oh, the pages i'd turn

I’ve been meaning to re-read David Foster Wallace’s article about taking a luxury cruise. The piece, “Shipping Out,” appeared in the January 1996 issue of Harper’s Magazine. I tried to access the article online the weekend David Foster Wallace hanged himself but it was only available to subscribers. Several days later, I read on World Hum that Harper’s was making the piece available at no charge. I went to the link and nearly printed out the article in full. But I decided to wait for fear of spending my ink cartridges. He who hesitates is lost, warn the wise. Now, it’s too late. Harper’s withdrew its generous offer; the piece is once again available only to subscribers. If you happen to be one, ship ahoy HERE. ERRATUM UPDATE: I erred. Harper's has every article David Foster Wallace wrote for the magazine online for all to read at no charge HERE. Thanks, Anonymous. Colin Harrison, who edited "Shipping Out" and other pieces Wallace wrote for Harper's, remembers editing Wallace HERE.

That piece blew me away. I remembered thinking at the time that more nonfiction writers should bring to their work what he brought to that piece. That notion seems especially true about travel writing, which often falls short of its potential. At its worst, travel writing is formulaic, clichéd, intellectually dishonest. This happens for multiple reasons, not all having to do with the writer. What Wallace achieved with "Shipping Out" rests in part with the tension he created with the reader through his choice of topic, an easy target if ever there were one. In some circles, including my own, cruises are the laughing stock of mass tourism, several notches below chain all-inclusive resorts and froufrou B&B’s with sherry decanters in every nook and cranny. I’d wager that many (if not most) readers wondered where Wallace would fall on the spectrum, with visceral disdain on one end and detached curiosity on other. He danced between the two, gravitating toward disdain more often than not, but managing not to come off as too condescending or too contrived. He obviously was out of his element. The dance, along with his powers of observation and self-expression, elevated the piece to near perfection. This article could be a template.

I write the following without irony. This morning, I entered a sweeps for a six-day Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2. I usually do not try to win a cruise. But something about this particular itinerary on this particular ship on this particular morning made me nostalgic for the time before my time when luxury cruises were fashionable across a cross section of the travel elite. Another selling point: The Queen Mary 2 library. At 8,000 titles, it’s the largest library at sea. Oh, the pages I’d turn!

To enter, click HERE. One entry only. The sweeps closes on October 31.