What to Read Next: A Visit to the Nineties
Issue #313, featuring David Foster Wallace and Chuck Klosterman
Happy Friday, readers!
This week we’re taking a time machine back to the ‘90s. It feels like just yesterday, but somehow it’s been nearly 25 years since the decade ended. Both books featured today are non-fiction — one explicitly explores the era’s pop culture, the other is an essay collection that encapsulates much of what the ‘90s has come to mean and represent. I thoroughly enjoyed each.
Let’s get right to it.
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
Published: 2005 | Pages: 350
David Foster Wallace has become one of the most polarizing authors of the modern era. Love him or hate him, he was an inimitable writing talent who, in many ways, defined the literature of the 1990s.
This particular essay collection came out in 2005, but most of the essays were either originally published in the 1990s or are about the ‘90s.
This collection is almost perfect in that it showcases Wallace’s trademark style while also providing as much variety as is possible in a book like this. From short literary takes (on Kafka and Dostoyevsky), to long political profiles (on John McCain and conservative talk radio), to on-the-ground reporting from a porn convention and a lobster festival, and more. I’m tellin ya, you won’t find another essay collection with this much subject matter variety. As with all of Wallace’s work, there’s high brow, low brow, and everything in between.
There are times where DFW’s style grates on me, but overall I really enjoy it. I find his heavy use of footnotes (which sometimes includes footnotes to his footnotes) rather entertaining — even though it eventually becomes tedious. His vocabulary and sentence construction is unlike any other writer I’ve encountered; at times, it’s head-scratching and even annoying, but then you read a little more and find it brilliant in spite of its pretentiousness. (In part, that’s because the pretentiousness is on purpose and making a statement of its own about literary culture.)
Again, that’s just my experience with DFW, and your mileage is likely to vary — he’s one of those authors where your enjoyment of his work really depends on your individual taste in books. I enjoy his work for its narrative experiments and playfulness with language; I totally understand folks who just find him grating. (I do too sometimes.)
If you’re curious about his work, give his utterly unique essays a shot rather than diving into Infinite Jest’s 1,100 pages. There are a few pieces in Consider the Lobster than I’ll never forget.
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
Published: 2022 | Pages: 370
Few book cover + title combinations have made me want to read a book as badly as Chuck Klosterman’s 2022 The Nineties. I was eagerly expecting a nostalgic stroll through the biggest pop culture moments of the decade and that’s exactly what I got.
With a wry mix of humor, analysis, and loosely held opinions, Klosterman provides a unique Gen X viewpoint of what the nineties were like — the moments and artifacts that defined the decade and led us to where our culture is at today.
We of course get the highlights and lowlights of traditional pop culture: the songs, books, movies, and TV shows that stood apart. This was all highly entertaining.
Most interestingly, to me, Klosterman also gets into about the technological and internet revolution — and the utopian promise of Big Tech to make our world look like The Jetsons within a few decades. Obviously, that future didn’t come to pass, and instead we’re all addicted to these little devices that take us out of the real world and hijack our brains. The craziest part is that those in power — politicians and venture capitalists, primarily — just trusted the tech bros and refused to question their so-called “revolutions.” For the most part, that’s continued right through to today.
On the political front, it was interesting to read about how Washington D.C.’s machinations became far more embedded in popular culture than ever before, especially during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Nowadays, of course, politics are nearly impossible to untangle from pop culture, but that wasn’t always the case.
Taken all together, the media and the internet have pretty much turned all of life into pop culture and entertainment — a facet of life that started smack in the middle of the ‘90s. The Nineties definitely has wide appeal and can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Overall, it’s a really fun book that just missed by Best of ‘23 list.
Thanks so much for reading! I really appreciate the time and inbox space.