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Book Review: This is Water by David Foster Wallace

this is water cover For all the tortuous, sometimes impenetrable-seeming writing he put out before he died in 2008, David Foster Wallace still managed to give me as much enjoyment per page as any author ever has.

One of the things that makes This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, About Living A Compassionate Life such a wonderful experience for the DFW fan is that it could not be easier to understand. It is no less brilliant than any of his other works, but it doesn’t take any effort. It is completely accessible and the payoff feels immediate to me.

One of the reasons for this is that the book is actually the text of  the commencement speech that Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. On the speaking platform he couldn’t rely on abstruse jargon, dense footnotes, or pull any linguistic tricks that could detract from the clarity of the message that he had come to convey.

The message is one of the lovelier things I’ve read, and I wish I could have seen him deliver the speech.

It’s a very brief book so I can’t give much away without spoiling it, but here are a couple of things that stand out to me:

  • The grind of day-to-day adult life can be overcome–it need not be a burden
  • There is power in the correct definition of freedom
  • Worship is necessary (he’s not really talking about God), but choosing the wrong object to worship is choosing disaster and unhappiness

I can’t say  much more. I hope you’ll read it and love it. I did and I’ll be revisiting it often. Wallace’s statements regarding depression and loneliness are especially poignant in light of his suicide in 2008. He couldn’t live by his own advice, however powerful or useful it was to those in attendance, or readers like myself.

Josh

PS: If you’re a DFW fan, I recommend checking out his unfinished-but-still-great novel The Pale King asap. I’ll be reviewing it soon for the book club, so please subscribe if you haven’t yet.

 

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