Over the last month, I’ve been checking out cruise ship deals – well actually, they tend to be in your face these days as they seem to either feature in or occupy swathes of advertising space in just about every commercial news media publication, website or broadcast programme in Australia at the moment.
Anyway, that little exercise took me back to what is hands down still one of the most hilarious long form pieces around – Shipping Out by the incredible David Foster Wallace (Harpers, 1996).
In it, Foster Wallace scrutinises America’s obsession with such vestiges as the luxury cruise and subsequently laments these places – while managing to not be a complete git about it.
For the first two nights, who’s feeling seasick and who’s not and who’s not now but was a little while ago or isn’t feeling it yet but thinks it’s maybe coming on, etc., is a big topic of conversation at Table 64 in the Five-Star Caravelle Restaurant. Discussing nausea and vomiting while eating intricately prepared gourmet foods doesn’t seem to bother anybody. Common suffering and fear of suffering turn out to be a terrific ice-breaker, and ice-breaking is pretty important, because on a 7NC you eat at the same designated table with the same companions all week.
A unique feature of Foster Wallace’s writing – besides his voice – is the footnotes he uses throughout and to ignore them is really to do yourself a disservice.
Voice is something that beginning writers – even some seasoned writers from time to time – struggle to nail. It’s either there, and beautifully done, as per Foster Wallace and a handful of others (including Joan Didion, Mark Kramer), or it isn’t and the writing just falls flat. Voice is very much something I’m working on and is something I hope starts developing the more I practise right here, so let’s see how that goes.
And speaking of Mark Kramer, in my next post, I’ll be looking at his work (among others), when I look at just how much really good narrative journalism can bring to life (no pun) even the most mundane or stomach-churning medical details.
One more thing: the most captivating piece I read this week was You’ve Got Mail by Daisy Dumas (Good Weekend, September 2016). About the outback air service, it’s got great characters, breathtaking scenery, and a wonderful interactive.
Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel free to drop me a line.