I’m prepared to accept that David Foster Wallace was a genius. I’ve only read short pieces by him, but I am convinced I should read Infinite Jest sooner rather than later.
But I don’t know if I’ll ever read Pale King, his posthumous novel, and one reason NOT to read it is that this review in the April issue of Esquire magazine says that I should.
I’m glad Esquire has a book review, but this one needed an editor. I don’t know who Benjamin Alsup is, but surely there is an editor at the magazine who could have told him that this sentence makes no sense: “But perhaps you could care less about citizenship.” What Alsup means, of course is, “But perhaps you couldn’t care less about citizenship.” After that, I can’t take the review seriously. And since he insists I should read the Wallace book, I can’t take that seriously either.
The Pale King Review – David Foster Wallace The Pale King – Esquire
I read the review and I found nothing wrong with that citizenship sentence.
He proposes that idea and supports it with his next sentence: "you'll be invited to consider how this came to be." Moreover, the last part of the previous paragraph is about the question the book raise about citizenship which again justifies that sentence.
>His point, though, is that Americans "couldn't care less," meaning that they care so little about it now that it would be impossible for them to get any lower on the caring scale. As the sentence is worded the reviewer is saying that we CAN care less, meaning that we care a lot, and there's room to go down. That is certainly not what Wallace is saying. The expression "could care less" is, unfortunately, a common mistake–I certainly see it in undergraduate papers all the time. Here's Bryan Garner on the subject (from Modern American Usage): "If you could care less, you're saying that you do care some. Invariably, though, writers and speakers who use the phrase mean that they don't care at all."
So it isn't the sentence I'm quarreling with, it's the use of the word "could" where the writer should use "couldn't".
>When people say "I could care less" they aren't making a semantic error, they're adding a layer of sarcasm by saying the opposite of what they mean which is "I could NOT care less." By flipping this turn of phrase onto the second person the author of the review is implying that that sarcastic nonchalance may in fact be the attitude of the reader toward citizenship.
>In that case, you could be more wrong. 🙂