David Foster Wallace, perhaps best known for Infinite Jest, his 1,000-page fiction opus (still on my to-read list), as well as essays about attending the Illinois State Fair and going on a cruise (“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” published in an essay collection by the same name that I did read and love), can make you laugh out loud with his cutting observations. He can also make you think, “Yes! That’s exactly right.” This is Water is the 2005 commencement address that he gave at Kenyon College. The text of the address was published in 2009, following Wallace’s 2008 suicide. It wasn’t commonly known that he suffered from severe depression, and reading his 2005 remarks knowing what is to come is bittersweet. Although I attended a state public university and not a liberal arts school, I can relate to what he said to those young graduates, and now that I’m in my early 30s, I know this: He got it right.
This book is a dose of inspiration, a way to choose to escape from the day-to-day drudgery of life and its endless, petty irritations: groceries that eternally need to be bought, bumper-to-bumper traffic with rude drivers. You can listen to the speech, delivered by Wallace himself, in Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube. To hear it in his own voice is moving, but I also like to have the book so that I can find the parts that I like and read them whenever I want to. The whole book doesn’t take long to read, maybe 15 minutes. Pick it up today for a dose of inspiration or listen to the speech on YouTube, and take a minute to mourn the passing of one of the great writers of our day and celebrate his insights.
This is Water by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown and Company, 2009)
My rating: 5 stars