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This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 153 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 137 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316068225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316068222
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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)
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Format: Hardcover
This is a horrible rendition of a wonderful speech. The layout misrepresents his words as aphorism-sized bites, and nothing could be further from the real piece. How can these sentences stand alone on a page?:

p 61

That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense.

p 122

That is being taught how to think.

There are piles of these stand-alone sentences that should have never stood alone. But even reading it in order, first page to last, leaves the sense of the thing messed with terribly. The cadence is as college students reading poetry in their coffee-house meetings. Why format the book in the way it's formatted? For sense? To pre-chew the speech and let me know what to think about it by breaking it up into parts that make an editor's points, not the speechmaker's? It's formatted this way so that it is stretched out to almost 140 pages that can bring in >$10.

This isn't even getting into the censorship of his original speech.

This is a shameful recasting of a fantastic speech. Shameful. For shame!

The most terrible thing is that we see a hint that, in death perhaps as in life, the people who were close to DWF clearly don't get it.

Do not buy this.
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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.
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