Who else writes the kind of essays that David Foster Wallace writes?
July 28, 2006 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I really like the essays that David Foster Wallace collects in _A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again_ and _Consider the Lobster_. Which essayists take a similar approach?

I've just read and thoroughly enjoyed DFW's two collections of essays/reviews (in fact, I liked them better than I've liked his fiction). I find thrilling the way he combines esoteric and hyperintellectual meditation/contemplation, travelogue, personal anecdote, and hilarious self-depricatory wit. I'm well-read in fiction, but haven't done much essay reading outside of an academic context. What other collections (or individual essays) might I enjoy? On KCRW's Bookworm, Wallace was compared to Thurber, who I've put on my reading list. Who else? Thanks!
posted by scarylarry to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist.
posted by staggernation at 5:53 AM on July 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

- Jonathan Franzen has a book of essays called How To Be Alone [review] which I think fits the bill.
- You might also like Fraud by David Rakoff [review] which is geared towards humor
- Chuck Palhaniuk's book of essays Stranger Than Fiction [review].
- Bill Bryson writes some interesting and humorous commentary, not quite as highbrow as Thurber and Wallace, but I'd argue funnier. I enjoyed I'm a Stranger Here Myself [review] as well as In a Sunburned Country (about Australia) [review], they're sort of part travelogue and part wry reflection.
- An author who I haven't read much of, but is also good at this sort of thing is Calvin Trillin, especially when writing about food.
- Jim Harrison was an essayist for Esquire magazine for a long time and his food writing is also excellent.
- George Plimpton was also quite great as a sports writer for Esquire where it is said "he is best known for his practice of covering professional sports by participating in them as an amateur."

I'd really like to round out this list with some great female essayists and have found, much to my chagrin, that I haven't read any lately, so I'll be checking this thread for recommendations myself. NB: all linked reviews are mine.
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 AM on July 28, 2006

I would say Nicholson Baker's "The Size of Thoughts" fits the bill somewhat.
I also really enjoyed Scott Carrier's "Running After Antelope" and Mark Singer's "Character Studies"

Some females:
Sarah Vowell / Take the Cannoli
Meghan Daum / My Misspent Youth: Essays
Anne Fadiman / Ex Libris
posted by mattbucher at 8:37 AM on July 28, 2006

Maybe it won't meet all your criteria but I have a strong fondness for Jean Shepherd's work. In print it's a little more earthy than the borderline-treacle "A Christmas Story" that several essays were morphed into, and I think the majority of his work (to my recollection - it's been over a decade now) related stories from his teen years, not pre-teen a-la Xmas Story. I suggest "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters" and "A Fistfull of Fig Newtons."
posted by phearlez at 9:49 AM on July 28, 2006

Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy by Dave Hickey.

Great book, particularly if you're into the visual arts.
posted by fishfucker at 10:06 AM on July 28, 2006

Neal Stephenson has written some great techie articles that might fit the bill, In the Beginning was the Command Line is the best. In the Kingdom of Mao Bell is also good.
posted by vito90 at 10:19 AM on July 28, 2006

Anyone looking to round out their reading by including non-fiction ought to include John McPhee on the list.

Hard to pick a place to start, but Oranges wouldn't be a bad choice. Neither would The Control of Nature.
posted by notyou at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2006

I love, love, love David Foster Wallace's essays. (I wish his fiction did as much for me-- oh well.)

If you like Wallace, I think you will really groove on Blanche McCrary Boyd. She wrote Revolution of Little Girls and The Redneck Way of Knowledge. Both books contain a mix of fiction, essays, and what-have-you. I think you'll especially like her essay on NASCAR.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:42 AM on July 28, 2006

No one's mentioned Susan Orlean yet.
posted by BT at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your responses! I'll check as many out as I can find at UK bookshops. Keep them coming!
posted by scarylarry at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2006

The Best American essays series is quite good - each year has a different well known writer who picks their favorite essays from that year. Mark the writers you like and track down their collections - it's like a sampler pack for essayists.

If you want classic histories on the essay as a form, Check out the Art of the personal Essay edited by the famed Phillip Lopate. Some selections are academic, but it gives a solid lineage on the big names in essays (Montagne, Orwell, etc.) - It's a fast way to find famous essayists you want more of.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, By Annie Dillard, is a modern powerhouse of essay writing. She's a less sarcastic and more naturalist older cousin to Wallace. If you're into nature you'll love this - if you're not, well, you might be bored. She's writes brilliantly, takes leaps between observation, theory and self-examination, and turns lines of thought sharply around so that they cut to the bone.

But the best essay collection I've yet to find is the The writers presence - it sounds and looks like yet another assigned tome for freshman english composition, but the quality and range of essays here is fantastic. I picked up a copy of the 2000 edition at the used bookstore for $2 on a whim - 20k diamond in the rough.
posted by Berkun at 1:37 PM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Montague etc as a starting point; Wallace is definitely drawing out of that comic tradition (and gets compared to all three quite regularly). Some more contemporary folks that haven't been mentioned yet...

Bruce Chatwin [Wikipedia Link]. More meditative than Wallace and I'm not sure he'd exactly qualify as an essayist (more of a travel writer, if that's a genre), but he's good.

W.G Sebald [Bio Link]. He's darker and has a dryer sense of humor but I loved Campo Santo. (Most of his stuff, like Austerlitz, is technically fiction, but reads like essays/non-fiction)

The Best America Series often has some good stuff. And there's more than just "Essays." Best American Science Writing for instance or Best American Travel Writing are both essay collections. (Not sure if there's a "Best British" equivalent, anyone know?)

John D'Agata is great though not nearly as linear as Wallace and definitely not for everyone. You might like The Next American Essay.

William T Vollman is often quite interesting (and often somewhat annoying, but who isn't?).

Sadly I can't think of any female essayists offhand, I should work on that.

Otherwise maybe consider a subscription to The New Yorker, Harpers, The Believer, The Financial Times et al, they tend to publish fairly interesting stuff.
posted by luxagraf at 5:32 PM on July 31, 2006

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