|This Is Water:
Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living a Compassionate Life
David Foster Wallace
4 / 5
"There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?'"
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace's electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.
Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.
As far as graduation speeches go, this one was pretty great - despite its not being the usual fare of one part mushiness and nostalgia, one part rose-colored optimism. I love David Foster Wallace's work, and his outlook on the world. And I think that's why this speech resonated with me. It was all about how you may learn how to view the world in college, but how you truly learn to live in the real world once you leave it. And how you must continually question your complacency in adult life.
It also made me glad to see that Wallace - such a great writer of people - lived his life much like I try to live my own: trying constantly to interpret strangers, and perhaps give them a back story which would explain this sleight or that bout of anger. Things that seem aimed at me, and that I make the center of my own universe, but which might not have a thing to do with my presence. (My sister will understand what I mean, especially!)
The format of this little book itself was a neat concept, the way it broke almost every sentence (and thus idea) up into a new page, but I found it frustrating to read that way; it made it difficult to inhale the speech as a whole, rather than swallowing the small disparate bits separately. I'd be eager to re-read this in a more cohesive format, or hear a recording of Wallace's delivery of it.
All in all, I'd recommend this quick read to anyone who wants a little bit of real-world inspiration. I don't think that and Baz Luhrmann's "Wear Sunscreen"* are in the same league, but I do love them both equally, for very different reasons.
* (The original text was actually written by journalist Mary Schmich.)
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