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

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  21,329 ratings  ·  1,802 reviews
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 ach
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Hardcover, 138 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2009)
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Avinash In the hardcover edition, the speech is broken into snippets of about three or four lines and a whole page is dedicated to a single snippet. A whole l…moreIn the hardcover edition, the speech is broken into snippets of about three or four lines and a whole page is dedicated to a single snippet. A whole lot of blank space.
That is why.(less)
Allie DFW gave this speech for a crowd of graduating college seniors and their families. Practically, I would say it's a family-friendly read as far as lang…moreDFW gave this speech for a crowd of graduating college seniors and their families. Practically, I would say it's a family-friendly read as far as language, but the content, while overall pretty heartening, can be heavy. It has deep implications about the harsh tediums of adult life. There are mentions of suicide, atheism, etc. These are all topics addressed by American high school English classes.

Intellectually, DFW cuts no corners, but he was giving a speech, so I'm one for thinking this is a little more digestible than his other works.

So: what age would be appropriate? I would say probably most high school students would be able to process the content of this speech. But in my mind, unless they're more thoughtful than most they might not appreciate what DFW has to say about adult life until they go out and live it themselves. Hope that helps!(less)

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Stephen M
David Foster Wallace was a beautiful fucking person who said a lot of beautiful fucking things.
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
This is Water, like The Communist Manifesto, is an unfortunate document. Both are occasional pieces written for a narrowly prescribed purpose. Both appear to be distillates of a much broader, systematic force of thinking. Both are of a genre which have very tight constraints--the commencement speech and the manifesto--which dictate and limit the possibilities for both form and content. Both are widely read by those not familiar with that systematic thought. By not taking into account the genre o ...more
Seemita
Jul 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
‘This is Water’.

Water - Now I love that metaphor. I end up addressing many things and their traits and their progresses and their declines through this unbound source of immense satiation. But how does this fit into a speech delivered to students, facing a future that’s unknown and by that very virtue, intimidating?

Ah well, the thoughts weaved into this beautiful message says it all. For a text that I ended up highlighting half of, I would like to take this particular insight with me, forever.
...more
Greg
Apr 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, life-is-shit
This may come as a surprise to people who know me, but I never read this before it came out in book format. I knew it existed, but like most of the occasional and short pieces by DFW I held off on reading them. At the time his writing came out so infrequently, that I always wanted to have things of his to read at some point in the future, when I would really want something new of his. Of course that has changed to their being nothing new to release, except for unpublished things that might see t ...more
karen
Jul 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dfw
so. it gets five stars because of how terribly sad i still am. i read this online, of course, years and years ago, but i reread it in book form, just to see if anything had been added. it hasn't. just the fact of his death on the flap. i'd really rather have added material than that fact, wouldn't you? and i also would have liked this to have been delivered at my graduation (i mean, i had quincy jones, i can't complain too much, but still... despite all the good advice in this book, i am a compl ...more
MJ Nicholls
Dec 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: merkins, non-fiction
Better heard spoken for the full sting. A powerful speech but the message seems to be rather simple: don’t be a selfish asshat. Or is that a little reductive? Anyway—one star for the cash-in and four stars for the speech. Coming soon from Little, Brown in DVD & books: The Best Hesitant Pauses on KCRW’s Bookworm, The Ten Best Awkward Selfconscious Squirming Moments on Charlie Rose, and Half-Remembered Conversations Anyone Has Ever Had With DFW. Also available from the DFW Tacky Cash-in Emporium: ...more
Håkon
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

What DFW wanted to get across with this little story was that the most obvious realities are often the hardest ones to talk about. To David Foster Wallace, this difficuilt, but most obvious reality w
...more
Jason
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, for-kindle, 2014
This Is Water is kind of like a modern version of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. With the exception, of course, that This Is Water is not a collection of letters, does not discuss poetry or writing, and is not addressed to a single individual but to a college’s entire student body. Other than that, though, they’re pretty much the same thing.

What I mean is that there’s something very inspirational (for lack of a better word) in these texts whose words seem to have been composed on-
...more
rahul
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is water.
And I have to learn to breath in it.
This is water.
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Liberal Arts Students; Everyone
FURTHER UPDATED REVIEW (consolidation of general remarks of mine from review comment threads for this book/speech):

Is This Speech Depressing?

I have to respectfully disagree and say that I found this to be uplifting in a really serious way--like my version of a Chicken Soup For The Soul sense of uplifting (er, uh, something)--which is a feeling of redemption via facing messy truths and feeling my own thoughts to be extremely validated by his beautiful ideas and phrasings. I'd read it many times o
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Junta
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Junta by: Infinite Jest
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
My first literary quote shirt (received as a present). On the shirt, the utterances make up the fish themselves. I'm waiting for the day when someone sees my shirt, walks up to me, and says "This is W
...more
Emma
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you want something to make you think about the every day life, here. read.
Blixen
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
People get used to the sadness of everyday life. Then they find a goal that then becomes the anchor they cling to in order to survive.
People live without awareness like the Lotus-eaters in The Odyssey: they live only to live; in and of itself.
People I know, above all in the city, are unhappy. They think that the system framed them. Sometimes it happens to me as well.
You wonder why you are doing things that you wouldn't normally do. I like my life and I am a positive person: after a good walk all
...more
Jenny
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ωραία ομιλία!Ο Wallace δεν λέει κάτι πρωτότυπο-αλλά οι γνωστές αυτές αλήθειες ξεχνιούνται εύκολα,και μας τις θυμίζει με όμορφο τρόπο.Το κείμενο κυλάει γρήγορα κι εύκολα!

"A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is,
it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter
wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in
my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the
absolute center of the universe, the re
...more
Duane
What the hell is this you may ask. Well, this is a commencement address by David Foster Wallace to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. But why would you want to read that someone else asks. Well, I wanted to be introduced to David Foster Wallace, and this relatively short essay seemed like a good place to start. I'm ready to begin reading Wallace's Infinite Jest, a 1,000 page Everest of a book, which I'm looking forward to about as much as I was to reading Joyce's Ulysses. Also in my litera ...more
Danny
Jul 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
As I came here to post my review of this book, I stumbled onto reviews posted by others. The general perception seemed to be a sense of sadness. Perhaps it's because of what Wallace did ultimately. But I read this speech differently.

I read it as a generous gift delivered by a deeply troubled and pained person of unusual intelligence. And while this is an address to graduates, it seems to me that he speaks, in a way, to try to convince himself too. He says,

"...there are all different kinds of fre
...more
framptonhollis
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have been getting really into DFW over the past few days and thus felt super compelled to finally get to actually reading the manuscript of his masterpiece of a commencement speech, 'This Is Water', which I had already listened to the audio recording of sometime in the past but did not really remember a whole lot about and also can vaguely sense that I sort of found it overrated despite my profound love for Wallace and his work. However, reading this little hardcover w/a mere average of say 3 ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
My basic problem with This is Water is how it's contributed to the Cult of DFW, who (don't get me wrong for a second) was a terrific writer who deserves a place in any sort of canon you can imagine. I'd still put him as my favorite writer and still put Infinite Jest as my favorite book if I was pressed, but the more I learn about him as a person, the more I realize he was in many ways a dick, and the more I realize his dickish tendencies contributed to what's so good about his fiction. That is t ...more
Khashayar Mohammadi
Simple, but quite interesting. It starts off as new-age mysticism but takes a rather engaging turn.
Carla
Mar 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, e-books-kobo
Simplesmente brilhante!

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.” (P.7/8)
Steven
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun or breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech's central stuff should sound. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away." (124-125)

[I'll add more to this review tomorrow; it's late and I very much need to sleep.]
Jess ❈Harbinger of Blood-Soaked Rainbows❈

Read a self-improvement book.

This is a short little book that my dad gave me to read after receiving it from a friend of his. I have several friends who have read DFW's other works and really loved his writing. I have never read anything of his though I know he words have been known to cause ideas of gargantuan proportions inside individuals who love him. I also know that he suffered from major depression and anxiety and ultimately took his life in 2008.

Basically this little book is the dictatio
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leynes
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
This Is Water is a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005. It is also the only public speech he ever gave outlining his outlook on life. Wallace contin
...more
Adam Floridia
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the "transcript" of DFW's graduation speech at Kenyon College. It's a speech that I'm sure any DFW fan has seen/heard/read on the internet. It's nothing new. It'll take you 15 minutes to read, and it's tough to justify shelling out $15 for something that's totally free on the web.

And but so it is a 5-star book because the content of the speech really is...touching...moving...or some similar adjective and because having the speech written out--literally one sentence per page--and being ab
...more
britt_brooke
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.”

This is a quick little book of excerpts from the only commencement address DFW ever gave. Worth a read!
Nick Craske
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brave, honest and sincere. DFW's compassionate and heartfelt commencement address. Small in word count huge in heart.

[ This Is Water: short film adaptation: http://bit.ly/YSEa47 ]
...more
Chris_P
Jun 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, shorties
What's amazing about This Is Water isn't the truths Wallace tried to convey to his listeners. Of course, they are spot-on and totally useful but nothing others haven't said before. What's amazing is the way he did it. Usually, when reading a wise-ass book (or article for that matter) about self-improvement and advice on how to live, I (and, I assume, the same goes for everyone) can't help but hear this calm, smiling, disgusting know-all voice in my head which makes me want to puke and then end m ...more
Noah Nichols
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wallace continues to awe us. Quite frankly, his legendary commencement speech is still powerful and unforgettable...regardless of whether you consume it through text or via voice. Both work wonders. Everything David says here is palatable (and helpful) to any living human—if they simply allow it to be. When it comes to my own default setting, I give this conscious-awakening assortment of words a full FIVE, and anything less would be uncivilized...
Sheila
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
First off, I will admit I did not buy this book. This book is the commercial publication of a speech that was given by David Foster Wallace at the 2005 Kenyon College graduation commencement. This speech is easy to find online. So yes, I googled it and read it for free. And for some reason, I think David Foster Wallace would approve.

I looked up this speech because I am currently reading Infinite Jest, and the constant and continuous talk of drugs and depression and drugs and death and drugs and
...more
Vivek Tejuja
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster
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David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it fe ...more

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