I have been listening on my i-Pod to Foster Wallace reading four essays from his collection Consider the Lobster. He comes across extremely well; the essays are accessible, humane and intelligent.
“Consider the Lobster”
Gourmet magazine commissioned DFW to write a report on the annual Maine Lobster Festival. God knows what they made of this essay, which rapidly veers off to discuss the ethics of boiling lobsters alive, the relationship between neurology and consciousness, how we empathise with other creatures' pain, and what compassion and ethics require of us. Not in any way didactic, but thoughtful and disturbing.
“The View from Mrs. Thompson’s”
The morning September 11th, 2001 as experienced at his neighbour's house in Bloomington, Illinois, where DFW taught English at the University. Wikipedia says 'To the surprise of many of his readers, Wallace refers to some of his neighbors as fellow church members.' It surprised me too. In any case, once again a low key and compassionate piece, with DFW shockingly breaking down in a hardware store when he can't buy a flag, and being comforted by the Muslim (IIRC) shop owner.
“The Big Red Son” (excerpt)
This is an account of the 1997 'Adult Video Awards' (the porn Oscars basically). I find myself saying the same thing over and over: humane, mournful, humorous, compassionate. He talks about the self-protective deadness which porn actors retreat into and the callous misogyny of the industry.
“How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”
I haven't yet finished this. It's about his disappointment in reading the bland ghost-written sporting autobiography of tennis prodigy Tracy Austin (DFW was a teenage tennis prodigy himself). She was damaged by injury and more or less excluded from her vocation at a very young age, then dogged by tragedy, yet none of this is conveyed in her book. He wonders why sports-people's memoirs are so poor and cliché-ridden, but to my mind he doesn't get to the right answer. They are written because shallowness is what the readers want. They don't want to face tragedy and struggle full on; they want to read trivial platitudes. No doubt the readers of Gourmet Magazine didn't want to read about lobsters struggling to get out of the pan either.