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A Supposedly Fun Thing I Ll Never Do Again Essay Summary Writing

The Zenith, still cruisin’ in 2009.


While the actual story itself lacks any significant pizazz, it’s Wallace’s writing style that grabs most of my attention.  He uses a vocabulary not meant for mere mortals.  With myriad polysyllabic words that only an English major could love and an abundance of wacky neologisms, the New Oxford American Dictionary on my Kindle is still trying to recover.  Throw in a constant barrage of footnotes² and Wallace consistently provides an inimitably convoluted ride, even if he’s just writing about the mint on his pillow.

But is it funny?  Maybe it was fifteen years ago when his unique style was undoubtedly more groundbreaking, but much of his humor seems forced to me and overall it leaves me with a rather negative vibe.  To be honest, I have to say that Wallace’s subsequent suicide in 2008 probably has a significant impact on my assessment, particularly when he makes light of his own – and other passenger’s – mental health problems.

In the end, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is a one-of-a-kind look at the Caribbean cruise industry of the 1990s by an undeniably bright, gifted and influential writer who died too young³.   While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped to, I’m not averse to giving some of Wallace’s other work a try in the future.

¹But I did get good at reading footnotes.

²Exactly 137 of them.

³Age 46.

— D. Driftless

ship photo by Matti Paavola

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments is a 1997 collection of nonfiction writing by David Foster Wallace.

In the title essay, originally published in Harper's as "Shipping Out", Wallace describes the excesses of his one-week trip in the Caribbean aboard the cruise shipMV Zenith, which he rechristens the Nadir. He is ironically displeased with the professional hospitality industry and the "fun" he should be having and explains how the indulgences of the cruise turn him into a spoiled brat, leading to overwhelming internal despair.

Wallace uses footnotes extensively throughout the piece for various asides. Another essay in the same volume takes up the vulgarities and excesses of the Illinois State Fair.

This collection also includes Wallace's influential essay "E Unibus Pluram" on television's impact on contemporary literature and the use of irony in American culture.


Essays collected in the book:

  • "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" (Harper's, December 1991, under the title "Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes")
    • An autobiographical essay about Wallace's youth in the Midwest, his involvement in competitive tennis, and his interest in mathematics.
  • "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993)
  • "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" (Harper's, 1994, under the title "Ticket to the Fair")
    • Wallace's experiences and opinions on the 1993 Illinois State Fair, ranging from a report on competitive baton twirling to speculation on how the Illinois State Fair is representative of Midwestern culture and its subsets. Rather than take the easy, dismissive route, Wallace focuses on the joy this seminal midwestern experience brings those involved.
  • "Greatly Exaggerated" (Harvard Book Review, 1992)
    • A review of Morte d'Author: An Autopsy by H. L. Hix, including Wallace's personal opinions on the role of the author in literary critical theory.
  • "David Lynch Keeps His Head" (Premiere, 1996)
    • Wallace's experiences and opinions from visiting the set for Lost Highway and his thoughts about Lynch's oeuvre.
  • "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness" (Esquire, 1996, under the title "The String Theory")
    • Wallace's reporting of the qualifying rounds for the 1995 Canadian Open and the Open itself, with the author's thoughts on the nature of tennis and professional athletics.
  • "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (Harper's, 1996, under the title "Shipping Out")
    • Wallace's experiences and opinions on a seven-night luxury Caribbean cruise.

In popular culture[edit]

In his 2011 book That Is All, John Hodgman titles a chapter about taking a cruise "A Totally Fun Thing I Would Do Again as Soon as Possible." The name of the 2012 Simpsons episode "A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again" also references the title essay. Tina Fey's 2011 memoir Bossypants also includes a chapter on her own cruise experience, entitled My Honeymoon: Or, A Supposedly Fun Thing That I’ll Never Do Again Either, in which she jokingly suggests that those who've heard of Wallace's book should consider themselves members of the "cultural elite", who hate their country and flag.


  • Wallace, D. F. (1997). A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-92528-4
  • Wallace, D. F. (1996). "Shipping Out", Harper's Magazine, January 1996 (292:1748)

External links[edit]

  • "Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise", Harpers Magazine. Also known as "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again".
  • "Ticket to the Fair", Harper's Magazine. Also known as "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All".
  • "The String Theory", Esquire. Also known as "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness".
  • "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction", The Review of Contemporary Fiction.
  • "David Lynch Keeps His Head" Premiere, 1996
  • "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley", Harper's Magazine. Originally under the title "Tennis, Trigonometry, Tornadoes"

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