Reviewed by Tim Gleichner
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.
Most everyone has heard the timeless axiom about good things coming in small packages. I’m never quite sure how much truth there is to that statement but I am sure that it does apply in the case of this particular book.
Written and delivered as a commencement address, I found it to be equal parts wisdom and humor, but moreover a short essay on life itself and how to make the most of it.
The book stopped well short of giving advice, rather challenging the graduates to use their education to decide how to approach and feel about situations that most all of them will inevitably face.
This book will certainly be one I reread from time to time when I need my own reality check.
David Foster Wallace is the author of the novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System and the story collections Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Girl With Curious Hair. His nonfiction includes the essay collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and the full-length work Everything and More. He died in 2008.