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This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life [Hardcover]

David Foster Wallace
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 14 2009
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.

Frequently Bought Together

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life + Infinite Jest + A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments
Price For All Three: CDN$ 38.98

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Review

"David Foster Wallace's unbelievable graduation speech...will inspire you."—Daily Candy

"We read Wallace because he forces us to think. He makes us consider what's beneath us and around us--like water."—Alicia J. Rouverol, The Christian Science Monitor

"Think of it as The Last Lecture for intellectuals."—Time

"None of the cloudlessly sane and true things he had to say about life in 2005 are any less sane or true today...[This is Water] reminds us of [Wallace's] strength and goodness and decency--the parts of him the terrible master [the mind] could never defeat, and never will."—Tom Bissel, New York Times Book Review

"Striking...is [Wallace's] evocative insight and humor."—Mark Follman, Mother Jones

About the Author

David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life changing and insightful Sept. 17 2013
By David
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this because of a fantastic YouTube video and was not disappointed by the full text of the speech. I will need to buy the hard cover of this book so that when people ask me "why are you so happy all the time?" I can throw this to them and tell them it is the brief synopsis of a happy life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thanks Nov. 2 2011
By michael
Format:Hardcover
this speech changed my life...if youre hesitant about buying it fine, thats understandable but i would recommend it. you can also listen to it on youtube
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  94 reviews
78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book April 15 2009
By olive - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Honestly, I couldn't disagree more with the negative posts. I think this brief, beautiful looking book is a wonderful tribute to David Foster Wallace's brilliant mind. This speech was spread throughout the internet, yes. But I, for one, think this is piece of writing is something worth collecting and pondering. And publishing it in a book form gives it the stature it deserves. That may sound old-fashioned, but even in the internet age, that's still the role of a book publisher. And I am happy to have this on my shelf to be able to hold onto it for years to come.
79 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow Down April 10 2009
By Stephen C. Ellis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My initial reaction was the same as the other reviews, huge rip off. But what the editors have done changes for the better the experience of reading what I already thought was an amazing speech. Most of us read the speech on the internet , which because of the medium is always cursory. The book makes us slow down and reflect on the message, and it's not trite or trivial or obvious (except in the sense that any observation that is clearly true seems trite). It's ten bucks very well spent- I bought a bunch of copies for gifts.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what I was expecting April 14 2009
By Eric Allam - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Before buying this book I knew exactly what it was: David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon Commencement speech. I actually read the speech online before I had read any of his books (now I've read them all save for Everything and More). and was hoping they would publish, which they did, and I think they did a very good job. I've recommended the speech to some of my friends and now I'll be able to do one better and give it to them as a gift. It seems silly to give this book a 1 star. Rate on content, not on something unknowable like the motivation of the publishers.
46 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What an appalling adaptation of a great speech July 28 2009
By Jake D - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm pretty sure DFW, wherever he is, must really be regretting leaving control of his estate to whatever moron decided it would be a good idea to publish his speech one-line-at-a-time, as if it were the next installment of "Chicken Soup for the Soul". The layout substantially alters (for the worse) the impact of the speech, treating each sentence as if it were intended to be a precious little nugget of wisdom, divorced from overall context of the speech as a whole. I guess it's predictable that his heirs would want to cash in, but it's pretty unforgivable that they so brutally mangled his work in the process. Also: I seriously doubt the title is DFW's. "This is Water" is confusingly misquoted and sort of renders the initial anecdote meaningless, and the sub head is rife with the sort of hubris that DFW argues against in the speech itself.) The version that appeared in Best NonRequired Reading 2006 (edited by his friend Dave Eggers, who presumably titled it according to DFW's wishes) was simply "Kenyon Commencement Address" If you want the speech in book form, buy that book at least instead of this three legged baby.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 (The Best American Series) The actual speech is, by the way, brilliant and moving, which is what makes this edition all the more tragic. (5 *'s for the speech 1 * for the edition itself)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If This is Water, Drink Up Sept. 22 2011
By D. Thomas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Let me preface my own review by offering some insight into the others: most of the poor reviews this book has received have nothing to do with the book's contents; rather, they harp on the formatting and shaping of the text. Focusing on the format of the book and the fact that yes, it is available for free online, shouldn't factor much in a book review, I think, but to this point, it has.

I can see why the publishers formatted it the way they did: to generate recurring sales in that May and June period when most graduations take place, and to make it a pocket-sized, easily consumable text. From a marketing/publishing standpoint this makes perfect sense, and the reviewers hung up on these details seem to be missing the point of the book.

This is why I believe this book deserves 5 stars: any David Foster Wallace follower would be eager, no matter where else the text exists (for free or otherwise), to add to their DFW collection a volume that is so unlike any other he produced. Where his short stories, nonfiction and novels are forever-winding and humanly complex, "This is Water" is a simple masterwork, no less human (and possibly even more so, with its parable-rhetoric) but much less intricate, at least on the most obvious levels. This alone makes the book a welcome addition to any personal library, DFW-focused or not.

The speech itself is warm without being sentimental; it's grounded in reality the way few commencement speeches are, yet it achieves a feeling of inspiration that seems to be, at first thought, highly unlikely, considering the general topic of the speech: surviving the banality of everyday life as a functioning adult.

For those not familiar with Wallace, "This is Water" provides a thoughtful analysis of the realities of adulthood. But for those who have a past with Wallace, the book is a strangely haunting reminder of the principles that drove his writing.

"This is Water" may find itself eventually fallen into that clichéd group of texts given as presents to new grads, though the advice and insight Wallace imparts would be of interest to readers at any stage of life. And as any Wallace fan knows, clichés are there for a reason: they may be molded and generic-sounding, but only because they apply to daily life so universally, not because they are illegitimate and superficial.

It's the same with this book: it may be formatted, shaped and edited into something clichéd and bordering novelty, but the message is so profoundly sweeping and genuine that you would be doing yourself a favor to overlook its commerciality.
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