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

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

by David Foster Wallace


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316068222
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 04/14/2009
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 57,422
Product dimensions: 4.70(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.90(d)

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.

Date of Birth:

February 21, 1962

Date of Death:

September 12, 2008

Place of Birth:

Ithaca, NY

Place of Death:

Claremont, CA


B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

What People are Saying About This

Tom Bissel

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.
— New York Times Book Review

Alicia J. Rouverol

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

Mark Follman [Wallace's] evocative insight and humor.
— Mother Jones

Customer Reviews

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This Is Water 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
John_Frusciante13 More than 1 year ago
DFW is one of my favorite writers, but this book is really a waste of money. The layout is one sentence per page so they can justify putting a speech into book form in order to capitalize just a little bit more on his death. Unfortunately this plan worked on me, so please don't let it work on you. Seriously, don't waste your money on this "book." They may as well have just dressed this up as some inspirational page-a-day book that you can open up every morning and take one quote from. Then we could've spent a day living our lives by "Or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning." The only difference is you can't hide how ridiculous, unnecessary, and financially motivated a DFW daily book of inspirational quotes is. With this book, they're able to dress up their motivations with a minimalist book cover.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best things I have ever read. Someone complained that there is only one sentence per page (true) and that it makes it look as though it is supposed to be read a page a day (not as I read it). This was a commencement speech. People tend to speak a sentence at a time when they are giving a prepared speech. To me, having one sentence per page helps re-create the tempo of the speech. It also works well on the page because it is a small book (6 3/4" x 4 3/4").
DaB1959 More than 1 year ago
Oh to have been a graduate of Kenyon College when David Foster Wallace gave this speech! I wish mine had been as compelling. If ever I were to give a commencement address I hope it would be as hip, intelligent, funny and thoughtful as this. Well worth reading and giving as a gift to college graduates.
WHOISJG More than 1 year ago
I found this essay so resonating that I sent the online article to practically everyone I knew. To those middle aged denizens who remember their life when if felt real, to those youth who live in the now and vow never to change, this book will speak to them. In addition to graduation cash I plan to give this to young people I know who graduate from high school or college. I am so pleased that DFW's words were given the honor of being bound in a book; they are too weighty just to remain electronic or on fading newsprint. When after a harrowing day or a soul-sucking encounter I read this and it helps me to find my center, again. Yeah you can find this elsewhere and I am not big on paying for what is out there for free, but this, in a book, gives heft, gives importance and so David Foster Wallace is and also his words.
Girl_Detective on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book to give a graduate, or anyone who is making a big life change, or anyone feeling very depressed. Sad, lovely, funny and true.
jamescostello on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not exactly the Divinity School Address ("In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life"). Proves that even great writers can write drivel. Something in it about some fish and what to think about; but like most commencement speeches, you just want to get out of the gown and get drunk.
DRFP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A nice little speech that is undoubtedly more illuminating in what it says about DFW than it does about life. It all probably seemed rather banal before he sadly killed himself. In retrospect parts of it take on a deeper and darker meaning.Recommended only for those big fans of DFW. It's not amazing but it's extremely short and worth it if you're interested.
mmadamslibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
SHORT little book- actually a commencement speech - with some thought provoking statements- such as we all live in our own here and now, but we need to be conscious of other people's here and nows- and not just float through life, but pay attention
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that should be read by everyone from 18 to 80. The genius of DFW reveals to us how to live. As human beings and our best selves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amy_Neftzger More than 1 year ago
David Foster Wallace's "This is Water" is a transcript of a speech the author gave to Kenyon College in 2005. You can probably find this speech online and hear the same information contained in this book for free, but I'm naturally a reader and enjoy reading the printed word. I get more out of the content when I read instead of listen. One of the things I liked best about this book is the way that the prose was broken up into brief segments on each page so that I could digest it piece by piece. The whole book can be read in about an hour, but the short passages on each page help with the pacing so that each line is taken in more thoughtfully. The main theme of the message is that we often miss seeing the things that are right in front of us, the things that are obvious. The author makes the point beautifully be starting off with a story and then he fills in the details. This is a short but excellent work.
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