“Consider The Lobster” Considered

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Last July, my father, a Yale graduate with a degree in English, a professional editor who has spent the last 20 years of his life supporting our family with his way with words, announced to us at dinner that he was finally going to get through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, god damn it. The book made it into the trunk as we packed to leave for Cape Cod. And then the beach bag. And then the moment, as all moments do, finally arrived.

“Want your book?” I said as I extracted my own, much thinner reading choice from the beach bag. He pretended to consider it, stretching his toes in the sand, leaning back in the beach chair. And then subtle, poorly concealed smile appeared.

“Not today.” Spoiler alert: tomorrow, and the day after that, were also off the table.

Alright, Dad. So what I’m saying is if I have a complex about reading David Foster Wallace, it’s only because I’ve been taught to. It’s always nice to assign some blame right off the bat, and especially nice to put it on your parents, n’est-ce pas?

In actuality, the limited David Foster Wallace that I’ve read–Ticket To the Fair–I didn’t find particularly difficult to get through, albeit its length and the fact that I was reading it in a classroom setting. But still, Wallace’s name conjured up unknown terrors for me–terrors that apparently even my father could not bring himself to face.

But now I had a reason, nay, a command to take up the challenge. So I searched “David Foster Wallace essay” (a very refined search) and came across Consider The Lobster. Lobsters? Zero interest. Perfect.

So I read it. And I survived. Except now I can’t stop thinking about our 2011 family trip to Maine.

The essay was structured similarly to essays I had read and written last year in my Creative Nonfiction class, which was comforting–Wallace starts with a specific event/situation (The Maine Lobster Festival) and then zooms out to discuss the ethics of and cultural attitudes towards boiling a lobster alive.

It was an uncomfortable topic to think about because I, like Wallace, struggle to find a way to defend my meat eating outside of my own selfishness. (Hang on–a commonality with Wallace? Could it be? That he is a human just like me?)

I didn’t believe from the get-go that this essay was written exclusively for lobster lovers, as usually nonfiction essays hold a deeper point than just their subject. But, having no prior interest in lobsters, the title would still have put me off from choosing to read this essay, if not for this assignment.

But then a weird thing happened–the longer I read, the less uncomfortable I felt. I don’t want to make more of this than there is. I am not a super reader who believes I am invincible. I searched up a writer that I thought was outside of my usual scope, read an essay, and discovered that at least one of his essays was understandable to me after all.

Was that the complete opposite goal of this assignment? Have I learned the reverse of what I was supposed to? I probably could have found something more difficult, more obviously not for me. (My initial instinct was to read an essay about retirement, but it was hard to find one.)

But for now, I can cross one more fear off of my long list.

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