9 of 15: “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace

Moving along in my 15 project has suddenly gotten harder. One of my book groups is reading Cutting for Stone, which _I_ recommended, while not knowing it’s 650 pages, and that it would overlap the 15/15/15 project. Plus a long-awaited and probably not-short book has finally arrived at the library. D’oh. So I find myself needing to read more than one book at a time if I’m to finish the book-group book and still keep up my book a day. Oh, these self-imposed boundaries.

Book 9 was the slight but powerful This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Signficant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, a graduation address given by the late David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005.

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 a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories.

The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre…but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be.

I am not the wise old fish.

It’s a book to give a graduate, or anyone who is making a big life change, or anyone feeling very depressed. Like all of Foster’s work, it’s smart, moving, real and full of human kindness. It’s also terribly, terribly sad. There are three different pages that touch on avoiding suicide, which Foster in the end couldn’t manage. He died in 2008. I miss him.

5 Responses to “9 of 15: “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace”

  1. Amy Says:

    Wow–you are juggling a lot of reading!! I managed to pull a book ahead over the past week and would love it if I could manage to gain another book today, but don’t know if that’s going to happen.

    For today, I posted about an odd little book: http://www.newcenturyreading.com/2010/04/the-151515-projectday-9.html

  2. Jessica Snell Says:

    Oh goodness, how sad. It is hard to even say, “at least he left something good behind,” when he himself was lost. It’s so hard to watch when people won’t (or can’t) take the help for themselves that they give so generously away to others.

    My book yesterday was a cheerful classic, to give myself a break after tackling (unintentionally) my old bugaboo of lit crit:


  3. girldetective Says:

    Jessica, I think _I_ have Carry On Jeeves on my shelf–maybe I’ll move it to the front of the line!

  4. Farheen Says:

    It is becoming a little bit tough to finish all these books especially over the weekend when there was so much else happening as well. But somehow, amazingly, I am still able to manage!
    Here’s my ninth (couldn’t post it last night because of a family outing). Did you read Jeeves? I did!


  5. Inquirer Says:

    9 of 15 … Looking at pictures. This was was well done if a little elementary for my family. It would be a great gift for a family with young children who are afraid to take them to a museum.