name: Steev

average rating: 3.99

book published: 2000

rating: 3

read at: 2006/01/01

date added: 2013/01/23

shelves: filmmaking, own-it

review:

The Debt to Pleasure

The Debt to Pleasure

author: John Lanchester

name: Steev

average rating: 3.62

book published: 1996

rating: 0

read at:

date added: 2013/01/23

shelves: novels, own-it, fun, food

review:

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

author: David Foster Wallace

name: Steev

average rating: 4.26

book published: 2005

rating: 5

read at: 2013/02/21

date added: 2013/02/21

shelves: fun, politics, spirit-self

review:
A collection of excellent non-fiction pieces. See my blog post inspired by one of the essays in this book: http://steev.hise.org/content/truly-m...

Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World

Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World

author: Christopher Mark O'Brien

name: Steev

average rating: 3.58

book published: 2006

rating: 4

read at: 2013/03/10

date added: 2013/03/10

shelves: fun, own-it, food

review:
This book gets a 5-stars for effort, but a 3 stars for execution, so that averages out to 4. I sympathize with all the ideas and issues that this book is about, but the author is just not a very good or exciting writer. The book reads kind of like a long marketing pamphlet or non-profit charity ask letter. That's a real slow slog when you're talking 275 pages of it.

That said, there's some interesting historical and scientific facts and figures in here, here and there but in between those there's also a lot of painfully plodding pleading and cajoling.

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

author: Jane McGonigal

name: Steev

average rating: 3.81

book published: 2010

rating: 4

read at: 2011/12/31

date added: 2013/04/02

shelves: own-it, spirit-self, filmmaking

review:
This was an inspiring read, with lots of interesting ideas and positive notions. But McGonigal doesn't do a good job, or any job, of answering any potential arguments or criticisms of her ideas and her work. She assumes everyone will agree with her and not offer any competing or opposing narrative. A lot of the book reads like a sort of giant glowing cover letter she's writing to a potential employer about her career as a game designer and researcher. Which may, effectively, be exactly what it is. Still, I think a lot of the book is really worth reading and thinking about for many people concerned with trying to "make the world a better place" using "of the box" techniques.

Into the Forest

Into the Forest

author: Jean Hegland

name: Steev

average rating: 3.79

book published: 1996

rating: 5

read at: 2013/04/04

date added: 2013/04/05

shelves: after-the-fall, own-it

review:
I'm being generous to give this book 5 stars, but I'll qualify that by saying that for the most part I'm rewarding it for its accuracy. As someone interested in "end of civilization" stories, that's a big plus. The writing isn't particularly artful or groundbreaking, and it's not a piece of formally innovative literature. But, the writing also isn't terrible, and the female narrative point-of-view is, I think, very realistic (probably because the author is female). I've read way too many works of speculative fiction that totally botch the female perspective (in my humble, male, opinion).

The atmosphere of the novel is introspective and moody, as the diary of a teenage girl raised in a cabin in the woods would be. The story keeps its background cleverly vague, but what details there are are very plausible - we never find out exactly why American industrial society collapses, things just gradually fall apart and get worse and worse. The electricity starts going off more and more often and for longer periods and eventually for good, the radio stations gradually stop broadcasting, rumors of food riots and plagues are heard, but there's no specifics, which is both realistic - in that a 17 year old homeschooled girl might not be carefully tracking the geopolitical situation - and very smart for a writing strategy, because the book doesn't seem dated (in the mid-90s when this was written, I forget the exact doomsday fears, but they were certainly a little different than today's).

So the book doesn't concern itself with the big picture. Just with the little day-to-day events and choices at a little northern California house in the woods, where two parents have died and the daughters have to figure out how to live, with no electricity, no gas, and dwindling food supplies. It's not a scary, gripping action thriller like "The Road," but Hegland provides some enjoyable suspense just from getting us to wonder whether the forest fire will come closer, or whether the sister will ever get to dance to music again, or whether the tomatoes will set fruit. It's a story of interior states, yearnings, small but vital things learned about medicinal herbs and the habits of wild boars. It's a story of how things will likely happen, for at least some people (the lucky people, probably), someday, within the next 5 to 30 years - whenever the lights really finally go out. If you want to be intelligently spooked into teaching yourself how to garden and make your own candles, this might be a good idea.